Opinion: Why The Diablo III Backlash Got Overheated

Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris examines the backlash from this week's controversial Diablo III news, stating Blizzard "doesn't make decisions rashly" and those vowing boycotts "are blowing smoke."
[Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris examines the backlash from this week's controversial Diablo III news, stating Blizzard "doesn't make decisions rashly" and those vowing boycotts "are blowing smoke."] Amid all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over Monday's Diablo III announcement, I have to admit I saw things a bit differently. Between the kerfuffle over the always-connected DRM, the decision to disallow modding and the real money auctions, players didn't even blink when the company all but announced that the game wouldn't be out this year. Those same people were the ones who just a week ago were seriously jonesing for the chance to get repetitive stress injuries from the non-stop clicking. Blizzard, of course, hasn't announced a date for Diablo III, but it did tell MTV's Multiplayer blog that, in order to avoid repeating the mistakes it made with Starcraft II (where it announced a release date, then missed it by nearly a year), it would wait until 3-4 months before the game hits shelves before announcing a date. Factor in the beta period and that makes 2011 look like a long shot. Still, the forums barely blinked at that. Instead, gamers flowered with outrage – mostly over the game's DRM. Likely still gun-shy about the always-connected requirement after Ubisoft royally screwed the pooch with it in 2010, players imagined nightmare scenarios and aired grievances about not being able to play the game on planes anymore. I'll be the first to admit the DRM is an inconvenience – and whether the advantages Blizzard are touting are worth the headaches is something no one will be able to determine until we have the game in our hands. But the folks who are loudly vowing to boycott the game are blowing smoke – and we all know it. I would suggest that their stand in the name of gaming purity will last exactly as long as it takes for several of their friends to tell them how much fun Diablo III is, at which time they'll cave and buy a copy – and will largely forget about their objections within a few hours. Blizzard isn't a dumb company – and doesn't make decisions rashly. Tending to their fan base has been a major contributor to the company's success, even when it has made some controversial decisions, like the lack of LAN support in Starcraft II (something you rarely heard people complaining about once the game hit shelves, incidentally). It also knows when to acknowledge its mistakes. Look no further than last year's Real ID uproar. And while it seems unlikely that the company will back down on this issue, it's a safe bet it look lessons from that incident and incorporated them into this decision. In truth, I honestly don't think people are as upset about the actual DRM as they might say they are. Let's face it, with broadband connections fairly standard for PC gamers, their machine would have been online most of the times they played anyway. This reaction actually seems much more personal – and that I actually understand. A little over a year ago, Blizzard's co-founder had some harsh – and prescient - words regarding DRM, telling Videogamer: "If you start talking about DRM and different technologies to try to manage it, it's really a losing battle for us," said Frank Pearce, "because the community is always so much larger, and the number of people out there that want to try to counteract that technology, whether it's because they want to pirate the game or just because it's a curiosity for them, is much larger than our development teams." Instead, he said, the developer's job was to make so compelling that people wanted to stay connected. The question Blizzard hasn't answered yet is why it made that philosophical shift – or if it views Monday's announcement as being in line with that statement. As for the ban on mods, it's frustrating as well (especially for people like me, who prefer single-player experiences), but so far it hasn't sparked the same reaction from the fanbase. And the complaints over the item auctions using real-world money are baffling to me. The auctions are entirely optional and they're simply a better way for Blizzard to keep a handle on the inevitable sale of those items, rather than spending a fortune fruitlessly chasing traders as it has with World of Warcraft gold farms. Could Blizzard have handled this better? Perhaps. But the knee-jerk reaction that accompanied seems over the top to me – and anyone who thinks they're giving Bobby Kotick or Mike Morhaime agita is sadly deluded. Those guys are probably too busy divvying up the enormous thank you basket that undoubtedly landed on the Activision receptionist's desk yesterday - from Ubisoft.

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