Thursday, June 14, 2012

Diablo 3... My take, now that the Real Money Auction House is live – A Review.

Well, I teased this more than enough as my re-introduction to geeky subjects, and I have rather a lot to say about this game.  A look back through my articles in the past would probably earn me the label "Blizzard Fanboy" (especially from those who disagree with me.) Okay, I'll own that. I genuinely like Blizzard's games, and especially like that they improve them based on fan feedback until the game is improved based on those suggestions to a place where someone might call it "done." Not that gamers are happy with those changes, mind you. The constant in the current culture of gamer entitlement (which is a whole other article and another can of worms,) is whining on internet forums. That said, there are a lot of issues that displease a whole lot of people, which bother me more, less or not at all, and I'm prepared to address them now. Server issues, required internet connection, real money auction house, and the rarity of really great loot drops are frequently debated. Other issues, like class balance and a huge jump in difficulty at Hell and again in Inferno (especially Act II) are issues that can and will be addressed by patches, so I won't get into them here.

My current highest level character, a Witch Doctor.

Let's start with the one for which there is the weakest possible defense. Blizzard's servers weren't ready in launch week, and there are still latency issues. The answer for this one is an unpleasant truth. Blizzard knew that a certain portion of the folks who bought Diablo on launch, or who got it free with their WoW subscription extension (a LOT more on this later) will hate the game and stop playing it within a few weeks, if not immediately. Buying, maintaining, configuring all the hardware to handle a base that will massively shrink within a few weeks is a waste of money. It sucks that the consumer has to suffer for this, and it is mildly ironic that some of the base shrinking will be due precisely to the servers being overloaded, crashing or laggy.  There is, however, a series of linked issues which are the real things making people mad.

The servers wouldn't be an issue if you weren't required to stay connected to them in order to play at all. This is accepted in an MMORPG, but Diablo isn't really one of those, and I heard a TON of folks talking about how they couldn't play their single player game because they couldn't connect to a server.  Time for a hard truth. Diablo as a single player game where you pay $50-60 to "beat" the game by going to the last boss on normal difficulty and defeating him, and then you're done... well, that is something that doesn't exist anymore. Some might argue it never did, but in this incarnation in particular, Diablo is a cooperative action/rpg with randomized dungeons and loot that you are meant to play with friends through a series of ever-increasing difficulties on the way to Inferno and Level 60. You are allowed to solo, just like you can in an MMO, but this is not the way the game was designed to be played by default. I'll get into why and what it all means in a moment.

Posted this on FaceBook, friends who play Diablo
but never played WoW weren't amused.

A lot of people have figured out the basics of why a persistent connection is required. For the first time, there is an auction house where extra gear can be sold, and this time around you can choose to buy and sell items for hard-earned gold coins... or real money.  This economy doesn't work at all if there is an offline mode where items can be duplicated, and it doesn't work as well if the playerbase is given an option that doesn't include it. In an offline Diablo 3, items and gold could be duplicated, statistics that are valuable could be hacked in, changed, etc. You can't build an economy that anyone has any faith in with that as a very real possibility.  Drop rates, randomized stats on loot and how rare it is to find a truly awesome item are design decisions all impacted by the fact of an auction house where you are connected to every other player who may want to sell items to you, or buy your extras.

The most common response to all this is "I don't care about all that! I just want to play single player and I want the game I pad for to work!"  Time for another hard truth, and I'm going to say it in a way that may offend some people. If that is how you feel about Diablo, Blizzard doesn't care about you.  The gamer that wants to pay their $60, play single player until they've beaten the game and put it down, never looking back, isn't a valuable customer to them any more.  How do I know this?  They chose to not charge that $60 at all to a large base of folks used to using an auction house, used to needing to deal with server outages and maintenance, and who have already been exposed to micropayments for in-game items.  Blizzard had a problem. Subscription numbers for World of Warcraft were in decline, and Diablo was going to eat away at that base even more, taking away a bunch of monthly subscription fees.  The entire design of Diablo 3's online connection, auction house, and focus on multiplayer interaction is based on addressing this.

Also, Ponies. Gotta love how Blizzard responded to haters who complained
that the new art direction was to colorful and cartoony. (Most of the game isn't like this.)

Diablo 3 was FREE to anyone willing to extend their WoW account for 12 months. Why do that? Well, not only does Blizzard get to collect another year of fees from players, some of whom likely would have cancelled subscriptions in that time (some of them specifically because they knew they'd play Diablo,) but that is just the cherry on the top. The full dessert is in the Real Money Auction House (RMAH.) RMAH transactions have a fee, in the US, that's $1.00 to Blizzard off the top of each item sold.  Blizzard knew that a very, very small percentage of their players would use the RMAH at all, and an even smaller percentage would use it enough for those fees to add up.  The solution? Make the userbase as large as possible, attracting the very type of player most likely to use the system.  The millions of folks playing World of Warcraft are exactly that sort of player, and I experimented with the RMAH since it went live 2 days ago.  With $1.00 from every successful transaction, Blizzard has figured out how to monetize the farmers and get a consistent source of additonal money without charging a monthly fee.

I'm not going to tell anyone not to be mad about all this. By all means, if this isn't what you want out of your gaming, be mad.  It doesn't bother me, because I recognize that in the post-WoW world, a game like Diablo 1/2 isn't realistic as a way for Blizzard to make the kind of money they are used to.  They have to justify the decade and millions spent in development, the time and money spent patching and maintaining the game and servers... and the inevitable expansion(s) to their Board of Directors. Getting another Diablo to play (and I've had a blast so far) is worth all that to me. Of course, I'm exactly the target market for this game, and I played Diablo 1&2, and don't see those games with rose-tinted glasses... I remember how much worse they were for multiplayer one month after release.  Guess that makes me a fanboy.

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Jay said...

Your only a level 56?

Definitely not a fanboy. ;)

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