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Opinion:  Diablo 3  And Keeping Players At Bay
Opinion: Diablo 3 And Keeping Players At Bay
August 1, 2011 | By Tadhg Kelly

August 1, 2011 | By Tadhg Kelly
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[In this opinion piece originally posted on the What Games Are blog, and reprinted in full with his permission, UK-based game designer Tadhg Kelly adds his thoughts on the uproar today over Blizzard's anti-modding and always-on authentication policies for Diablo 3.]

Reddit is not happy. Nor Wired. Nor Rock Paper Shotgun. Nor indeed much of the internet this morning. Why? Primarily because of the news about Diablo 3.

In short: the game will insist on using always-online authentication, forbid modding (allowing access to the engine or tools), and include a market for the buying and selling of items. The first means you won't be able to play the game on a plane. The second means that fans will not be allowed to fully express themselves. And the third means that those with more money may progress faster.

Of the three ideas, only the third is smart. Most players really don't mind if others have used a shortcut to their success as long as it doesn't affect them directly. But the other two are terrible. They are indicative of a growing trend in publishing to try and keep players at bay. They may work in the short term, but as long term strategies they are fraught with danger.

The Player Pen

There are, broadly speaking, two ways to look at how to live and work in the online world. The first is to focus on community building, relationships, and building out a franchise by not worrying too much about ARPU (average revenue per user), instead worrying about user engagement, virality, and loyalty. Typically companies that have grown up online and made a success of it understand this organic approach better because they grasp that the digital space is basically conversational.

Offline companies, those that made their bones in boxed product or broadcast entertainment, often behave differently. Their strategy is to try and pen players in. They want the players to play, and they want them to keep doing so, but they also want them to sit in a pen and only play with the content that they are given. And to pay for that privilege.

The reasons for this are many, but they usually start with concerns over ARPU. To the broadcaster's mind, activities like piracy and modding are a threat because they reduce ARPU in the immediate term. A pirated copy may be a sale lost, and that is essentially all that they can think of. There is no possible upside from allowing works to be distributed for free. (Which is, of course, completely wrong.)

The other reason is that such companies are often managed by people who have a classical kind of business training (such as MBA grads) and tend to instinctively regard talk of community building as something more peripheral than the core of the business. It's harder to express the intangible value of community on a balance sheet, and even harder to scale it, so the simpler and less imaginative solution is to think like a broadcaster.

Most big game publishers operate this way because they have largely grown up in a broadcast world. They tend to think, much like other publishing industries do, that the internet is really more of a problem than an opportunity, and they'd really rather wish it would all just behave like retail. Life was simpler when the business involved selling boxes on shelves in stores for Christmas, but these days it seems anything but simple. Every successful game online seems to be a special case, hard to model and scale. There is a frustrating lack of a secret sauce or a replicable process in the online world, and that drives publishers crazy.

So even companies like Blizzard – who have managed to make some of the most successful online games ever – fall into this thinking after a while. Their priorities at the corporate level are more about cash return than growth (especially a time when much of the industry is experiencing shrinkage), and that trickles down into development.

Doubtless many of the developers working on Diablo 3 would love nothing more than to be able to create mod tools for the community, but they've been told from on high that that's just not how things work any more. The threat of devaluation is too great to allow players to leave their pen. It will only lead to chaos.

As for the poor player who wants to play the game while flying coast to coast? Well the response from Blizzard is: "I want to play Diablo 3 on my laptop in a plane, but, well, there are other games to play for times like that." Which is basically a nice way of saying tough.

Unassailability

Why do previously-smart companies end up making dumb choices, and why do they feel comfortable telling their customers to suck a lemon?

It's because they believe that they are unassailable. Where most companies work hard to find, engage, and retain customers, it tends to be the case that dominant companies start to believe that they will always dominate, and of course they don't. This is also known as the 'Why MySpace Died' argument.

It goes something like this: MySpace built a fantastically successful social network that put users together in their tens of millions and seemed to be a cool place to hang out. It had massive retention numbers and was the next big thing on the internet because it had built a passionate community. News Corporation decided they wanted a piece of this action, bought MySpace, and proceeded to bring a broadcast mentality to where it did not belong.

They started to try and, as they saw it, maximize the opportunity. The users of the service started to feel as though MySpace was not really cool any more, that it was becoming annoying, and they tolerated more than enjoyed it. Eventually this got so bad that users jumped ship, leaving the MySpace execs holding the bag and wondering where they went wrong.

I think Blizzard is roughly in the position where MySpace was at its height. They have several hugely successful franchises, but they seem to have acquired more of a broadcast mentality in recent years and are behaving as a company that believes its players will never leave.

That's a dangerous assumption, however, because there is always a competitor waiting to offer a more tolerable product. Given sufficient choice, players will eventually take that choice, and they will always prefer the choice that involves the least friction. Indeed, many would-be Diablo players on Twitter are today declaring that they have had enough of Blizzard and are looking to the Torchlight franchise (which is broadly the same kind of game as Diablo) instead.

