The action RPG’s botched launch is only the tip of the iceberg, says Sean Knight. Its always-on DRM is set to lead to more problems and more downtime
Errors, errors everywhere. But no Diablo III in sight. At least that is how it felt, and still does, for some when the game launched earlier this week. Five days since Diablo III finally launched on May 15 and unfortunately it hasn’t gone the way many people were expecting.
The first day saw many gamers frustrated to the point that #Error 37, the message that pops up when you fail to log in, start trending on Twitter. In addition, the servers kept being taken down for maintenance; there were lag issues; loss of achievements at one point or another; and even queues just to play the game as a solution to the high volume of traffic.
All this resulted in mass frustration as people made their disappointment known through Twitter, on Metacritic, where the user scored plunged to 3.6, and on Amazon where the game’s aggregated score slumped to 2.5 out of five stars.
All this frustration is understandable when you consider that long-standing Diablo fans have been waiting more than a decade while newcomers have been caught up in the furious buzz that preceded the launch. Then take into account that many people either took time off work on May 15, or set aside other concerns to play the game only for their enjoyment to be denied due to the online service, log-in screen, and other issues. It was a difficult few days for Blizzard and fans alike.
But is this the end of such troubles?
Unfortunately, it won’t be. The weekend is upon us and, with it, more people wanting to try out Blizzard’s latest offering who had to wait for the weekend for this opportunity. Everyone who owns it will want to play it either with their friends or by themselves. And like any MMO, Diablo III will be going through some growing pains that could last for at least a week or more depending on the developer’s ability to fix, maintain, and update their services.
The problem is that Diablo III isn’t really an MMO.
The original Diablo was a single-player action-RPG title with multiplayer. Diablo II was a single-player game with multiplayer. Diablo III is… well… a game with an always-on requirement. It’s not an MMO but it does feature co-op with the throwaway option to play by yourself. Except to play by yourself you still need to be online to do so.
The stated reason behind Blizzard’s decision to adapt always-on DRM is the same as Ubisoft’s: to combat piracy (and we know how well this has worked for Ubisoft). However, Blizzard also has the added concern of seeing off botters and item dupers, which were rampant throughout Diablo II due to the title’s gameplay that enticed people to continue playing and looting in an effort to get the best weapons and gear.
But Diablo II’s gameplay, in conjunction with the added multiplayer, gave rise to a third-party system where people were willing to spend real money in order to get the best equipment: a practice that Blizzard spoke out against for years and condemned. Nevertheless, the added bonus of making real money, botting and item duping became a lucrative business for the third-party sellers.
With Diablo III’s in-game auction house still to come, Blizzard must crack down on such practices if it wishes to cash in. The publisher is set to claim a percentage on every sale in the real-money auction house so one could assume that is the reason for the Draconian stance on the game’s DRM. However, history has shown the industry, time and again, that DRM doesn’t stop people from pirating games or cheating. In fact, in some cases, it has led to an increase in piracy rates (Spore became the most pirated game in the year it was released because of DRM).
Thus, Diablo III could become the most pirated game, surpassing even Crysis 2’s numbers of being downloaded 3.2 million times in 2011. Currently, Diablo III is available on torrent sites for download with a crack being developed to let people play the game by themselves offline or on their own private server (there are rumors that the crack could be done faster than most people anticipate).
What’s more, botters will most certainly make a return along with farmers who will flood the market with much-wanted items. There will also be a resurgence of third-party buyers/sellers wishing to bypass Blizzard’s 15 percent transaction fee (along with additional fees when applicable).
When these things take place, gamers will see updates and patches released in order to combat the cheaters and botters in order to prevent the in-game market from being destroyed. Thus in turn means more downtime during which players will have no access to the game.
Just as they have been in the days immediately following the game’s launch, consumers will continue to be denied playing a game where, at one point, there was a single-player offline mode. And this isn’t the end of such problems either. Regular server maintenance will happen along with regular patches and updates that have nothing with combating cheaters.
Yes, right now the game is going through its growing pains as Blizzard tries to work out all the kinks and expand its services to accept the high volume of traffic. But there will be those other factors that will inconvenience the consumers time and time again. All because of an ineffective DRM strategy that is alienating some fans, such as the author, hurting the publisher’s reputation, and giving a bad impression to new gamers who are curious about the game.
Yet the solution to stave off all the anger and frustration was so simple – release the game with a single-player campaign that doesn’t require a permanent internet connection and isn’t connected in any way to the multiplayer component. If Blizzard had done that, rather than wrest complete control from the consumer, then the fallout from the launch wouldn’t have been nearly as bad.
Would people have been frustrated that they couldn’t go online and play with their friends while the launch issues were being resolved? Certainly. But at least they would have been able to still play the game in some way as a balm to soothe the wound.
In time, we will see that Blizzard’s DRM is just as ineffective as any other and, once again, show that the consumers are being punished while the pirates and cheaters are not affected.
But first Diablo III will have to make it over the hurdle of issues this weekend will have presented. If the problems continue, or become even worse than launch, it could become the straw that breaks the camel’s back for many gamers.
Will it affect you?
Follow Sean on Twitter: @SeanDKnight