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My thoughts on the Diablo 3 'changes' Fiasco

A personal view of the Diablo 3 'feature reveal' blowout. Featuring a focus on the 'Anti-Modding' part!

I’ve been watching articles roll out ever since Activision-Blizzard announced their changes for Diablo 3 and have seen them go from initial knee jerk outrage and indignation to the more calmer, thought out ones that generally come into play after everyone has exerted their energies in the collective rage. Hey, everybody needs to vent and this article is meant to address a few issues that I’ve seen seriously lacking in most of the discussions.

Let me begin with the very first issue – The Real Cash Auction House

Frankly, I have no real quibbles with this one. So, they have had third party and particularly shady websites that dealt in item transaction and Blizzard (or Activision if you’re still looking to blame someone) is implementing a system to make sure you don’t get conned out of your money. Sure, they make some profit in the transactions and what not, but you can’t really blame them. They’re a company, not your friend who’s willing to pick up a burger for you on his way back to the apartment.

The only thing that this feature makes me worry about is players who’ll just buy the best armor they can find instead of just playing the game and finding their own. This isn’t something I’d think would happen often, but I can see concern over ‘fairness’ rising here. Blizzard maintains that there are level caps to items but that doesn’t mean that I can’t just buy the top tier items for a particular level. Thankfully, I doubt too many people would play with random strangers for this to become too much of an issue but it can definitely throw any possibly PvP out of whack. Before I move on, I’d like to add that Blizzard reserving the right to tinker with the market place if they so deem fit, could get worrisome. This boils down to how much you trust them, though, and is purely subjective.

The second issue at hand – DRM

Okay, just what in the world is it with this ‘I can’t play on a plane’ argument!? I’m against this sort of DRM myself but that’s the worst argument I’ve ever heard! A proper argument would look something like this – If you’ve become so intensely paranoid of hackers, and then do something about them in a way that doesn’t hurt your consumer. By doing so you’ve just alienated an entire demographic; Namely, the kind that, unlike the west, thinks of a steady net connection as something along the lines of a luxury rather than a necessity. I’m aware that most of this demographic belongs to countries (including my own) that are well known for very lax Digital Piracy laws or implementation of said laws. This makes putting the point forward a bit difficult, but I have to admit a growing weariness at how most new games are always made with the Western market in mind. Sure, they count for the majority of your sales, but you’re not going to change that by continuing to market only to them. Gamers exist the world over and unless you give them a valid reason to buy your games, they won’t.

Along those lines, wasn’t it Frank Pearce who said, “If you start talking about DRM and different technologies to try to manage it, it's really a losing battle for us 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.”

And, “We need our development teams focused on content and cool features, not anti-piracy technology.”

Whatever happened to that philosophy? That was a philosophy I would have been happy to stand by and one I’d have supported whole heartedly. Make a game that’s worth buying. That’s how it used to be… This coupled with the previous ‘change’,point towards a very aggressive business model that’s focused on making a great game, but ensuring that people pay for it just as much. I’d be lying if the first thoughts that came to my mind weren’t ‘damn you, Kotick!’ but once again, I’ll put off my initial indignation and finger pointing till I hear a little more.

Till then, I maintain that I don’t like how much Activision is changing Blizzard and sincerely hope that this sort of a mindset from a publisher doesn’t become the norm.

Okay, now we come to the final change – The Anti-Modding bit

Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t seen more posts that are disgruntled about this. I mean, modding has been one of the greatest aspects of our industry. What other entertainment industry gives their customers the very tools they used to make the game? That’s unique. That’s something that has spawned whole new genres of games. Case in point – DotA. We wouldn’t have any form of a MOBA if it weren’t for Warcraft 3’s Map Editor. If you think about it, we have Blizzard to thank for allowing the framework for the creation of the genre. Now, we not only have DotA, but Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends with DotA 2 and Realm of Titans just around the corner!

What about Counter Strike and Team Fortress? The former’s a staple of any event that hopes to call itself a Gaming Competition and the latter has proven to be one hell of a franchise in its second iteration… and a decent hat trading game to boot.

All of these (and there are more I’m sure I’m missing) are indicative of what the Industry has to gain from allowing gamers and enthusiasts to Mod. Yet, here we are… Prohibiting Modding as if it were a plague that had run rampant for far too long. The only reason I can see for this rule is because –

  1. Without LAN support, players who used to make maps and Mods for local use can’t anymore.
  2. The DRM bit will make Mods useless in servers. You can’t expect everyone to have downloaded the specific one you happen to be using to join your game… and so many more complications.
  3. The company doesn’t stand to gain a profit from such an allowance.

If they’d said that Modding wasn’t prohibited but rather now impractical with the anti-piracy measure they’d put in place, I would have had rolled my eyes, muttered an exasperated ‘duh!’ and watched things pan out. What’s important here is that they didn’t say that but said that it was prohibited. I’d say the wording really riles me up but more than that it’s the very fact that we’re sacrificing potential game ideas and concepts that could become huge just so that a company can rest assured that they’re being paid for every ounce of service they provide. You can’t control Modding and what you can’t control, you can’t monetize.

If that’s how it’s going to be, it won’t be long before Lego prohibits the creation of anything apart from what’s given on the box cover and instruction manual.

Ok, a bit extreme but that’s where it looks like we’re headed as far as games go and from where I stand, the view’s looking pretty damn bleak.

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