How Life Is (It Isn't Really)

It is common in the older parts of the games industry to believe that protection is needed against the hordes of players because without it your product will be devalued and destroyed. Players are zombies and need to be treated as such. That, the industry thinks, is just how life is.

Life is actually exactly the opposite. It comes down to this: You can embrace the nature of the online world – distributed, community oriented, conversational – or eventually be replaced by a competitor who does. It does not happen quickly nor cleanly, but all such dramas in the online space ultimately play out the same way.

Life is actually about a world where growth matters more than ARPU, where customer satisfaction is the only game in town and where even the perceived secret sauces of game design and technical chops are only short term advantages.

The second that you start to pen your players in and respond to their fury with blithe "Too bad" statements is the second that you start to lose. And when your customers eventually do walk away (which they will), then it will be you holding that bag and wondering where it all went wrong.

(Today's image comes from Shaun of the Dead)

[An Irish lead designer and producer living in London, Tadhg Kelly is the author of a challenging book about, as he describes it, "Reclaiming games as an art, craft and industry on its own terms", entitled What Games Are. The blog for the book is whatgamesare.com. You can also follow his tweets on Twitter (@tiedtiger).]


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Comments


Harry Fields
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These announcements only make me look more forward to the game. Perhaps I'm in the minority, but would I really be pissed because I can't play D3 on an airplane? I think the connectivity issue will me a moot point with most users. This is a game that begs to be played on a desktop. But I could be wrong.

Eric McVinney
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Eh, I feel the same way about the whole plane thing and everything else. If I were on a plane or some other transportation, I'd most likely reach for my handheld portable device, not my laptop. As for the modding, it will happen eventually, be it from Blizzard or from hackers.

Daniel Gooding
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What about on a ship? There are over 4000 people on-board an aircraft carrier at any given time for 6 months at a time, with no internet connection.

Why can't they have a simple Off-line profile for Diablo 3?



I was in the Navy, there was tons of people who played PC/Dedicated Portable games in their off time, because there wasn't access to a T.V



I would be willing to bet the issue is the same through all branches of the military.

David Paris
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What's particularly surprising, is just that they had a perfectly good model in the past versions. You could play single player on your own local copy without network connection just fine, or you could play multiplayer and hook to the net.



Both worked, both had value.



Besides our service guys suffer enough not being able to play LOL while deployed. Adding Diablo 3 to that list is just inhumane :P

Chang Fong Chua
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I believe that you are looking at the issue from the narrow point of self interest only. I have a broadband connection that is quite reliable. And in my city a big proportion of the population is connected.



But it does not change the fact that many other people do not have a good, reliable connection with low latency. And for the type of online play that is so click intensive, we will need not just a simple connection, but a good, fast connection with low latency all the time, else if there is any packet drop, it can easily result in you being booted from the BNet. And that is an unnecessary hassle if you JUST want to play a single player game.



Moreover, there are many people who game on the move and please do not be so condescending and state so categorically that Diablo III is something that begs to be played on a desktop. I for own a desktop replacement Laptop and I have not use a desktop for years. And more importantly, what is wrong is a player want to play the game on his less capable laptop? He might need to tune down the resolution, tweak and performance and lower the expectation in terms of graphic, but he should still be able to play the game.



And for people who game on the move, it is not always possible to find a connection, lined or wireless, not to mention a reliable one. Don't let me even get started on gaming on a public wifi network where the speed and latency can peak and pit in an instance.

Ron Dippold
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I'm sure the game will be hugely polished and great fun for a while, but this seems to rule out its lasting nearly as long as Diablo II did. There are tons of mods for D2 and people still playing it - many have moved to Torchlight, but 11 years is amazing.



Blizzard alone can't and won't provide enough content for Diablo III to make up for the lack of modability, at least based on what we've seen with Starcraft and WoW.

Jack Nilssen
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"Blizzard alone can't and won't provide enough content for Diablo III to make up for the lack of modability, at least based on what we've seen with Starcraft and WoW."



lol? Starcraft is moddable, and WoW still has 11 million monthly subscribers paying at least 11 USD each nearly 7 years after launching.

Chang Fong Chua
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Doesn't that prove his point that Mods ensure the longivity of SC? And I think last I saw, WOW is losing membership and the turn over rate is rather high.

Jack Nilssen
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"Doubtless many of the developers working on Diablo 3 would love nothing more than to be able to create mod tools for the community..." This is a nice supposition, would be good to get some actual developer quotes to support it, but I suppose they're gagged by their evil corporate overlords.



Perhaps if Blizzard just released Diablo 3 as open-source and free-to-play the sky would fill with unicorns and rainbows and the universe would rejoice.



Has Blizzard done anything other than publicly show us all that "this is our product, these are the methods by which you can enjoy it if you choose to partake"? I don't believe they've ever adopted a "tough titty" posture, but the Internet is sure quick to jump to that conclusion.



Regardless of the supposed "alienation of the player base" that Mr. Kelly is alluding to, this game is going to make a fortune and the players that choose not to play for whatever reason aren't really going to put much of a dent in that.

Jeff Roth
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As a long time Diablo 2 single player, Blizzard has been pushing the "tough titty" posture for some time. Denying content updates that were perfectly viable in SP just as online with little to no explanation. Generally just a simple we don't feel its right for SP players, tough titties.



