on Aug 1, 2011
So the news this morning is that Diablo III will have no modding whatsoever, it will be online-only, and it will have an integrated auction house where people can buy and sell in-game items for real cash money. I never played around with mods in the previous Diablo games, and I never dabbled in trading items with strangers, so I will leave it to others to comment on those features. Let’s talk about this “online-only” thing…
One of the things that we felt was really important 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.
Explanation: In Diablo II, you could make a character online or offline. Your offline, single-player games were mediated by your own PC, and thus susceptible to cheating. You could make yourself max level, give yourself the best possible items, or whatever else you wanted to do. Since the online game was all about balance and item finding, you couldn’t ever let those possibly-cheated offline characters into the online world, or they would flood the in-game economy with bogus items, overpowered characters, and infinite gold. Just imagine what would happen to the World of Warcraft auction house if people could cheat, and that should give you a good idea of why single-player and multi-player characters needed to have a wall between them.
Their reasoning for the feature makes me more angry that the feature itself. (Or rather, the lack of feature. Whatever we want to call his hole where offline single-player mode should be.) This boils down to, “Sometimes some people make bad choices so we have taken away the ability for anyone to make any choice.” So, because some people wish they could take their single-player character online, nobody is ever allowed to play offline ever again? Apparently you are too stupid to make choices about how you want to play the game. As a bonus: The server will be mediating the game, so single-player Diablo III gamers will be able to experience the fun and excitement of lag death and disconnects.
And at this point in the conversation, everyone begins looking for ulterior motives: Oh, they don’t really care about the online / offline problem, they just want to kill second-hand sales. Or perhaps: This is just DRM disguised as a feature. Those are likely, although we can’t know their motives for sure. But no matter what their intent is, the policy / feature announcement is still offensive. It’s either a lie, an insult, or both.
I’ve lost interest in the game. They did this with Starcraft 2, and it was depressing. (The game was gifted to me. I didn’t buy it. I deliberately didn’t review it here because that’s the closest I can come to giving Blizzard the silent treatment.) It was ridiculous having to log in when I wanted to play the single-player game. Even worse that it didn’t save my password, so I had to type it in every time.
Is this the future of PC gaming? I really thought Ubisoft’s always-on DRM would crash and burn. It was so manifestly horrible that it annoyed and frustrated the people who usually ignore the principles behind DRM. But Ubisoft is still making PC games, and still pushing the always-online DRM. They’re even celebrating this base aggression against their customers as a success.
Over the past few years, I hopefully waited for PC gamers to draw the line, somewhere. Okay, they accepted Steam. Then they accepted something like Steam, except stupid and horrible and broken. They accepted Steam, plus third-party activation. They accepted install limits. They accepted having bits of the game locked away behind day-one DLC. Now they’re accepting a setup with all of the restrictions of Steam, none of the convenience, and the additional requirement that they remain always online.
Will the public ever draw a line? I doubt it. They’ve already given everything away on principles. No ownership, no control, no resale rights, no right to return if the game fails to run, no right to install and uninstall at will. From here, further abuse will simply be a matter of degree. Things might get less convenient, but it’s pretty hard for the community to rally around incrementally more restrictive systems. Oh, an install limit of five was okay, but four? NOW YOU HAVE GONE TOO FAR, SIR! Individuals might get mad, flee the PC, or switch to piracy, but these protests will never be large enough to really register with the publisher. People got mad at Spore back in the day, but the Spore-style DRM has persisted with little additional fuss, and most people remember Spore as “This game that was disappointingly dull” and not, “The game with the offensive DRM.”
This story about Diablo III isn’t really anything unqiely horrible. It’s just another sad, stupid waste, another punishment heaped on the people who pay for games in a misguided attempt to do… something. I just wanted to nod and say, “Yes. I see it.”
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.