Historically, Blizzard built their reputation on 2 things:
1)Creating some of the most memorable, finely crafted, masterful titles in video game history. Their dedication is evident in every aspect of each one of their titles.
2)Committing wholeheartedly to serving customers, listening to feedback, addressing issues, patching flaws and introducing changes long after release
I believe that Blizzard holds true to their reputation in at least some capacity. Responses from Blizzard employees in the past, as well as the post from CEO Mike Morhaime have indicated the level of respect that they have for their player base. Recent and coming changes indicate to me that Blizzard remains true to its core philosophy of “customer first” as much as it is capable of.
Many posters have stated that “Blizzard doesn't care what we think” or “They already have our money” but I think these types of statements are unfounded. All companies exist to make money; if they didn't make any money they wouldn't exist. No company continues its existence by driving away its customer base. Blizzard did manage to sell millions of copies of Diablo 3, but 4 other sources of revenue must be taken into consideration:
1) Sequels (for all Blizzard franchises)
Sustainable Micro-Transactions, I believe, were Blizzard's biggest predicted source of long-term revenue generated from this game. They would have anticipated that most sales of the game would take place up front, followed by a steady stream of revenue generated by the RMAH. This revenue would support D3's vast infrastructure and, if successful, generate additional profit for the company as a whole.
As the player-base for Diablo 3 declines, the predicted RMAH revenue vanishes. Diablo 3 no longer generates the money it would have. The large, online-only infrastructure of servers will no longer support itself: it will become a burden on company resources after a period of time.
A secondary side-effect of collateral damage takes further toll on Blizzard's revenue, as long-time fans may boycott other franchises. This reduces sales of expansions and sequels to not only Diablo 3, but all Blizzard games. Subscriptions for WoW, as well as planned subscriptions for future games will also suffer as a result of bad will generated by unsatisfied players. As a general rule, most fans of one Blizzard franchise tend to play their other games as well.
The success or failure of Diablo 3 in the long term will have a huge impact on the company as a whole. Whether or not fans agree that Blizzard still cares about their customers (I believe they do), Blizzard cares about the success of their company.
They are listening to us.
Day in and day out we all see the same things posted on the forums. I'd include myself in the list of forum-dwellers on here ranting and raving about basically the same topic every day. I began to question myself after a while. “Why?” Why did I feel this way about this game? What is it that made my gameplay experience so disappointing? I found my attention was focused on 3 main topics that were the largest detractors to my experience. I will attempt to deconstruct and delve into the core mechanics that really shape the game – in my opinion – for the worse.
The 3 main issues I feel that give players like myself the most grief (minor issues aside):
1)Backwards Progress in Game Development
3)Itemization and Customization
TL;DR Mode Engaged. Scroll to the bottom for the vastly abbreviated version.
Backwards Progress in Game Development
Many players like myself had a tremendous level of expectation walking into Diablo 3. When I talk about Diablo 2 to my friends, I might as well be talking in Chinese, but I try to make clear my dedication when talking about these kinds of things IRL. I once told a friend at work that I had played Diablo 2 for more hours than every other video game I have ever played, combined. I checked into the D3 webpage weekly until release. I looked at the new classes, the gameplay footage, the concept art. Everything. For 4 years. In some ways, maybe it was impossible for D3 to live up to the hype.
I remember when the infamous rainbow in the Southern Highlands popped up in a screenshot, and the community lit up with rage. “We don't want no kiddie WoW graphics in our Diablo!” “Give us pentagrams, buckets of blood, bodies on pikes, no effin rainbows!” This was the first indication that the development of the game was moving in the opposite direction of what the players wanted.
I shrugged off most of these initial complaints. “They were just graphics,” I thought, “It's still a Diablo game at it's core.”
Now fast-forward to today, it seems our concerns about the game were well-founded. Diablo would borrow more than just visual design from WoW. The music, the graphics, the artwork, the characters, the story. Everything was out of place. None of it FELT like a Diablo game. Where was the darkness? Where was the gothic feel? Where was the gore? Diablo 2 opened in an insane asylum with a cacophony of screams that filled the air with darkness and despair. Diablo 3 opened with a meteor shower and one of the most contrived cinematic conventions of all time: Leah reaches feebly into the pit, shouting “UNCLLLLLLLLLLE!” And players are left scratching their heads. Who is this chick, anyways? Deckard Cain had a niece this whole time who he loved like a daughter yet never mentioned even once? And didn't I already see this on the website like a year ago? Didn't they come up with any new cinematics?
This was before the gameplay mechanics are even taken into consideration. As I played through the game, it became increasingly more apparent that the designers were moving in the opposite direction of the players. The WoW inspiration in the graphics and visuals makes its way into gameplay as well. In a Diablo game it is misplaced. Early on it is not much of an issue, but later on in Inferno the WoW combat system hinders more than it helps. It feels COMPLETELY out of place. Cooldowns, rotating cooldowns, potion cooldowns. The elite/boss encounters that are arduously long and drawn out, mobs with millions of HP. And more cooldowns.