I agree with others that D3 will make wads of cash, D2 still bumps in and out of the top sales charts. I don't think this is about a single, massive boycott, but rather going in the wrong direction.



And personally (not related to Christopher's post) I've used a laptop for my gaming for years. This is an RPG, not an FPS, it doesn't require absolute top of the line, custom built, gaming rigs. If I play it, it will be on my several year old, cheap at the time, laptop which runs SC2 fine and should run D3. And yes, I will survive the airplane flights, but each one will weaken my liking for Blizzard. I have enjoyed many airport, in flight, and road trip Diablo 2 gaming sessions.



I'm still bristling that another recent purchase, Majesty, for a tablet won't run without an internet connection. I was holding off playing it much for months because I knew I had a few long flights coming up where it would be perfect. But no, another game that I can't play when I want to.

Tadhg Kelly
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I don't doubt that D3 will sell. My observation is more long term than that, looking toward D4, D5 etc.

Chang Fong Chua
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Mmm perhaps you have missed all the news, but let me recount just a few of the ways :



1) Removal of LAN play from SC2 and now D3 without any valid reason, just to ensure that people USE BNet.



2) Separation of players in to different regions for SC2 and apparently for D3, making it impossible for people across region to play with each other, while the big part of the concept of internet was about connectivity. There seems to be some back paddling in terms of region as they seems to merge one of them, but in the first place, it begs the question ... why?



3) For players on time card plan, SC2 will not allow you to play the single player game if your time has expire, even though you may have paid $20 - 30 for the few months that you were playing the game. This brings a new meaning to leasing.



4) Online only and persistent online requirement. While some of you brush this off lightly and say that it is nothing that bother you, it has deeper implication. What it means is that to play, you must be connected to the BNet server and get authenticated and approved to play! It also means that if BNEt is down ... or worse discontinued, you will NOT be able to play the game you supposedly lease from blizzard. At least with steam, we have an offline mode and a promise to release the activation code for the games we bought off it if it ever goes belly up. I have never heard a word about this from Activision or Blizzard at all.



5) Banning (not just frowning upon) Mod, presumably will sue if Modders don't cease and desist. This is despite the fact that Modders are the one who makes PC game so great and extend the longevity of the game, potentially helping the companies with their long term profit.

Daniel Gooding
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I'm sure there are plenty of folks at Blizzard who were not happy with the decision, and are probably really not happy at the reaction it has been getting.

Bob Johnson
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The internets always overreacts.



If the game is good folks will buy.



I think folks are used to always-on now too. It's in SC2 and WoW. Isn't it part of Steam at least in some cases? I forget. CAn you play FB games offline? And somehow I think the world survives if you can't play on a plane.



No mod tools? Pcgaming has taken a backseat to consoles where there is no modding so I can't see the lack of mod tools as any kind of big deal. I do recall playing a modded D2 level or mode one or two times, but I mostly just played the game. And now with the graphics etc being so hi-tech I think modders have a tougher time. IT seems like the modding golden age is leaving us if it hasn't already.



Again bottom line is if the game is good people will lineup.



And don't forget there are benefits to this control. The benefit would be less cheating so that the multiplayer experience is much better for all. Big problem with it in D2 if I remember right.

Josh Sanchez
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I agree with people being more comfortable with online games (like FB, apps, etc) however when a consumer purchases a product that comes in a box its just something different, example: Bought Starcraft 2 was happy, went through hard times (as a lot of ppl are going through right now) had to cut internet, cable, landline (only had prepaid cel) tried to play SC single player campaign offline after a couple of weeks went by and lo and behold I couldnt play the single player mode of the game I spent 100 dollars on (collectors edition).



And there are plenty of examples like this, Assasins Creed 2, I found out that hackers had figured out how to circumvent the DRM 2 weeks after release (it seems the more DRM the harder the hackers try...those buggers like a challenge) not to mention the backlash



Starcraft 2 has already been cracked as well (single player campaign and vs AI mode)



So history teaches us that people who download/buy pirated copies have a better overall experience nowdays.....oh and DLC has also been cracked and installed on pirated games too (Dragon Age Orgins, Mass Effect, etc), so that you dont miss out on the "full experience"



Yes I will buy D3 at launch, yes it will be a GREAT game, regarding the cheating that you mention, one of the funnest things about Diablo was the dungeon grinding with friends (who can´t cheat or else the rest beats up on the cheater muahaha), so at least on this game I dont think it would be too much of a problem...and cheating can also be countered without online only as you can´t play multiplayer without internet in the first place...

Matt McComb
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As somebody from the game industry with an MBA, I'd like to say we're not all bad! We're not all just a bunch of greedy, money-grubbing bastards, I promise. I actually worked in community management before going back to school for my MBA, because I want to apply strategic principles and data-driven analysis to online communities in order to help companies make better games.



I do agree with the premise of the article, though...online-only play seems like a rather poor business decision on Blizzard's part. The trend is towards more accessibility to games, not less...witness more and more PC games having smartphone apps to allow limited forms of access, allowing players to still stay involved with the game world while away from their computers. I don't see the reasoning behind Blizzard going the opposite direction and choosing to limit access rather than expand it.

