Diablo 3’s latest announcements seem to be all the rage these days. To recap Diablo 3 will:
- require a persistent online connection to play (more details here).
- feature a player-to-player auction house in which you can sell in-game items for both gold and real world doubloons.
- not allow any modding whatsoever.
- be released at the end of 2011, maybe; most likely in the first quarter of 2012.
The reactions to this news have been largely negative. I don’t agree with that sentiment largely because as an MMO player, I don’t have a problem with a persistent online connection, and also because is Blizzard wants to legitimize the eBay selling of items for real money and cash in on the action themselves, I don’t really have an issue with it. It’s a shrewd sales decision, and doesn’t bother me in the least bit. The lack of mods, however, is a little ill-informed.
The same, however, cannot be said for everyone else:
- Duncan Geere of Wired UK calls the legitimizing of in-game auction “ugly”, and that the lack of modding is “utterly baffling”. For some reasons, she believes it won’t launch until the end of 2012 though. Not sure where she got that bit of info.
- Ian Hamilton over at The Orange County Register feels that this new auction house system will turn a hobby into a part-time job as all players will fee pressured to sell items on the AH, hoping to make a quick buck. He is also greatly concerned over the IRS’s reaction, as many now claim that the sale of virtual goods should be considered income.
- Chris Morris at Gamasutra feels that the fanbase is either overreacting, or really isn’t all that upset in the first place, just blowing smoke. Blizzard isn’t a dumb company, he says, and it didn’t get to become the behemoth it is today by not catering to it’s loyalists.
- Blessing of Kings‘ Rohan had the first legitimate argument I read against the system. It will legalize and even encourage farming, and I agree.
- Anjin from Bullet Points isn’t all too happy though. I think. Look at his screenshot and decide for yourself!
- Screaming Monkey‘s lonomonkey is screaming all monkey-like about being really uncertain about this move. He’s exercising the prudent option of waiting and seeing how this pans out.
- Klepsakovic from Troll Racials plans to wait a few days for everyone to forget about this and find something else to complain about. Fair enough!
- Player Versus Developer‘s Green Armadillo doesn’t place much faith in the “pay to win” gripe. Citing Runes of Magic as an example of players upgrading their gear through frequent content patches, he is more concerned about the indirect effects of putting the developer in the business of making money when players replace their gear.
- Spinks over at Spinksville feels that involving real money will give a very tangible shape to the opportunity cost associated with playing MMOs or persistent online games, and isn’t too excited about the utter lack of mods.
- Big ol’ bear Wilhelm Arcturus, The Ancient Gaming Noob, had his vacation interrupted, so he isn’t a happy camper to begin with But he feels that the signs for this move were all around us, such as lack of LAN for StarCraft II and the implementation of the Real ID system. His sentiments on Blizzard cashing in on the item trade action is the same as mine: it is a smart business decision and it puts the control directly in their hands.
- Tobold cites Eve Online as an example of the auction house system already underway, and calls the tribal mentality of fan-bases hypocritical.
- Ceraphus at Variant Avatar has an intelligent argument for why we could see this system (if successful) in WoW or the upcoming “Titan”.
- Ferrel at Epic Slant doesn’t feel this will really make that much of a difference at any level, but he calls shenanigans on the blizzard argument that this system allows players with less time and more money to advance their characters.
- Finally, Scott Jennings over at Broken Toys, a game developer himself, sees the logic behind the auction house move. He predicts, and I agree, that World of Warcraft and StarCraft II were the last Blizzard titles without a built-in RMT system.
There seems to be a lot of drama over DRM. Ubisoft, of course, took it a step further by saying that their persistently online DRM solution was a stellar success, leaving a lot of confused fans in this statement’s wake.
Blizzard recently also announced that their upcoming Diablo III will also require players to be consistently online to be able to play, but this resulted in a very odd backlash, particularly from my peers in the MMO blogging community. I can understand people who primarily play single-player games to be upset about this. After all, they just pop the DVD in, and online or not, they can play to their heart’s content.
Blizzard in their defense, offers the following points:
- A persistent friends list (debatable, especially if you like playing solo).
- Cross-game chat via the RealID system (again debatable).
- Persistent characters that are stored server-side (no more having to play online once every 90 days, nor item duplication cheats) (valid, it does ensure almost no client-side hacks or item-duping. I say almost because every time you make a system hacker-proof, groups like Lulsec and Anonymous feel a disturbance in the force).
