I have been a Blizzard fan since 1992 when it all began with a Windows port of a little game called Battle Chess (which Blizzard Entertainment was involved with). I played that game a lot and, in that same year, I fell in love with another of its games called Lord of the Rings Vol. 1 for the SNES (sadly there were no sequels).
But it wouldn’t be until 1994 when I saw the original Warcraft game displayed on the shelf. After reading the back of the box I instantly decided to buy it. A decision I have never regretted.
Since that purchase I have bought every single game and installment for Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft. When World of Warcraft came out I purchased it and played the game every chance I could for three years. On top of that, I have acquired every collector’s edition made for each game and, at the risk of embarrassing myself, I have even written some Warcraft-related fan fiction, a poem, and one short story based in the Starcraft universe.
I mention all this as briefly as possible, because what I have to say is very painful for me.
Despite waiting more than 11 years for Diablo III, I have chosen to boycott it.
Like every other Blizzard fan out there I became excited as information and screenshots for Diablo III were released. But as the game was getting closer to release, we were hit with the news that there would be no offline mode for the game.
In other words: Blizzard has given into the always-on Digital Rights Management that companies such as Ubisoft have been pushing onto players for a couple of years now. However, Ubisoft’s methods have met enough consumer resistance to push the company into backtracking on occasion.
Diablo III, however, is a whole different ballgame with a high potential to convince other developers and publishers that it is time to fully embrace this draconian DRM.
DRM, for those unaware, is the term for access control technologies. PC gamers have had to deal with all kinds of restrictive DRM for a long time. Typical variations include limiting how many times you can install a game and requiring an online activation. But these are just some of the DRM methods out there.
The worst one involves a game requiring a permanent internet connection in order to play the multiplayer and single-player campaigns. This is in response to older methods no longer being effective enough for companies trying to combat piracy.
Let me make myself clear. I have no problem with a game requiring a one-time online activation process so long as I can play offline any time I desire to do so (even though this is still pushing it). I understand the need for developers and publishers to protect their IPs from pirates, even if such measures are ineffective. Take Spore, published by EA, for example. It was released with a DRM that limited consumers to three installations on a PC. Consumer outcry from this resulted in Spore becoming the most pirated game in the year it was published.
Now I get the reasons for some forms of DRM but when it starts to interfere with my enjoyment of the game then we have a problem.
Such interference, when it comes to always-on DRM, can come from both the client side and the server side. Should your internet go down for any reason, you will be unable to play your game. With Ubisoft’s always-on DRM, once you lose your internet connection the game immediately kicks you out without saving your progress. So imagine if you have an unstable connection, like myself, then you are out of luck. Not to mention that not every gamer has access to stable, high-speed internet.
Then there is the server side, which could go down and result in no one being able to play the game. Ubisoft has, on several occasions, had its servers go offline due to outside attacks and even for maintenance. BioWare, on a couple of occasions, had its servers go down, preventing gamers from playing Dragon Age titles (they required an internet connection to verify authenticity).
Yet these are technical reasons. I also have a personal reason for boycotting any game that uses always-on DRM. I prefer to play a single-player campaign without any distractions. I want to immerse myself in the game and when I am online that doesn’t happen. Either people are sending me messages or wishing to chat and hang out.
When you go to see a movie at the theatre there are messages telling you to turn off your cellphones. Why? Because people don’t want to be distracted or interrupted while watching the movie. The same thing goes for reading a book, watching TV, or even listening to music. I want to immerse myself and enjoy these forms of entertainment without any interruption or distraction.
With Diablo III all these different variables could happen to prevent you from enjoying your game. You will never be able to play the single-player campaign unless you are connected to the internet with the added stipulation that you need to be on Blizzard’s online gaming service Battlenet 2.0 as well.
Given Blizzard’s popularity, the threat that Diablo III poses will be at the highest it has ever been. Ubisoft’s shoddy console ports – From Dust, for example, had a poor PC control scheme, a lack of optimization settings, and a throttled framerate – and draconian DRM have caused them to experience increased piracy and declining sales. However, Blizzard could pull off the unthinkable: acceptance of the always-on DRM. Should such a thing occur then nothing will prevent developers and publishers from adopting it.
This will not just affect PC gamers. Sooner or later such DRM will find its way over to console gaming. Given the popularity of consoles there is a rise in piracy and companies are looking for other ways to combat both the used game market and piracy. While $10 online passes are targeted at used games, always-on DRM would be the perfect way in a company’s eyes to combat both. One-time activation, for one account, that requires a permanent internet connection.
Such an outcome is a scary thought, made even scarier by Diablo III’s game director Jay Wilson who justified Blizzard’s online-only decision by saying, “There’s two basic problems with us doing [an Oflline Mode]. One is players default immediately to that. So, they basically unintentionally opt out of all the cooperative experience, all the trading experience, and the core of Diablo is a circle-trading game. So for us we’ve always viewed it as an online game – the game’s not really being played right if it’s not online, so when we have that specific question of why are we allowing it? Because that’s the best experience, why would you want it any other way?”
Rather amazing that someone can state how someone else should play a game while circumventing the real reason for such DRM. Let’s face facts. Blizzard has invested a lot into Diablo III, which has an in-game auction house system where players can sell items for real money with Blizzard taking a small cut of the sale (Blizzard has even decided to release the game earlier without any PvP content) . Of course, it wants full and complete control of the game, which means that we have no say in regards to it because there is too much money involved.
Online activation, CD-keys, and digital distribution are the ways in which developers and publishers will make this happen. Should Diablo III become a huge success, then we can look forward to a future where games will require a permanent internet connection in order to play them in any fashion; a situation that some developers are looking forward to.
Take, for example, id Software creative director Tom Willits. He told Eurogamer, “Diablo III will make everyone else accept the fact you have to be connected. If you have a juggernaut, you can make change. I’m all for that. If we could force people to always be connected when you play the game, and then have that be acceptable, awesome.”
Willits continued, “In the end [always-on DRM] is better for everybody. Imagine picking up a game and it’s automatically updated. Or there’s something new you didn’t know about, and you didn’t have to click away. It’s all automatically there. But it does take juggernauts like [Diablo III] to make change.”
What Willits doesn’t say is that there are services that already provide this. Valve’s digital distribution service, Steam, already automatically updates games and connects players with one another. Although Steam requires an internet connection to log in, it also has an offline mode so you can play your games without interruption from friends or an unstable internet connection.
So what exactly is the benefit of forcing gamers to play a single-player campaign online? How does always-on DRM improve the gaming experience for people?
Unless Blizzard releases Diablo III with an option to play the single-player campaign offline I will not purchase it. Neither will I purchase any future Blizzard titles that come with the always-on DRM. Ubisoft was the first entity I boycotted over this and, for the past two years, I haven’t purchased a single game they have published. Now Blizzard will have to be added to this list and, possibly, Microsoft as well given the rumors that the Durango might require an always-on internet connection.
But not all is doom and gloom. There are other games to look forward to aside from Diablo III. Torchlight II, developed by Runic Games, happens to be one of these games and is being developed by the co-founders of Blizzard North, the division of Blizzard Entertainment that developed Diablo and Diablo II.