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Diablo is in the Details

Friday, January 13th, 2012 by

First things first: There is a report that the Korean Ratings Board has finally rated Diablo III with ‘M’ for ‘Mature’ [via GamePur]. This could mean a release date announcement very soon.

Excited? You shouldn’t be. The hold-up of Diablo III for a game mechanism designed to extract more cash from your wallet, and not strictly for the “fun” of spending real money on virtual items that have no intrinsic value isn’t likely a game design mechanic that was dreamed up as a creative and innovative way to create a fun new experience for consumers. It was designed to get more dollars of revenue (or the South Korean won) for each dollar of investment in the Diablo franchise because business is about maximizing stockholder value.

But that isn’t the way Blizzard used to be. Bill Roper, Mike Morhaim, Chris Metzen, and others are legends LEGENDS I read and heard about during my pubescent years while furiously clicking away in Warcraft, then Warcraft II, Warcraft:Tides of Darkness, Starcraft, and Diablo. That was back in Blizzard wasn’t a victim of its own success, and the value of the company wasn’t strictly measured on business Key-Performance-Indicators like Return-On-Equity and Operating Income for stuffy finance and Wallstreet types or MBAs (I am guilty of being one of these three – and a former stock holder of Activision/Blizzard).

The Blizzard that fans fell in love with put equal concern and love into the games they crafted, the fans who adored their work, and the income that it generated. Also during that time, the decision about whether to share information regarding a release was made based on making the customers happy, not the stockholders.

Let me back up: Blizzard has never ever given a specific release date for a game, and whenever they have even mentioned a season or particular quarter of the year, they only ever hit that mark about 50% of the time. But the hype engine that has driven the Diablo III demand has long passed the point of teasing, and has turned into outright dismissal of the consumer’s frustration leading up to the release of the game. In all the years I’ve eagerly awaited a Blizzard release (and I’ve eagerly awaited all of them since Warcraft II), I’ve never been so angered, and disappointed as a Blizzard fan as with how I feel today due to the borderline disrespect the fans get from Blizzard.

This doesn’t even get to the side-bar discussion about the lack of offline play for Diablo III. It has been spun as a gameplay design intention to preserve the integrity of play, but that thinly veiled excuse fools just about nobody. This is merely a weak-handed attempt at preventing pirating, which unfortunately it won’t. What it will do however, is inconvenience and alienate legitimate customers who have spotty, slow, or no internet connections. It will only be a matter of days after release of the game that someone finds a way to create a rogue server software to use on your own machine to play, and a few months after release, Blizzard will end up patching the game and making an offline mode (but lacking features in some way – crippleware).

I’m not suggesting Diablo III won’t be a great game, because it will be. I’m not saying I won’t play Diablo III, because I will (and I might even go to a midnight release). But what I am saying, is that now that Blizzard has corporate overlords to appease, it is now beyond its zenith, and Diablo III is evidence that Blizzard has reached the beginning of its end as the highest quality developer in the western world (by my measure). This is what makes me feel betrayed more than the disrespect the fans are getting on the official Diablo III forums, because I thought that Blizzard would always be a monolith of excellence and put game design, consumers, and fans before the trite concerns of a few bean counters.

About the Author

I was introduced to video games on the Atari 2600, and quickly moved to a Nintendo, where The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Dragon Warrior dominated my early non-Mario years. Now days, I do mostly PC gaming, and some console gaming. I’ve been in and out of rehab, and there’s no saving a nerd like me.

ikecube has written 101 posts on Delta Attack
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  • Fade to Slack

    Perhaps a side-effect of the Activision stuff?

    I have never understood the appeal of Diablo. I played a few hours of Diablo II’s single-player campaign before growing bored. Perhaps I’m not cut out for PC gaming. However, I hear the main reason people loved it so much is Battle.net and online play. That I can understand.

    It may alienate some people, surely, but how many of those people weren’t already playing the previous game in multiplayer?

    • Markham Asylum

      I played the holy shit out of Diablo II; 99% of that time was spent in single-player mode. I also did one playthrough of the first Diablo. I’m looking forward to a co-op experience in D3, but I’ll still be doing a decent amount of single-player with a separate character.

      Loot-based games tend to polarize gamers. When I was finally done with D2, it was like I fell off a cliff.