- Persistent party system (debatable).
- Player-versus-player and public game matchmaking (valid, you would need to be online for PvP).
- Dynamic drop-in/out for co-op (valid, if you have friends playing with you, it would be stellar if you could drop in an out of a friend’s game world as needed, much like Borderlands).
- Larger item stash that gets shared among all of your characters (at the moment, up to 10) (nonsensical, they could easily increase offline storage, this is more of a ploy to justify the DRM).
- The auction house (valid, you would need to be online to play the Auction House with potentially hundreds of thousands of other sellers/buyers).
- The Achievement system and detailed stat-tracking, both of which feed into the final point (valid):
- The Banner system, a visual way to display your prowess in the game. Banners start out like emblems, where you can choose from an array of symbols, patterns, and overall shape/design. Then, you can tweak its appearance through Achievements and other accomplishments. Examples Pardo cites include whether the character is in Hardcore mode, how many Achievements have been earned, how many PVP victories, and so forth. Additionally, the Banners also have gameplay features; in-game, rather than use Town Portal, you can click on a player’s Banner to instantly teleport over to said player (debatable if you don’t play with others, limited use if you do).
As an MMO player and a Star Craft II player (which also requires you to be online for achievement tracking and, of course, PvP), these seem like perfectly valid reasons.
My point is that as MMO players, for years now, we are used to playing persistent worlds that require a highly stable and reliable connections. In fact, our favorite genre of gaming would not exist without the ability to stay online consistently. Yet there is this angst over ‘being made to’ stay online to play the single-player version. In principle, I do feel that if you are a player who enjoys playing solo, you shouldn’t have to worry about a consistent online connection. But at least the MMO players should have no issue with this. We do this on a daily basis, with the dozens of MMOs that grace our screens for hours on end.
Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter, a fan of the ‘always-online’ DRM, had the following to say:
“I think anything a publisher does to make sure you don’t rip off their games if their right, and I think that people who steal should be in jail. I welcome the flamer comments on this one; if you think that’s right good for you; we have no interest in your business since you don’t pay for stuff anyway.”
– Michael Pachter, Pach-Attack videocast (Source).
Just two days ago I posted about how I don’t have a problem with the ‘always-on’ format of Ubisoft’s DRM, being an MMO-player. However, I did concede that this is provided Ubisoft’s servers don’t screw up and provide me with the ability to play the game unhindered, as long as I am online.
Mr. Pachter seems to miss this point altogether.
A lot of angst over this form of DRM is due to the fact that a very large number of players were not able to access the content that they paid for. For example, Assassin’s Creed II players were not able to access/play the game because Ubisoft’s servers were down. I agree with taking steps (quite draconian in this case, but a necessary evil from a studio’s point of view) to prevent against digital theft. But if you can’t provide the service you promised while forcing players to be online, you deserve to lose business over it.
It’s the equivalent of buying a box-set at a game outlet, only to realize that you need to plaster the receipt to your forehead while playing it; and even then you can’t access a product you legally purchased, because the studio doesn’t have its act straight.
More than that, just because someone does not agree with this form of piracy, does not make them a pirate by default. because if that were the case, Frank Pearce, a Blizzard Entertainment employee, would be classified as a pirate as well. That categorical statement is more than a little unfounded and baseless.
Care to make a more rational argument Mr. Pachter?
As MMO players, we are used to being online on a stable connection constantly in order to have any semblance of a respectable online existence. A solid connection is further necessitated by hardcore raiders, who strive strenuously to conquer end-game content, sometimes for several hours on end. For us, being online without interruption is not just a matter of convenience, it is a prerequisite for the online existence.
This is not to say DRM isn’t without problems. With Ubisoft’s horrendous implementation of their DRM, the horror stories of paying customers being unable to access content, and the stringent penalty for a dropped connection leading to lost progression in the game, its no wonder that the very mention of DRM-based games strike a primal nerve in contemporary gamers.
That being said, and a long-time loyalist for PC games, I have observed the genre devolve owing to rampant piracy hurting sales. The degree of truth in this phenomenon notwithstanding, if DRM can help curb the threat of piracy and bring more studios to release games for the PC instead of exclusive titles for the PS3 or Xbox360, I am all for it.
As an MMO-player, being online, even to play single-player games (if the servers are stable and allow players to play normally), I for one have no issues with it.
Let the flaming commence!