Tadhg Kelly
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Sorry if I caught you in the crossfire Matt :)

Ian Uniacke
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Blizzard was one of the pioneers of the smartphone apps you are referring to Matt. I don't quite see your argument.

Chang Fong Chua
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If you really cannot see his point ---



His point is that by this and many other decisions (removing LAN, online always, Banning Mods, BNet only etc) they are reducing choices instead of increasing them. Just like Apple actually, which is not surprising considering the Kotick is a BIG fan of Stevie.



What blizzard did last with WOW and other game's app is not even relevant here.

Taekwan Kim
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Hmm, aren't the first two (always online and no mods) really about the third (real money) though? Blizzard wants to be able to guarantee (as much as they can) that real money won't be spent on duped or otherwise illegitimately obtained items. People are sort of jumping on the phrase "always online" but it's only always online because all characters are stored server-side. This would argue it's less of a DRM scheme than a fraud prevention scheme. Likewise with the mods--if you can just make a mod that pumps out a bunch of gold and items, that would completely defeat the purpose of the auction. Whether or not it's actually worth it for the sake of supporting the proposed auction system is another matter.

Tadhg Kelly
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Tell that to players in poor connectivity areas, players who use 3G broadband dongles, players who like to play while they travel and so on. At least a significant minority of the people who would play Diablo 3 will be folks who grew up with the franchise, many now with jobs involving stuff like travel etc. The very same people most likely to have the disposae income for the auction site perhaps?



It's a poor justification, in my view. Plenty of mobile social and MMO games manage to handle freemium and offline together, so this is really more about piracy and control. Just like the Ubisoft measures.

Taekwan Kim
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Right, I really can't say I particularly agree with always online either. I'm simply wondering whether the motivation (for always online and no mods) is more about the real money auctions than anything else--that it actually is design driven to a degree. At least the no mods part. That just seems so uncharacteristic and bizarre otherwise, especially considering the very recent Starcraft 2. Although, the fact that there's no LAN for SC2 would seem to argue in your favor (that it _is_ a progressing shift towards "keeping players at bay").

Chris OKeefe
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Worth noting that it'd be trivial to store single-player characters locally, without compromising the server-stored multiplayer characters.



Let's face it, there is virtually no method they could use to prevent fraud or cheating, that would be mutually exclusive to an offline singleplayer. If they really wanted to, they could divorce the offline mode entirely from the multiplayer mode. But they're choosing not to. And I think the reason for that is that management at Blizzard has gotten it into their heads that they need to maintain an iron-grip on the game in order for them to make the most from it.



I suspect that the no-mods decision has more to do with wanting to make any DLC or expansions they peddle become more desirable for a dirth of community content.

Chang Fong Chua
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Agreed. And more to the point, having offline single player character have never contributed to the duping and botting in the Close BNet in D3. So what are they trying to sell us here, claiming that by removing offline single player and having only online character will solve ALL security problem.



It has been a long time since I touch D2, but from what I remember, it is the coding of the program and the fact that the game save a copy of the data on the client side .. yes even for BNet characters, in case of internet failure. What blizzard needs to do is review their coding and come up with another way to accommodate the unpredictability of internet and dropped packets without compromising their BNet security. Not by removing the choice to have an offline single character.

John Tynes
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The big driver here is their auction house system. In fairness to Blizzard:



1) They spend a LOT of money on Blizzard.net, on top of actually developing games. That makes a lot more sense if they have some way to keep revenue coming while maintaining it, such as by collecting fees on an auction house.



2) Players have embraced RMT and auctions. The demand is there and it's better to have those players doing so within a stable system.



Once you say the words "player-based economy" a lot of enormous problems and responsibilities emerge. (Opportunities, too. The economy itself is a game, after all.) You're now supervising a living, breathing economic system that will be subject to inflation, deflation, bubbles, corruption, and so on. Such economies have largely been confined to MMOs, which are always online and use extensive server validation to prevent corruption.



Doing a player-based economy that supports offline, unvalidated play and arbitrary content creation and modification is beyond hard. They're pretty much antithetical to a successful player economy. Given a player economy, I don't think Blizzard had a practical alternative.



All of which is to say, I don't believe they made their decision because of the same fear-the-user motivations one could ascribe to Ubisoft's DRM, for example. I think they made a practical strategic decision on the basis of their desire to embrace a player economy.

Tadhg Kelly
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It's not exactly clear what the true extent of the player economy will be. So on that we'll see. I think they'd be insane to contemplate a fully free model though. They basically never work.



None of which really has anything to do with the other two decisions. Mod content of levels and beasties isn't items (as you could do with the original Starcraft map editor), more significant mods can be kept off the main network.



As for online auth, auth at the time of transaction, or even just intermittent auth, is more than sufficient.

James Hoover
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I understand every action Blizzard is taking. I have played Diablo 2 thoroughly and I understand what is occurring.



- I think Diablo 3 needs an auction house and integrated player based economy.

