Within the gaming world, Diablo III tends to be a fairly contentious subject. Considering it has been 12 years since the release of Diablo II, this is a title that has given rise to very strong, and very particular feelings from gamers. While many of us have been salivating over the title for a long time, there has also been a vocal base decrying many of Blizzard’s design choices. For every argument on either side of the ring, there are a thousand rebuttals. A glance at reddit or any gaming site today will turn up a surging tide ranging between praise and anger.
The main issue right now lies with Blizzard’s decision to make Diablo III ‘always online.’ This means that the game functions like any massively multiplayer online game; you have an account and, before you can touch the game itself, you must log in. There’s a few problems with this in the case of Diablo III. For one thing, the game is not an MMO. It is a single-player game with co-operative play and functionality. More importantly, if there is a server-side problem on Blizzard’s end, you can’t play the game that you have bought. While this calls to mind questions regarding what constitutes ‘ownership’ in the digital age, it also presents a more concrete problem when and if those servers hit a snag.
Like last night. And today.
As of this writing, the afternoon of Diablo III’s launch, many have been unable to play the game due to, “emergency maintenance for Diablo III servers in the Americas.” It did not matter if you had the physical product in hand, or the game sitting on your hard drive – you could not play your single-player game until Blizzard fixed their servers. The game was estimated to be fixed by 1:30pm, PDT. That was then moved up to 3:30pm, PDT. As of approximately 3:40pm on May 15th, the message remains, but the issue appears fixed.
Now, some defenders of Diablo III have taken the position that it is the game’s launch day – cut Blizzard some slack. And this point does have some merit, sure. Plenty of games have had issues the day they’ve launched, and not just MMOs. Still, the most common major launch day issues have often had to do with servers cracking under the stress of volume – and had Diablo III contained a separate single-player portion, this likely wouldn’t be an issue. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
This is the next point, largely from gamers who did not buy the game, and who are now shaking their heads at everyone complaining because the game is (temporarily) broken. You knew the game was always online from the start – you bought it anyway. This consensus also merits a point. However, the follow up, Therefore, you shouldn’t have bought the game, as that means you are supporting their game design choice, doesn’t stick quite as well. It’s a bit like blaming the outcome of an election on one person that does not vote. Just because you decide to do or not do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else will make the same decision. In the end, one person deciding to not buy the game is still one person deciding not to buy the game, and does nothing against Diablo III becoming Amazon’s most pre-ordered PC game of all time.
In addition, Diablo III is the sort of title that has been ‘too big to fail’ from the beginning. Other companies have been trying to best Blizzard’s success with World of Warcraft for years, and typically have taken a financial loss for it (or at least not experienced the same ludicrous success). Although Blizzard has been somewhat responsive to feedback from fans during the development of Diablo III, altering the art style after widespread complaints, it seems that no outcry could reverse the decision to make the game ‘always online.’ In a 2011 interview, Blizzard’s VP of Online Technologies expressed surprise that anyone would care the game held no offline feature, saying, “It really is just the nature of how things are going, the nature of the industry.” He argued that this decision was not about DRM, but instead about how the game functions at its core. Well, that’s all fine and good, except for when it doesn’t work.
I think the main consternation here is this: Diablo III is a single-player game with multiplayer functionality. It is not an MMO, regardless of how much Blizzard is hinting that it might as well be. But that doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, you may have paid for your copy of the game, but access to that game is only available to you as long as you have an internet connection, and Blizzard can keep their servers from throwing a tantrum. It’s a bit like purchasing lifetime access to a hotel room, but only being allowed access to the grounds as long as there is an employee around to let you in first. And to some customers, that’s rather upsetting.
Maybe you took the day off to play Diablo III. Perhaps you ditched class to enjoy it. Hell, maybe you had to get up and get ready to go to work at 6am, but you stayed up for the midnight launch anyway, only to be greeted by the, “Sorry, we’re too busy,” Error 37. Or, maybe you’re like me, and you’ve got a really bad internet connection, which makes the game practically unplayable, rife with rubber-banding and frequent disconnection. Either way, it’s a frustrating experience, and while some of it can be attributed to the fact that today is launch day, it underscores a greater fact. While there is no non-apocalyptic future where Blizzard pulls support for Diablo III any time soon, it simply comes down to the understanding that when you play the game, you play it on Blizzard’s terms, and on the whims of both your internet connection and the game’s servers.
This is footage that I recorded during the Beta, but as I discovered this morning playing the full game, if you’ve got a poor internet connection, this is how your game will play when that connection dips. In other words, it basically won’t, and then you’ll probably get disconnected and have to start again from your last checkpoint.
As we move closer to a stage where almost everything is digital, accessible only while connected to the internet, it seems that the line between what is ours and what is not may rely on circumstances that are sometimes out of our hands. What that says about us as consumers, and as customers that have purchased Diablo III, I’m sure you can extrapolate to no end.
However, for the moment, I’m pretty sure a lot of us just want to play the damn game. Circumstances willing, that should be now be possible. Whether problems like this continue to occur on Blizzard’s end, or instead become, ‘just another launch day fiasco’ footnote, well – for that, I guess we can only wait and see.
Note: Despite all of this, if you’d like to give the game’s co-op play a shot with other members of the TAL and BuzzFeed community, add your BattleTag here.