Thursday, May 17, 2012

Diablo III Internet IV


Blizzard's next money machine Diablo III was released on Tuesday, and I'm guessing most (all?) people reading this have already bought it.  It's a decent game and seems like it has the potential for a lot of fun, but it's not perfect.

Diablo III, for those who have been living under Dwayne Johnson for the past few years, has no offline mode and you are required to be connected to Blizzard's Battle.net online service at all times.  While Blizzard played up the social and gameplay-enhancing aspects of this, the biggest aspect and the elephant in the room is that it is DRM so that rampant cheating and hacking which happened in the first two Diablos won't happen in the third, as well as flat-out theft of the game itself.

While possibly, possibly, an acceptable reason, the practice has been far from perfect.  Diablo III was originally meant to be available on Tuesday morning at 12:01am Pacific.  If, like me, you actually tried to login at that time, you would likely have received one of the myriad of errors that Battle.net was throwing out around that time.  My particular favourite was #37 which denoted that the servers were too busy to process your login, but there were several others other people were getting, with the upshot of not being able to play the game.

These initial problems were fixed around 90 minutes later and I was actually able to get on and play for a time without issue.  The next day yielded a game-breaking bug which meant that the servers had to be brought down for several hours in the afternoon (don't forget, thanks to the Battle.net integration you could not play your legally-purchased single-player game during this time).  There were further issues later that evening which prevented logins, and also the day after that (each outage lasting several hours).

I mean really?  Blizzard, owned by Activision and one of the last remaining bastions of PC gaming could not get it right?  Over seven years running World of Warcraft did not give them enough experience in backend server management to be able to launch a non-MMO on their online service?


The whole mess represents everything that is wrong about DRM.  It starts off as a company trying to protect their product and ends up by disrupting legitimate customers (who have already bought the game) and pissing people off.  Blizzard knew exactly how many pre-orders they have sold, through their own Battle.net service and retailers like Amazon and GameStop, and so had plenty of time in order to arrange to have the appropriate capacity to be able to let everyone play when they said they would be able to.  Instead we end up with this byzantine hodgepodge of error messages and downtime which makes people unable to play their single-player game.

If someone like Blizzard can't get it right, what hope is there for smaller developers and publishers (basically everyone else)?

I like Blizzard as a company and I will usually back them in most situations because of their reputation of excellence and "when it's ready" approach to development, but this was a mess and there is no way around that.  Diablo III should have had some kind of offline mode built in, so that even if things like this happened then players could still be able to play the game which they have legitimately purchased.  For whatever reason, always-on DRM is never implemented well (looking at you Ubisoft) and I would even go as far as to say it is anti-gamer.


Blizzard, I get that you want to protect your product, but forcing this upon your customers is not right.  Make it an option, even give us inducements to use it if you want (coughSteamcough), but making us have to use it and then failing at it from your end is just going to make people angry.  The apology they put out today is a useful acknowledgement of their shortcomings over the matter, but nothing will really change in the long-run.

I've said it before and will say it again: ALWAYS-ON DRM IS ANTI-CONSUMER.  It should be resisted by all gamers.

DRM punishes legitimate players to the point where maybe they don't want to play your games at the end of it, which would be disappointing because on pure gameplay Diablo III is a decent game.  I am part of the problem though because I bought Diablo III fully knowing that this system was in place, but overrode myself on the basis that this was Blizzard and they would not fail me.  I was mistaken.  I have not bought any Ubisoft game since they introduced their ridiculous DRM and I should have stuck to my guns and done the same with Diablo III.

You're on notice Blizzard, and the next move is up to you.


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