- I think that duping needs to be eliminated, and have no chance of occurring.



THESE MUST be in Diablo 3. These two factors are not in Diablo 2, and it makes the game annoying and frustrating. I DEMAND these be fixed.... and what Blizzard is doing is fixing these items.



1) Having to be online is to insure that duping is impossible. This is the only way to get rid of cheating. I accept this.

2) No Modding. I think maybe the game could have an offline version of the game to allow modding. Modding really intergrates the community together. In an online version its impossible to have modding...

I think Blizzard is going the way that WoW is going... you cant in WoW yet the game is doing amazing.





I think this article is very unfair.

From my stand point (a avid pro gamer, advertising graduate, and a Diablo 2 gamer), everything blizzard is doing is amazing. Please, do not put words into my mouth.

Chang Fong Chua
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And how does forcing more people to play online, in the BNet will prevent duping? If anything it is going to increase the chances of duping. And to clarify, from my memory, duping was possible because of the way Blizzard implemented their code to create redundancy in information in case of net failure. And they do that by saving a copy of their data on the client side. This has NOTHING to do with having an offline single player character.



Please do not swallow the propaganda they the PR people tries to shove down our throat so meekly.

Jotatsu Zies
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I dont think the plane is a good argument. Now the office where the internet is present but cached/firewalled, etc..

Chang Fong Chua
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expand the plane analogy to all mode and type and reason of transport, and you may see the point.

Jason Schwenn
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I don't see how you can act like the 3 hot-button issues aren't interdependent. You claim that ONLY the decision to allow RMT is a 'smart' one, and then thrash the other two.



It seems pretty obvious to me that if they are going to allow people to buy and sell in-game items for real life cash money, that they need to absolutely 100% control duping and cheating in any form.



Hence, goodbye mods (allowing direct access to source code? uhh, no...) and hello to always-on-internet (allow any items to be created that can't be verified by Blizzard? nope) because they DO need to absolutely control the creating and flow of items and currency.



I'm not sure how they can do RMTs and not "put players in a pen".

Simon Ludgate
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You could always have separate online and offline modes which cannot interact; thus allowing all the protection of RMT space for online players and still allowing offline modes. Star Craft 2 did this; granted, playing offline is what let people pirate the game. So online-only is obviously just an anti-piracy grab.

Todd Boyd
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"Direct access to source code"? Which games have you been modding?! Also.. they can do RMT and avoid the "pen" by compartmentalizing the moddability.

Chang Fong Chua
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As Simon said,



I have not seen ANY good reason given as to why there cannot be a separate offline single player mood to cater for the MODs and offline play for those who wants it and who do not want to subject themselves to the grief and vagary of the online play.



And just to clarify, in Diablo II, single player character can only be used in single player campaign and Open BNet. So how does that contribute to duping in the close BNet? ... Nothing at all. It has been years since I touch it, but from what I remember, most of the problem occur because of the code and because of the fact Diablo II save part of the character file on the client side in case of server corruption or internet failure. Thus this is not going to help Blizzard at all. And if they store everything server side, then they need to authenticate the action of the character much more regularly and be more forgiving in regards to disconnection and internet disruptions. How this will play out and will it affect the security of the server, that remains to be seen.



But it remains a fact that there can be offline single player character that co-exist with the BNet character without having a negative impact on the game security and economy at all.



If there is a reason, then it appears to be none other than intellectual laziness, as the VP himself said "we decide that we simply do not want to look into that" and also because of an apparent fear that players will become a rampaging mob when they realise that they cannot use their single player character online. But ... that is what notes and pop up warning dialogue boxes are for during character creation, isn't it?

Jose Resines
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In a plane?. More than half the civilized world has piss poor internet connections. Most people don't live in central New York, or London. In my office, it's rare the day that I don't lose my connection for 5-10 minutes about 3-5 times.



Is it a problem for my work?. Nope, I'll make myself a coffee, and keep using the web, mail, twitter, etc 5 minutes later.



Is it a problem while gaming?. Absolutely. And with the way Blizzard have presented both SC2 and D3, it completely breaks the game. And think about those with rural ADSL, or satellite internet connections. Playing D3 is just impossible like that.



What is worse, it is complete and totally unnecesary. If I was playing online multiplayer, I'd understand (obviously). But I should be able to play offline single player, or LAN multiplayer. Blizzard is sacrificing me and thousands of players like me because they "know better", because they want to dictate how I have to play their game, because this curbs piracy (yeah, sure, more like the opposite). And in the end, all they get is my back.



3 years ago, I would preorder any blizzard game the moment I could. In fact, I had SC2 preordered before the announced the no LAN thing. Nowadays, I'll never again buy a game from them. They should learn how to treat their customers. They knew once. Runic are my masters now.



It's sad to see publishers destroying historic development houses like this, all to make 2 more cents. First EA with Bioware, and now Acti with Blizzard. Sad days indeed. Thank god we have the indies.

Craig Dolphin
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After my awful experience with SC2 via my satellite ISP, there's no f'ing way I'll ever buy another game with online at startup again. And always online requirements? It is just never ever going to happen. There is no broadband provider in my area, so I guess this means that means I'll be keeping the dollars I would have spent on the remaining SC2 chapters, and Diablo 3.



