Blizzard Bombshells Diablo 3: Online Only, No Mods and Real Cash Auctions
Well that’s just typical Blizzard, keep quiet about an upcoming title for a while, then unleash a flood of news about it in one go! This morning has brought not one, but three big bits of Diablo 3 news that are very closely linked. They are:
- Diablo 3 will only be playable online. You will need a constant internet connection to play it, much like an MMO. There will be no offline mode.
- Creating mods for Diablo 3 has been completed banned by Blizzard.
- Diablo 3’s featured Auction House will allow players to buy and sell in-game items for real life currency as well as in-game currency.
Naturally, these bombshells have already caused a storm of controversy as Diablo fans debate the officially stated reasons behind each announcement along with their own interpretations.
These are pretty big points, so let’s address them in turn:
1. Online Play Only
In an interview with PC Gamer, Blizzard senior producer Alex Mayberry says that the chief reason behind this decision was to stop cheating. With the buying and selling of items in the Auction House (covered later) for real-life money means that any way of making better ones would be a hugely unfair advantage.
Alright, keeping things online to try and stop cheating, sort of makes sense. But why not allow an offline mode as well as an online mode and keep the two entirely separate? Blizzard’s response to that one comes from executive producer Rob Pardo. It’s a bit of a lengthy quote but it bears reading fully:
We thought about this quite a bit. One of the things that we felt was really import was that if you did play offline, if we allowed for that experience, you’d start a character, you’d get him all the way to level 20 or level 30 or level 40 or what have you, and then at that point you might decide to want to venture onto Battle.net. But you’d have to start a character from scratch, because there’d be no way for us to guarantee no cheats were involved, if we let you play on the client and then take that character online.
So there are the official reasons behind making Diablo 3 online only. However, not everyone’s convinced as the other major reason that could have convinced Blizzard to make this decision would be in order to prevent piracy. If you have to play online through an authenticated account, then the video games pirates will have a very hard time of it.
This reason was definitely not highlighted by Blizzard in the PC Gamer interview, rather it was mentioned in passing:
If you’re finding this reasoning weak, you’re not alone. The more believable reason to deny players any kind of offline mode would be to prevent piracy. I asked Alex if that was the reason.
“One of them, yes.”
2. No Mods for Diablo 3
Again, the “no modding” policy is linked to the fears of undermining the Auction House item trade. While this is understandable, I can see how this would be the piece of news that infuriates some gamers the most.
Previous Blizzard titles have allowed vibrant modding communities to flourish. They haven’t always been officially supported but they have given modders the chance to show their skills and innovate with certain aspects of their beloved games. Particularly, the recent StarCraft 2 came with an incredibly flexible editor that really allowed users to show off their creatively.
If modding has to be sacrificed in order to maintain the players’ faith in the experimental Diablo 3 Auction House, it will be a big shame to see that kind of fan creativity not only discouraged, but actually prohibited.
3. Virtual Items, Real Money
It’s a well known saying in the video-gaming industry: never let your players buy their way to power. If players can become more powerful in a game by investing real world money to buy items/skills/etc then this has the unfortunate effect of making some players who don’t spend cash in this manner feel put out because it undermines the time and effort that they put in playing the game.
However, Blizzard have said that items will have a level cap that means a low level character won’t be able to become inordinately powerful with weapons and armor that are way above them. So there shouldn’t be a lvl 5 Barbarian running around wielding “Twin Axes of Impossible Fire Breathing Death” and unbalancing the game.
Blizzard have stated quite emphatically that the Diablo 3 Auction House is not meant as a money spinner. The developer hopes to “at least break even” but doesn’t expect to make a lot from its flat rate cut of each Auction House transaction. Blizzard claims that the feature was driven by the player demand for it. Rob Pardo said:
The players really want it. This is something that we know people are going to do either way. We can provide them a really safe, awesome, fun experience, or they’ll find ways of doing it elsewhere.
I must admit, I find the prospect of an Auction House where Blizzard actively encourages you to buy and sell gold and items for real world money absolutely fascinating. After so many years of battling gold spammers and sellers in World of Warcraft, Blizzard is now going to let its players go into business for themselves for real cash on Diablo 3.
However, if you don’t like the thought of the real world and its real cash intruding on your game, then there is another option. You can use Diablo 3‘s other, separate Auction House. This secondary AH only allows you to trade in the Diablo 3 currency of gold, with no real life money involved.
My 2 Gold Pieces
So it has been a big day for Diablo 3 news. It is news that has been met with dismay from some, delight for others and a lot of head-scratching from pretty much everyone as these decisions are surprising, to say the least. Here’s my reaction:
It only does Online: This isn’t too surprising really. It seems that with the ever-increasing effort that Blizzard ploughs into its online gaming service Battlenet, online-only games become ever more attractive for the developer. Fortunately, Battlenet is a well supported and easy to use service, meaning that it’s not a chore to have to play Blizzard games through it.
However, I do feel for the Diablo fans who either dislike playing online or actually have a poor internet connection, or worse, no internet connection at all. For gamers who want to avoid the hassle of worrying about random disconnects intruding on their game, today’s news will be a sore disappointment for them.
No modding: As previously mentioned, this is a crying shame. Not everyone uses and enjoys mods and far fewer people actually make them, but modders perform a vital service for both fans of the game and game developers themselves. Modders can experiment and think of doing things with a game that the developer hadn’t even thought of, let alone tried out.
By entirely shutting down this outlet for creative feedback from its fans, Blizzard will lose a valuable source of interesting ideas and another level of engagement that keeps fans talking about good games long after the initial hype dies down.
It’s understandable that with an online-only game with a player-driven item market would not allow for that kind of “under the hood” tinkering, but nevertheless, it’s a pity and this will disappoint a lot of hardcore Blizzard fans.
Real Money, Real Problems: The Auction House decision is the one that intrigues me the most. At this stage, I have no idea what long term ramifications this will have on Diablo 3‘s reception and on the game as a whole. We’ll have to wait until after Diablo 3 has been released and the item market has been stabilized to find out what the player response has been.
I’m actually quite excited to get stuck into some real-life trading through Diablo 3‘s Auction House. Not only will it let me recoup some, maybe all of the cost of the game itself, it’ll also present an interesting dilemma whenever something rare drops. Will I use it for myself? Or trade it with the community at large?
I think this could be a good thing. If World of Warcraft taught us anything, it’s that player driven markets work well and add an interesting dynamic to the game.
Plus, it will be nice to finally be able to complete an item set! I was always missing one or two pieces during my playthroughs of Diablo 2. If you still want to quest and kill enemies until you find your perfect gear, you can still do that. Only now, if you really can’t lay your hands on that last piece of kit, you can buy it from someone who has, for either Diablo gold or real world shiny coins!
The Diablo 3 release date is still TBA but hopefully this year’s Blizzcon will shed a little light on when the beta will go live at least. For more information on the recent developments, the analysis of a recent Blizzard press conference by Diablofans.com makes for a really good read.