Now, simply borrowing a lot of mechanics from WoW does not automatically make the game bad. However, a lot of us were expecting more. A lot more. The gameplay should have been AT LEAST as good as Diablo 2. We were not expecting backwards progress on a game that we were waiting over a decade for. It's not so much about what they included in the game, it's more about what was left behind.
- Runes (this is the biggest one, IMO)
- Skull, Diamond, Sapphire gems
- Powerful Uniques
- Level 99 Cap
- Players 8 System
- Randomized Maps
- Skill Synergies
- Skill Points/Trees
- Allocatable Attribute Points
- Horadric Cube/Recipies
- Mana Potions
- Stamina/Stamina Potions (and the associated Run mechanic)
- Thawing/Antidote Potions (and their associated mechanics)
- Permanent Quest Rewards
- Item Imbuing
- Multi-Socket Weapons
I understand that the developers wanted to break new ground with D3. They didn't want D2 with new graphics. And honestly, neither did we. It's possible, though, to introduce new mechanics and new ideas, while retaining aspects of the game that players enjoyed. As we have seen in recent patches, the developers have been working toward including many of the items on the above list. They have been met with considerable praise and have been mostly successful in improving the game in a lot of ways. Many of us, like myself, wondered “Why not include all of these things to begin with?” The game, on release, felt simply hollow and empty. Unfinished, even. How, after all these years, could we still be in what is essentially the beta phase? There is a lot of speculation on this point.
It could be because of the resources available to the Diablo team. Understandably, Blizzard devotes considerable resources and manpower to World of Warcraft. One forum poster speculated in a lengthy post that Iterative Development may have been the cause. In creating new iterations multiple times throughout development, the team basically does 2 things:
1: They make no progress after each iteration is scrapped: they are right back to square one. We have seen this in some aspects of the game that were released in the previews on the website. The skill system, for example, with the Alabaster, Ivory, Crimson, etc. Runes was scrapped as recently as last year. That means, in a four-year development cycle, they had to almost completely redo the skill system in only ONE year.
2: With each iteration it is possible to deviate from a core concept that they had started with. It is possible, after each iteration, that whatever they were working on became less and less like the original idea. What started as a unique and original idea may have ended up distorted (either for better or worse) during the development process. Perhaps Runes/Runewords were included in an earlier iteration of the game, but a new mechanic was introduced that conflicted with it, so in the next iteration it was dropped.
I can at best only guess at the true nature of their development process. Regardless of my speculation, the game is what it is. Currently there are many questionable design decisions outside of Itemization and Build Diversity (covered in the next 2 posts).
- Non-Random Maps: A significant factor in introducing variety and freshness into each D2 session, random maps are also helpful in eliminating feelings of boredom. Every game experience was unique. Why they chose to leave a vital aspect like this out of the game is unknown. From a gameplay perspective it makes little sense to leave it out. It is likely a game-engine limitation; certain subsets of the maps are random, but the map overall retains the same basic shape. This could be attributed to the “depth” and 3-dimensional space present in some levels, as it may have been challenging to introduce true randomness in 3-dimensions. As an aside, the static map system present in D3 has an added side-effect of making the game feel very small and linear (despite the large size of certain areas)
- Hit-Detection: At first thought to be a bug in early playthroughs of the game, I later discovered that this was intentionally designed. From the very start of A1 this was the first gameplay mechanic to detract from immersing myself in the game. It felt like a glitch, even though it wasn't. It felt like playing a video game from the 80s. As many players can attest to, receiving fatal damage while yards away from attack felt misplaced in an ARPG, let alone in any modern game. This is especially evident for ranged classes, which survive primarily by avoiding attacks, yet become frustrated at being unable to do so.
- Battle.net/Multiplayer: There is a lot of perceived negative progreess in regards to the new Battle.net system. It is mostly featureless compared to D2 and to most modern games in general. The lobby system present in D2 was a tremendous boost to player interaction. Named games and password protection allowed like-minded players to seek each other out. Farming/Questing/Trading was more easily achieved, rather than joining a game and wandering about, confused. The D2 lobby system and the D3 Quick-Join system are not mutually exclusive in any way. It was completely within the realm of possibility to include both. Quick-Join system for players who wanted a quick game, and the lobby system for players who had specific goals in mind. In its current state the D3 multiplayer system feels so much “less” than its predecessor, while simultaneously inhibiting social interaction within the community.
- PVP: I am astonished this was not included in the final release of the game. Blizzard may be working on some sort of Arena PVP, the specifics of which are largely unknown. It may take them quite a bit of time for them to sort it out. Regardless, there is no real excuse to not have D1/D2-style PVP included on release. It's one button. Click to Go Hostile. D2 PVP was completely unregulated, hilariously random and frantically chaotic. It was also immensely fun. Again, the 2 styles of PVP are not mutually exclusive. Hostile-PVP for players who want to mess with each other, and structured Arena PVP for players who were interested. It may be until 2013 when PVP is released. Myself, and many players are left scratching our heads, wondering “Why can't we kill each other?” Many players have their fondest D1/D2 memories in PVP. It is central to the bloody, no-holds-barred Diablo experience.
This brings me to the next 2 posts, where I will attempt to dissect the HOW and WHY of the game's most glaring flaws.