Ubisoft, and now Blizzard are off my list. How long before EA goes the same way? Just as well I still like books cause it seems that gaming is doing everything it can to eliminate me as a paying customer.

Chris Dickerson
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Plane... what about us freaks that only play single player? Why do I need to sit in a hotel or on a plane and not be able to play? I understand the DRM move and they want to bring all their properties under the battle.net network, but classically, it's not what this game used to be and what we would expect.



Skills - reduced to... 3 passive abilities? Feels... dragon age-y... or perhaps prep for consoles? Civilization popped up on consoles, but at least they created a different version... they didn't gimp the PC version and call it a duck.



Mods - they were great to have in SC2, but realistically, people are far more likely to make them for Diablo than for SC2.



@Matt McComb - "We're not all just a bunch of greedy, money-grubbing bastards, I promise." - I don't see problems with developers so much as the publishers or whomever is holding the developer's leash. It's difficult to see "advances" or moves forward that should be good for the games a developer makes... when they veer drastically from the way they used to make games and it just makes you wonder... how does a great developer screw up so much?



Bioware was cruising right along for years... their games were like crack to addicts... then... Dragon Age 2... and they have as much said the same will happen with Mass Effect 3. Yikes.



One game that didn't suffer from and outside force -- Final Fantasy XIII -- "let's stray from the formula that works without improving on it".



Again. Yikes.

Wyatt Epp
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Great! So, don't suppose they've deigned to tell us what happens when their servers are taken down because the game has "reached its end-of-lifetime" (or whatever similar inane euphemism they adopt to snuff it out for good) ?



And have they resolved the bit where you seemingly can't play online with your friends from abroad because of what basically amounts to region-locking on the PC?

Nathan Verbois
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Well, if this is a move by Blizzard to control their players and prevent piracy, instead of an unfortunate by-product of the RMT auction house, then yes, Blizzard will eventually have its feet cut out from under them at some point in the future if they stay in this mindset.

Michael Joseph
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Everything is justifiable when it comes to profit.



I think its interesting when you hear people say that customers have "embraced" [insert inconvenient business practice here] . Mr Kelly is right. It's more a matter of training them and numbing them to tolerate the practice that is increasingly unavoidable.



But this isn't the telecom industry and customers still have a lot of choices. Torchlight anyone?

Christopher Engler
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The sky isn't falling, guys. You have the right to NOT buy the game. It's their product, so they have the right to do what they want with it. Now if they released the game advertising a mod or non-internet feature and then took these features away, then I could see the anger, but this thread is really silly. If you don't want to follow Blizzard's rules, then play something else. (I don't like being connected to the internet for every facet of life, so I'll avoid this title entirely; however, that's MY choice.) If this sort to thing leads to a loss of Diablo's fanbase and the company goes bankrupt because of it (which it won't), then you'll have taught them a lesson, and none of you will ever see another official Diablo title again. Fact is if you're a fan of the game, you'll support the makers because of the product they've designed. If the game isn't good enough without your (or someone else's) modifications, then it probably isn't good enough to buy in the first place, which means you can live without it. There are plenty of games that do let you mod if that's what you're into; play those instead. I'd be more offended that Blizzards is essentially selling a partial game for full price, allowing wealthier folks to buy the "real" equipment at an additional cost, but that's just me. If it was free to play, then that model makes sense, but if people are paying full price, they should get the full game. BTW: I hear Skyrim is allowing access to code.

Chris OKeefe
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Why shouldn't people express their displeasure? It's not like Diablo 3 is coming out in two months and nothing could possibly ever change.



Although the chances are probably remote with a giant like Blizzard, there's always the possibility that an outcry could change their minds, or at least get them to compromise somehow. So why is it silly?



Yes it's their creation. But it's not the creators who make these kinds of decisions, it's the bean-counters, and bean-counters, if they're worth the salt they're paid with, can count negative press just as well as pirated copies.

jin choung
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nobody is indispensible. if a death of a company or a franchise is what stupid decisions merit, that's the right way to go. shall i go into exhausting detail about all the beloved franchises that have been forsaken by fickle fans for making stupid moves?



-dreamcast

-virtualboy

-nintendo 3ds (cough)

-duke nukem forever

-command and conquer



fans are fickle. there are PLENTY of competitors who want to bury you. the fact that you have the public's attention is not something a wise company would take for granted. garner their displeasure and you're dead.



you're right, people have the right not to buy. and advocate others not to buy. and so as chris okeefe says, their opposition and contention is warranted and dangerous.

Chris T
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It is interesting that most of the comments are ignoring the deliberate publicity cycle of this news release. Obviously Blizzard knew that this news would not be welcome, so they are announcing the bad news now, 3 months before release (I would guess), in a ramp-up to whitewash publicity so that the message "Play with your friends! Trade your items! Bring your single player characters online!" doesn't get tarnished by the bad news at the same time.



