Examples of Damage Control in Gaming: Diablowed

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You’ve probably heard of this game called Diablo III, which released this past week. Anticipation for it was through the roof, something bound to happen with twelve year gap between the last installment and this one. Couple that with Blizzard’s typically-prolonged development times, including a fair amount of time between its announcement and release, and you have a game many think couldn’t possibly be a disappointment. And if the current critical and fan reactions to the game are to be trusted, Blizzard ended up delivering a solid action/RPG, the kind of game that’s bound to prevent you from getting any sleep.

 

However, it came with a rather sizable catch that generated a controversy after it was announced back in August. It was revealed that the game would require players to be online at all times, even if you didn’t plan on playing the game with anyone else. This happened because of its Auction House, a place that gives players the option of buying or selling in-game items for real money. This decision was made because Blizzard and the always-moralistic Activision didn’t want players to exploit this feature offline, and to embrace the game’s more MMO-like gameplay concept. That’s fine for anyone who wants to take advantage of all these features, but anyone who wanted to play it as a purely single-player experience found that numerous hindrances got in their way.


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And with that comes another catch, one many didn’t know about upon purchasing the game. You can’t simply hop into the game if you have an online connection. No, after you’ve logged into/created an account for Battle.net, you’ll have to wait in a queue; then you can start playing. Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the first few days following the game’s release were plagued with issues that prevented some players from either downloading the game or playing it. It’s pretty bad when you can’t play a single-player mode at your discretion due to the requirement of being online and its initial server issues, the latter of which forced Blizzard to take them down completely at one point. The feeling of disappointment envelops anyone who felt they spent $60 (or more, if they sprung for the Collector’s Edition) on a game they can’t play whenever they want.

 

Blizzard offered the usual sincere apology for the situation, but interestingly enough, the ones who did the most damage control were other players who purchased it. Apparently the game is so good that the defense mechanism of some fans kicked in immediately when someone said something even slightly negative about the game, to the point that you’d think they were viral marketers for one of the companies involved. There’s no problem with being OK with the decision they made, but telling someone they should figuratively lie down and take it is ridiculous.


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And with this comes the fear of more publishers adopting this model in the future. We’ve been seeing rumors that always-online connections will be a big focus in the next generation of consoles -- for the next Playstation and Xbox systems at least. This would inevitably be worse on consoles, due to the user having far less control there than on their computer. We’ve already witnessed plenty of blatant anti-consumer tactics throughout this generation (blatant cash grabs for Downloadable Content, the growing prevalence of Online Passes, etc.), but this would be taking it to ridiculous proportions. That is, if those rumors are true.

 

The online only material is the reason why it’s possible Diablo III may not make its way to current generation consoles without some retooling. The developers have already said the game works fine with a controller (though the PC version shipped with no option to use one), so that shouldn’t be a hassle. Though Blizzard said a console version isn’t in development at the moment, it could happen one day soon. But don’t be surprised if it never manifests.

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6 Comments

Ubisoft never got a free pass by gamers for an always online requirement.

EA and Capcom didn't, either.

So if anybody wants to give one to Blizzard, remember this: When you do that, you also give permission to Activision.

Do you really want to do that?

Oh, no, not you. I was still talking to the "anybody" I introduced in the prior graf.

On a semi-related note, my 6-year-old MacBookPro's graphics card can't hack (or slash) Diablo III. Luckily, I found it out during open beta (which limits gameplay to the first half of Act I, but nevertheless required the full 15 GB download to play... man, It's like my PS3 all over again!) when the launcher refused to run, auto-quitting with an error message that my card wasn't supported.

I suppose it makes sense to have beefy minimum graphics requirements; as all the procedural generation, items and characters are stored in Blizzard's cloud, that means there's nearly 15 GB of art assets to the game.

Still, the beta of Torchlight II is going now. Perhaps I can run that one.

Interesting insight, the always online thing is definitely a mixed bag. I have the game now, but I only bought it to play online with friends so I basically don't care about the always-online thing. Diablo is usually not fun at all as a single player anyway. For other games, yes I prefer not to have to be online. If PS3/XBOX's next versions are "always connected" I won't be participating in that console generation. Eventually video game developers will figure out they don't need such horrendous DRM just like the music (and soon ebook) industry did.

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