  • Vlad

    You’ll notice there is never the word “Activision” on any of Blizzard game boxes, just like the word “Blizzard” cannot be found on any Call of Duty game boxes. Now that that’s out of the way, I find a good response to your post can be found here:

    http://us.battle.net/d3/en/forum/topic/3881722476#3 (credit goes to poster ACPRO, not me)

    I understand the right for every man to an opinion, but you’re most likely doing a disservice to your readership by promoting your opinion as fact without presenting any sort of evidence (like the shareholders/customers “fact” you bring up). By all means, it is in your right to do so.

    Just like you assume that Blizzard employees (yes, the “huge corporation” cliché is actually composed of people with a soul) no longer “put equal concern and love into the games they crafted” I will assume you write this post simply to be controversial and gather more page views.

    • Vlad

      Yes, I forgot to mention this thread http://us.battle.net/d3/en/forum/topic/3881722479

      It gives an explanation of the Blizzard development process and why game production cycles are so long and unpredictable. Basically, their iterative design philosophy (also shared by Valve with their own interesting twist http://valvesoftware.com/publications/2011/ValveBiofeedback-Ambinder.pdf ) assures that a game feels “right” and isn’t just rushed to release to get, for instance, the Holiday market (which is exactly what those “shareholders” now missed).

      Oh, and I believe you are one of the people believing Korea is to blame, correct? Well, apparently Korea has approved a RMAH-less Diablo 3. So now we wait and see if a release date is announced within the week, although I highly doubt it.

      http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/biz/2012/01/123_102801.html

      • ikecube

        Hi Vlad – thanks for doing the actual research.

        You are right that I didn’t do any fact hunting and merely took my prior experiences and current knowledge and applied them to this scenario with spartan judgement.

        That is why this is marked as an Opinion/rant piece, which is certainly more emotional instead of rational as some of my other work.

        What I do disagree with you on however is that it was done to get page views. It wasn’t any more designed to do so than my other work, and any intentional trolling or controversy that others may perceive is as incorrect as this article’s emotional rant could be.

        I still believe that the additional real-money auction-house monetization and online-only play are Activision-influenced and a source of disconnect between what consumers want and what the shareholders want, and that the surfacing of this disconnect is evidence that the glory of Blizzard is beginning to wane.

        Thank you again for coming by our humble blog and sharing your rebuttal – it’s these discussions that help align perceptions.

    • Fade to Slack

      Really? You assume that we need controversial posts to garner page views?

      Like, hey, man… let’s all be dicks and say outrageous things to see how many irate assholes and pompous jerks Google can bring to our site! It’ll be awesome.

      Sir, I don’t believe any of us consider ourselves games journalists. We’ve never really had this discussion, mind you, but to assume that we want some cheap hits to draw attention to the other thousand pages on site is the epitome of “ass out of you and me” misconception.

      We blog out of love, we chat together about games, and we present this site more as an outlet for us than for you. When a piece resonates with readers, then we might take note because of the page hits. It doesn’t motivate us, but it does educate us to what works. Our other “controversial” post was much the same, but about Square Enix. It’s fair game for fans, and we are fans first, to openly question if a company’s magic is there anymore.

      But just because an opinion that is clearly labeled under the “Opinion” tag doesn’t agree with your views doesn’t mean that it is wrong. Do you have some news articles and forum posts that favor your argument? Sure. But if an employee is continuing the mission statement and toeing the company line because it’s their job, how is that all that reliable? Did you ever see the PR for Duke Nukem Forever saying, “Yeah, this game is a fucking mess. We just pushed it out so it’d stop being a gaming joke punchline.” No, because that would then be counter-intuitive. But do you think Gearbox put in as much “concern and love” into that turd?

      As for questioning Blizzard’s game quality (and soul), I think questioning quality is fair game when Activision is involved in any way. This is the company that ran the Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero (and subsequent spin-offs) into the ground. They seem damned determined to do it to Spider-man and Call of Duty, as well, though the latter fanbase tends to be the same consumer that digs summer blockbuster movies.

  • Markham Asylum

    Well said, bro. It’s sad to see Blizzard slipping from its former place of glory, but I guess it’s true that everything ends. Oh well. Someone else will rise to take their place.

  • Mark A. Brooks

    Will likely play this on the PS3.