Blizzard are no longer an offline company, they are now strictly an online company, and have been for some time. WoW was when it really happened, but for years with Starcraft and Diablo 2, the online aspect of their games has been getting a lot more development time (and played hours). Now Blizzard are really embracing this wholesale, and moving into much of the territory previously occupied by Zynga and its ilk.



Blizzard know that the buzzword is "community". Being able to bring your friend into your co-op game, seamlessly, without needing a brand new character, in the way you can in WoW or other social games, is what people want, and how sales will be driven: virally. See your friend in RealID who's playing D3 all the time? Oh, quick, I should buy that so I can play too. Sweet, I can co-op with your high level character and you can hand me a bunch of twinked items? Bonus!



Do you really think playing on the aeroplane has the same kind of relevance, from a population growth point of view? Not even close.

Joe McGinn
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Tempest in a teapot. Always online is here to stay ... soon enough expecting to be online will be like expecting access to electricity. Hell it's already like that in most cities. It's the way of the future. Deal.



The few users Blizzard will lose are of no convern to them, compared to the increased profit of having eveyone play a legitimate copy.

jin choung
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dumb. the more content creators try to control the experience, the more people will try to crack it, break it and subvert it in order to have the experience THEY want.



they will actually drive more legitimate customers to become illegitimate because the illegitimate experience is objectively and legitimately better.



MISGUIDED is the best word for industry attempts at control. especially when it's dead obvious to everyone watching that blizzard COULD have developed a system that separated out the online experience with the single player one (coughstarcraft2anyone?cough). just an excuse to seize more control - as blatant as it is artless.



personally, i will never ever tolerate a single player experience whose gameplay does not intrinsically require an online connection but mandates one for the sake of customer control.



i will vote with my wallet and blizzard has lost my $60.



this as well as other draconian drm control is not a done deal. consumers don't give a crap what the companies want. companies better give a crap about what customers want.



you alienate them at your peril.

Tejas Oza
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I find the whole 'can't play on a play' discussion itself to be somewhat demeaning to players from non-western countries where a steady net connection is more a luxury than an actual necessity. I'm aware of the argument concerning high amounts of piracy in the very same country but honestly, the only way you'll turn that around is by actually making an effort to help the gamer instead of trying to limit them. (dare I say, screw them over?)



So, not only does this form of DRM severely limit who can and can't play the game but you've just eliminated a very large potential audience. An audience that will obviously look to hackers to be able to play the game, now. I'm inclined to agree with Mr. Kelly as to the shift in business sense towards that of a more Broadcaster mindset if publishers continue to treat their costumers as enemies or tenuous friends that you have to exploit before they turn on you. Considering the image provided, I have a mental image of a Publisher trying to pickpocket a zombie.



More than the DRM issue, however, is the anti-modding bit. Think of it this way - Some of the best selling games today are based off of Mods. DotA (and now DotA2) along with its various incarnations (Heroes of Newerth) and evolutions (League of Legends), then there's Counter Strike and Team Fortress 2. These are games that have become iconic and are staples of Cyber-game events the world over. So, essentially, Publishers are trying to stop their customers from innovating for themselves. The possibility that user content might make someone else money is just too hard to swallow...



This brings me to my last point - The Online Auction House, which I have no real problems with, indicates this shift in attitude from wanting to provide a good gaming experience to making as much money with an IP as humanely and legally possible.



There are a lot of great points here that lay on either side of the debate. As for me... I just have a very bad feeling about where Publishers are trying to steer the Industry as a whole.

Gil Salvado
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I was already shocked by the web banners of WoW asking me to return to it ... that almost hurt reading.



I'm definitely not a hater - Diablo got me into Hack'n'Slay - but I always despite those fan boys during my game development studies which thought Blizzard to be perfect. I do remember downloading the 2nd-Act-B-bug-fixing Patch for Diablo 2 before(!) purchase. So much as for perfection.

Sure, I do mind biting the hands that fed me with great entertainment during my teenage years, but it tends to become brazen. And I still didn't played that copy of Burning Crusade ... and probably never will.

Glenn Sturgeon
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Remember Blizz is now part of the evil known as Activi$ion.

Always on authentification is a pain but (imo) it beats offline authent like windows live that runs in the background, no matter if your playing a GFWL game or not.

The auction house is a no brainer. Hell people have been blaming blizz and its employees for the "buy diablo2 junk" item sites for years now. Leet gear makes not a leet player. As far as i see it, anything that works to keep the ad spam bots off battelnet is worth it and if people want to buy items they should be able to know they are legit and won't dissapear due to being a dupe. Blizz dosent want mods, so they can sell you DLC based content. Like i said they are now part of activi$ion, so why would they give you anything?

As far as how the consumers are reacting, well if theres one thing people do online (and offline) its complain, for alot of people thats all they do while online, so its no suprise. Look at the hissy people threw about the early D3 art. Everyone wants the game to be exactly like they (personaly) want it. It dosen't work that way.

My view of how they are treating people is, they are a company and making money is thier goal, not making friends. I can't say its the best way to go, but we live in a far from ideal world and thats how it is.

Blizz has shown since wow was released they don't mind reaming thier fans. If charging a monthly fee and still charging full price for expansions isn't consumer rape then i don't know what is. People think its worth it so let it happen..



