July 25, 2013

Most Disappointing Game of 2012: Diablo III

I remember when the first Diablo came out. I played that game into the ground. I had it installed on my work laptop against company regulations because I didn't want to stop playing just because I had to go to work or lay in my bed. The only thing that could get me to stop playing was the one thing you don't talk about in polite company. I may have been crazy for Diablo, but I wasn't that crazy. Point is, I loved that game.

I really dug Diablo II as well. More levels, more monsters, same great gameplay. So it is understandable why there was such a frenzy for Diablo III.

But when D III came out I was strangely...apathetic after playing it. I played through the game once and I haven't gone back to it since. I haven't touched it in over six months.

I have pondered this from time to time. There are other games I have that were less hyped (X-Com, Crusader Kings II) that I have played regularly since I bought them. I see the shortcut for Diablo III on there and yet I never seem to click it.

The game wasn't buggy - I don't remember it ever crashing or giving me problems. Diablo III was certainly gorgeous visually. It had all the same wonderful loot grabbing that the first two games had. And the auction house, despite a lot of problems initially, is a really good idea.

So here is this game, like two other games I adored, on my computer, and I never go back to revisit it.

Maybe it is because the game seems somewhat...sterile. Or empty. It's like dating a beautiful woman/handsome man who is good at everything he/she does and does everything you like, but you can't connect with on any level. You can appreciate them and what they do, but you can easily leave them where they are and continue on.

Any great game draws you in again and again. It has a soul and heart. All the pretty graphics and gameplay in the world cannot cover up a lack of heart. And that is what Diablo III is missing.

Diablo III is an exercise in designing something technically sound and visually gorgeous. But it is not a product (in my opinion) born of love. It's a revenue generator for Blizzard and I personally feel that is reflected in the end product.

I like the auction house idea, but that is a clear cash-grab for Blizzard and the fee structure reflects that. The DRM-issue ties into that, forcing a player to be online to play and therefore to have access to the Auction House.

And there are issues with how the "end-game" is designed. To the point that some people are having to spend money in the AH to fix equipment that breaks on Inferno while being unable to obtain the legendary weapons they need.

I don't even blame Blizzard for doing this. Unlike most large gaming publishers, their entire income is tied into just three titles. Granted, they are all pretty huge titles. But if one falters (even with the 1M+ subscribers WoW got with Mists of Pandaria, their subscriber base is down almost 20% from 2010), they feel it in the wallet pretty hard.

But this is just ridiculous. I want to quote the previous link a little further because I think this strikes at the heart of the problem:

Chris has barely played since then. I took the Charlie Brown option. I put ten quid into the real money auction house and bought 100,000 gold (about three repairs at Inferno level) for 27p.

27 pennies. Hardly devastating, I know. I didn’t weep over the Mars Bar I could’ve bought with that money, and it got me back into the game. The feeling you get when you put down money for a micro-transaction is important, however. It shouldn’t make you feel as though you’ve been duped by an arbitrary number system. It shouldn’t leave you on your back on the football field, staring up at a ball that, you’re starting to suspect, is completely unreachable.

The auction house is all-consuming at high levels in Diablo 3. Drop rates have been modified upwards extensively since launch and the Paragon levels added in a recent patch lets players increase drop rates by 3% with every ding. Nonetheless, I can’t remember the last time a usable item dropped for my level 60 Barbarian. The odds that I’ll discover anything that I can directly equip seem absurdly small. At Inferno level, gear is everything. You’re as tough as the armour you’re wearing. To get precisely what you’ll need, the auction house is the only viable option.

Everything is geared to the auction house, to the bottom line, to 10 million people paying 27 cents for 100K in gold. If all 10M people pay ten bucks (for simplification's sake we'll use one currency) that's 100M dollars. In addition to the $59.99 everyone paid for the game. And that is why the number of people still playing Diablo III has been dropping. And it is even worse now.

And I need to emphasize again...that is perfectly fine. Blizzard has every right to make that decision and we, as consumers, have every right to buy the game or not. I do wish I knew how much the Auction House was going to drive the game, but every game purchase is a risk whether we care to think about that way or not.

But this should also highlight the inherent risk in publishing a game where the main driver is revenue. Blizzard's reputation has taken a large hit whether they care to admit to it or not. And I would bet a lot of people will not pre-commit to buying whatever product they give us next. I know for a fact I will not unless someone dumps a free copy in my lap.

Diablo III is 2012's biggest disappointment because it was designed not to give gamers an amazing experience, but to separate gamers from their money. And while plenty of games have that as a goal, very few deign to not only make it the goal but to also rub your face in it.


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