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D3: Diablo's Digital Disruptment

A look back at Diablo 3's patch 1.04 headlines a discussion of the merits and problems that have surfaced with the rise of digital content.

A few weeks ago we finally got Diablo 3's 1.04 patch, which has been a long time coming, altering the skills of the various classes, enemy attributes, item stat distributions and even legendary item design. Not to mention the whole new end game mechanic in the form of the paragon system, this adds 100 more levels increasing player’s stats and the magic and gold find rate. Now without question, these changes were warranted to improve the game. However with that said something doesn't sit right with me.

While I was reading the designer diaries for each class and the overall changes. With each one the writer talked about how Blizzard came to these decisions and how long they thought about it. While the comments were filled with people praising Blizzard. As I was reading the changes and how they finally figured things out, I could hear a voice screaming in the back of my head one word at the Diablo 3 team: "idiots."

The big changes to item distribution and enemies have been discussed ad-nauseam around the internet. Including by yours truly which I've written several blog posts on the subject of Diablo 3's design. The gameplay changes like removing the enrage timer and invulnerable minions, I figured out in a few days of playing inferno mode. It took Blizzard over three months to understand and make these changes.

My problem comes down to the rise of digital distribution and how I'm having conflicted thoughts on what it has done to game quality.

Digital Quandary:

The rise of digital content has given designers the ability to continue supporting products for as long as there is interest. But on that note, it also gives designers the temptation to release games in a less than stellar state, and then patch out the kinks at a later date.

This past year, some of my favorite games released on the PC have all had revisions and additions through digital content. Payday: The heist got new heists and the designers have improved the AI for example. While A Valley Without Wind has had enough changes to make it almost a different game compared to launch. And I can't forget Team Fortress 2's release of Mann vs. Machine mode that renewed my interest in the game.

                                            A Valley Without Wind

Which leaves me with a question burning in my mind: "Why am I happy supporting those titles and yet I feel burned by Diablo 3?" As I thought about it more, I realized that there was a difference between the improvements made in the games I liked, and the improvements from patch 1.04 of Diablo 3.

Building a Digital Foundation:

Looking at the positive examples, each game was built on a foundation of game mechanics. While each title has changed since their release, the fundamentals have remained the same. Even A Valley Without Wind that had the most changes still adhered to the core concept of the game.

In other words, no matter how much these games were patched, I never felt that they invalidated my time spent with each. With Payday, all the time learning the maps and tactics prepared me for when they released Overkill 145 mode (super hard mode).

But in Diablo 3 the changes that have been made, to me feel like they invalidated about 60+ hours spent playing the game. The changes to the skills and enemy variables meant that my time learning the skill and rune trees was wasted. Now I need to go through and test out various builds again to see how they have improved.

The changes to items have invalidated everything I found pre patch. I had a lot of items in storage that I was going to sell on the AH, but with the changes to 60 and up items, they are not worth it anymore.

This has also screwed up trying to create a build with my level 60 character as he is stuck between beating act 2 inferno and getting hopelessly killed in act 3. With the changes to the skills and loot, I have no baseline to determine what needs tweaking and it would be easier to create a new character that will get the new items by just playing through the game instead of farming.

The only part of the patch that is a direct improvement to the game would be the paragon system which gives players more improvement to their character once they reach the cap. Still I can't help but feel that my time with Diablo 3 over the last 3 months would have been better spent doing something else while waiting for these changes.

                                              Team Fortress 2

Picture for a second if Valve decided to release a patch that switched the primary weapon of the heavy and the solider and all unlocks associated with the weapons. For anyone who played those two classes, they would have to relearn how to play them with the new gear, which in turn would invalidate the time, spent learning them in the first place. But even with all the new items, modes and crafting system, the base mechanics of Team Fortress 2 remained the same.

Looking Into the Future:

The part that really makes me annoyed is that it feels like at launch Blizzard went 3 steps back with Diablo 3, and now with patch 1.04 they made 3 and a half steps forward. Making the game feel like what it should have been at launch. Other than the legendary change and the paragon system, there has been nothing in terms of new content added.

Looking at the other examples, they have added content in between balance patches and changes. Almost every patch from A Valley Without Wind these days adds new room layouts and enemies for the player to meet.

 One of the positives behind digital releases is the ability to provide content faster as opposed to releasing expansion packs. But Diablo 3 is still stuck in the mud and many players are still waiting for the PvP patch. They have recently started talking about patch 1.05, but at this point, no dates have been given yet.

The other part is the speed at which these patches were out. When there was a problem with a patch in A Valley Without Wind, the developers released a fix either that day or the next. While the Payday developers took a long time to add content, they were prompt about releasing bug fixes and always let the community know what was going on.

With Blizzard, we were left in the dark for at least 3 months and it wasn't until a week before patch 1.04 that they finally talked about the changes and fixes that were coming. Now this has been Blizzard's style since the early days: waiting for something concrete or finalized to be done before announcing it. But that doesn't fly anymore, with the ease of patches these days; a company can build a rapport with their community by simply talking to them about what they're working on.

The designers behind both A Valley Without Wind and Payday made numerous appearances on their message boards to inform the fan-base as to what they're working on and what is being planned. That way the fans know what is being worked on instead of being left in the dark for a long period of time.

In the end I still feel conflicted. Diablo 3 was one of my most anticipated games this year and to see all the slip ups made is disheartening to say the least. I'm curious if anyone else feels the same way or am I just spinning my wheels at this point.

Josh Bycer

Reprinted from my blog: Mind's Eye

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