Diablo is one of the first computer games I ever bought. It’s an action RPG with a random dungeon generator, which is to say the dungeons, the monsters, and the loot change with every session. This was groundbreaking way back in 1996. I downloaded the 50 MB demo, a huge file at the time. I was hooked after playing for thirty minutes and went out to buy the game.
Diablo II was released four years later, after huge production delays stemming from Blizzard’s old “it’ll be ready when it’s ready” policy. I purchased the game on release day, even though it wasn’t yet available in Québec because the French translation wasn’t ready. By law, that meant they couldn’t sell the original English version either, but a quick trip across the border solved the problem. Take that, Québec economy!
The release of Diablo III is just around the corner, and many fans believe the folk at Blizzard have finally lost their minds, often blaming the company’s merger with evil, money-grubbing Activision. You see, Blizzard has recently announced that Diablo III will only be playable online via battle.net and that players will be able to sell items through a real money auction house (RMAH). To me, these are both horrible decisions for the following reasons.
When I Buy a Game, It’s Mine, Mine, Mine
I want to emphasise that I am not talking about an MMORPG. When you buy an MMORPG, you understand that the company providing the servers is in control. If the developers want to change something about the game, they do it. However, Diablo III is not an MMORPG, so when I pay my hard-earned money for the game, it ought to be mine. That means if a new patch introduces a change I don’t like, I can say, “Screw the patch!” For example, a patch in Diablo II nerfs the sorceress class by making higher-difficulty monsters more resistant to her spells. Did I download the patch? Hell, no! I had enough trouble levelling up my poor sorceress. Now that she was kicking ass and taking names, I aimed to keep the game the way it was.
By the same token, I will gladly use mods that make a game more fun. Knight of the Old Republic is one of my favourite games, but it can get repetitive, so I’ve used a number of great mods to alter the story, the items, and the difficulty level. If I want to cheat, I’m going to cheat. After getting my ass repeatedly handed to me in Civilisation III, I got my revenge by artificially stacking the game in my favour, and it felt great crushing that no-good, cheating computer.
Playing Diablo III on Battle.net means having to play the game only one way: the Blizzard way. None of the things I like to do with video games will be possible. I’ll have no control over the game that I bought, that I own. I understand that Blizzard wants to protect its game against piracy. Hell, if the company wants to check my license every week, that’s fine with me, but continuous supervision is a little overkill, especially when it’s at the expense of my freedom as a consumer.
Forced Internet is Bogus
Blizzard mentions a few deliberately weak examples of when reliance on Internet access may prove an issue, like when you’re on a plane or when there’s an outage. However, there are better examples Blizzard never addresses, such as when gamers have occupations that force them to travel a lot or stay in places with limited Web access. People in rural areas may have to deal with the game crashing every five minutes because of poor connection. A number of companies have gone back on similar decisions after soldiers deployed oversees complained that they don’t have the necessary broadband to play single-player games online.
Another issue Blizzard hasn’t addressed is what happens when Battle.net servers are down. Admittedly, Battle.net hasn’t suffered many outages so far, but it’s occurred before. When servers are down, I can’t play. This means I have to play the game on Blizzard’s schedule instead of my own, and what if, heaven forbid, Blizzard goes out of business? It all goes back to the question of who owns the game even after I purchased it.
Think of the Community
The idea of selling virtual items is not a new one. Players did it in Diablo II, and one could argue Blizzard is simply attempting to legitimise the process, making sure players don’t get swindled. World of Warcraft already has an auction house. Transactions are made using gold, the established currency of the game. Even then, if I were to post a Sword of Awesomeness for 1000 gold units, and someone suddenly advertised the same sword for 900 gold units, I’d get annoyed at having wasted gold posting an item that no idiot would buy when there’s a cheaper one for sale. How annoyed will players get when they lose real money undercutting each other?
In group raids, World of Warcraft players get frustrated when they lose a roll and don’t get the piece of gear they wanted. They hate losing to a boss and having to go home empty handed. How will they feel in Diablo III when they lose a piece of gear they could have sold for real money? The chances of this system creating more strife than entertainment are staggering.
I Don’t Support Sweatshops
Admittedly, the RMAH would not change how I personally play the game. I would not buy or sell items. The real problem arises when you consider what is currently happening in World of Warcraft: gold sweatshops. Around the world (mostly in China), people are employed to play ten to twelve hours a day without breaks and gather gold to sale for real money. Gold farmers currently have to set up websites and advertise their services on their own.
When Diablo III comes out, farmers will probably sell their items directly through Blizzard’s auction house. The big winner in this: Blizzard, which will get a cut of every transaction made through its RMAH. Well done, Blizzard! You have found a brand new way of exploiting sweatshops workers! I know work in a sweatshop is better than no work at all, but I still don’t think we should be going out of our way to encourage this practice.
I know what most people will say: “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy the game.” They’re right. My plans have changed drastically: I’ve gone from waiting impatiently for Diablo III to having no plans whatsoever of buying it. The system works.