The only expectations i personaly have for D3 is it will have a patch on launch day, it will run like crap on Bnet for at least a month (likely 2-3) and short term, "it might be" as good as D2 LOD. (but i'm not holding my breath for that "might be")

I'll buy it at launch but i'm not concerned if its great or not, i still have LOD and still play it after 10 years and will still play it after D3 arrives.

Eric Blomquist
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Blizzard was the dark horse of the industry before the days of Wow and Activision. It is hard to imagine them falling to the wayside as Myspace has, but anything is possible. Back in the 90's I thought Squaresoft would always provide me with quality entertainment, now they are the Madcatz of gaming.

Jamie Mann
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Not sure I agree with any of the points in this one :)



First and foremost: Blizzard is now owned by Activision and has been for some time. And if anyone thinks that Activision hasn't had a major hand in designing the revenue structure for Diablo 3, then I've got a nice bridge I'd like to sell you.



(seriously: if you're feeling "betrayed" by this move, substitute Activision for Blizzard in the article above and then re-read it. Do you still feel shocked or simply resigned to yet another money-grabbing effort from a company which has run several franchises into the ground?)



Beyond that, the three "changes" Activision are implementing are all interlinked: they're designed to minimise the risk of players hacking the game, choosing to play free content or getting bored and walking away - and I'd suggest that it's also intended to provide a basis for offering DLC in the future. In short, they're designed to boost long-term revenue - and to a degree, they also help to protect short-term revenue during the critical first month while the game is prominently displayed in physical game shops.



Sure, you can argue that they'll lose revenue from people who will be unable to play the game and/or will refuse to buy it as a point of principle, but realistically, that's a pretty small demographic. And hey: they wouldn't buy any DLC anyway, so who cares?



I'm also not sure I believe that there's that much of a distinction between the strategies of "online" and "offline" companies - and I'm equally unsure what the term "community" means for a small-online-multiplayer game such as Diablo 3; it's not an MMORPG like WoW, which limits the scale and scope of the community you can grow around it. Also, I'm sure those MBAs understand the power of grass-roots marketing campaigns (which is what community-fostering essentially boils down to)



Also, it's worth bearing in mind that there's significant difference in the amount of revenue being pulled in by online/offline companies, as well as in the ambition shown by "online" companies, who mostly focus on light casual gaming experiences.



For instance, to cherry pick a few high-profile examples: Activision's Call of Duty: Black Ops game pulled in $1 billion dollars in the first six weeks after launch; Angry Birds has *maybe* pulled in a total of $0.1 billion in 18 months, between iOS sales and Android advertising revenue. Popcap is estimated to generate around $0.1 billion of revenue per year, across all of it's franchises. Depending on who you believe, Zygna is claimed to have revenues somewhere between 0.25 billion and $1 billion per year, but then, they're hardly a paragon of virtue when it comes to building communities or fostering customer relationships and engagement.



As regards MySpace: I'd suggest that it didn't fail due to having a "broadcast" mentality: it failed because News Corporation completely failed to improve or evolve it's capabilities in a highly competitive market; Facebook turned up and everyone decamped from Myspace's ugly, creaking architecture with a huge sigh of relief. And now, a lot of people are jumping over to Google+, as Facebook itself has fallen prey to the complacency which tends to set in when a monopoly situation is established.



Overall, I think that from a corporate perspective, Activision's strategy for Diablo 3 is sensible: it's a high-profile boxed retail game with comparatively limited online-multiplayer features. Trying to treat it as anything else would almost certainly reduce revenue: it doesn't have the reach of an MMORPG and there's limited scope for recurring revenue unless they start charging for battle.net; DLC is traditionally not a great revenue earner (as compared to boxed-game revenue, as was proven with Guitar Hero/Rock Band) and even the vaguest hint of in-game advertising would create a major backlash within the fanbase.



Finally, my biggest quibble is with the assertion that "Most players really don't mind if others have used a shortcut to their success as long as it doesn't affect them directly."



Do you have any evidence of this? Personally, I'd feel distinctly unhappy knowing that someone could walk up and purchase a level 20 warrior: not only does it indicate that the person doesn't value the gameplay, but it also implies that they're going to have limited skills (as they haven't built up any experience) and it devalues the work I've put into creating my character...

Dean Boytor
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What I liked about Diablo 2 was that you could play it offline as well as online. I personally liked the single player campaign, but Ive seen people play it online and its completely different, almost like an MMO. Now personally I have a few MMO's I love to play but I don't think Diablo 3 should try to focus on making this an MMO. More so a "if you build it they will come" kind of attitude would work best kind of like how Diablo 2 panned out.

Dean Boytor
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In addition, Ive noticed for a while that all it takes for blizzard to "pen" their players is to announce their next iterative product. For instance, after Diablo 3 is out all they need to do is say or hint some thing like "Starcraft III" and the player base will sit with a biscuit on their nose till it comes out.



Now fortunately for Blizzard, they make great games which is why a lot of people are very patient with them. They just need to be careful because all it takes is someone like Torchlight to deliver what we have been waiting for, but quicker.


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