Dear Blizzard

What the hell, guys?

Look, in this month’s regular Fanboy Indoctrination and Proselytizing Monthly magazine, right next to the article about tricking little kids into pre-ordering Mists of Pandaria, you had that whole feature about how awesome Diablo III was going to be. And, obviously, you were right. I sprinkled my incense on my Metzen-Shrine just like every good acolyte, sent in my monthly dues and went to bed with my Huggable-Tyrael Talking doll.

But, look, it’s hard not to get some of the complaints from the unwashed heathens that keep rolling across our desks. Despite my best efforts to stay on script about the Real Money Auction House and always-on DRM, you gotta admit that some of these folks may have a point.

Now, I suspect the banging I hear at my door is probably the Mike Morhaime Faith Adjustment Team, so let me be quick. You guys have been great for years and years, and you remain to my mind one of the top game creators in the world, but it is time to lose the holier-than-thou, above-it-all arrogance that seems to ooze from every comment, statement and news story coming out of the business these days.

My latest last straw was news yesterday that now customers who buy a digital copy of Diablo III will have their game hamstrung for 3 days. Honestly, when I read this I just looked at the story for a solid minute waiting for it to resolve into something logical in my mind. It did not. I mean, if you want me to spin this for you guys, I’m going to need some talking points or a powerpoint or something. I don’t get how to justify and resolve the fact that if I went out and bought a copy of D3 on your online store right now, I’d have little more than a glorified demo, unable to go past level 13, unable to advance through more than the first couple hours of the story, unable to chat with the sanctified general population, unable to play with my friends, unable even to give Blizzard its 15% tithing by buying fancy pants off the auction house until Sunday.

Look, I like to keep a fairly even tone to my articles generally, and I have been accused on more than one occasion of giving an undeserved benefit of the doubt to businesses large and small, but I can’t think of any other way to ask this question.

Are you guys completely stupid now?

I know I’m tottering closer and closer to internet diatribe territory here, and I want to be sensitive to the fact that probably my question seems like the sort of foul-tempered, gutteral mutterings one might expect from a Blizzard forum post -- look forward to my next article Why I’m Starting a Class Action Lawsuit After the Demon Hunter Nerfs. I can even now hear the Faith Adjustment Team cracking through the locks on my front door. Someone is shouting “For Aiur!” and I think that may be some kind of mental trigger, because I suddenly want to give those guys my credit card, but let me eke out a last couple of lucid thoughts here.

I believe that you believe you are doing what’s in the best interest of everyone, and I also believe that you guys have a strong commitment to creating the best game you can within the understood necessities of a more complicated games industry. But there was a time where I remember Blizzard Entertainment making and publicizing key games decisions that were clearly to the benefit of the game and gamer equally even if they were not always the optimal choice from a business. And, sure, sometimes it burned you, but it also was those kinds of decisions that propelled the company into a balanced position of financial, critical and fan success.

Let me tell you, from the outside looking in, as someone who has done all but going door-to-door to ask if people have heard the good word about Azeroth: You guys are blowing it. And, that’s fine. You know just as well as I do that you don’t need that balance to make a ton of money. You don’t need good-will, or broad based critical support. You don’t need the enthusiast press. You don’t need forums that sing the songs of your praises. You don’t need me to get on every podcast and talk about how much fun I’m having with Diablo 3. You can happily flush all of that down the toilet and still sell a hojillion copies of Heart of the Swarm, Mists of Pandaria and whatever Titan turns out to be.

And, as much as I want to come up with a meaningful, cogent way to tell you to cut this crap out of no LAN support, forcing egregious DRM in the name of semantics and now the hobbling of legitimately purchased copies, I can’t. It’ll work, for now. You’ll make a ton of money, for now.

So, let me just say as a fan, it sucks. It’s shameful, and it’s embarrassing for someone who has always tried to assume the best intentions to see the consistent march away from industry-leading games and service to corrupted, fallen hero. You guys are better than this, or at least you were.

I hear the Adjustment team now in the other room, and they’ve apparently got their Conformity Sticks out and charged. But you can still salvage what you were to gamers if it’s something that matters to your company mission anymore, though I suspect maybe it doesn’t. From one of the most ardent fans of your games over the year, come back Blizzard. I miss y—ow!

Have you heard the good news about Mists of Pandaria? It’s going to be awesome and you should preorder it today.

Comments

I think it is important to note that the 72 hour waiting period is in reality "up to 72 hours".

I think this takes some of the edge off but really why not just lock out only the RMAH for "up to 72 hours"?

Would I be overstepping any marks to say that it's telling that this is an issue only on D3, and probably only because of the RMAH? I mean it's not as though it's the first game on the bnet store, or that they've just started accepting credit cards. That's before you get to some of the in-game balance issues I've been reading so much about that have me stroking my beard.

Well, I needed to clear some disk space but was struggling to find something I wanted to uninstall. Blizzard just made that decision really easy for me. Thanks Blizzard! The spare 10gig is very much appreciated!

(actually I hadn't played the game in about a month anyway so that probably helped as well).

fangblackbone wrote:

I think it is important to note that the 72 hour waiting period is in reality "up to 72 hours".

I think this takes some of the edge off but really why not just lock out only the RMAH for "up to 72 hours"?

You could simply block general chat (really? who wants to be there anyway?), block outbound friend requests, and block the auction house, which leaves the player with a fully functional game (in fact, for those of us who are single player refugees, that's the game we kind of wanted to begin with).

I suspect that the problem they're dealing with is one that nobody had accounted for, and as others have suggested it has to do with protecting themselves from credit card fraud and chargebacks. They had to get it fixed ASAP, and although they probably had not coded a mechanism to specifically limit access to these aspects of the game, they did already have a generic notion of a restricted trial account.

From an implementation perspective, that could have simply been the easiest temporary solution available, which will be replaced once they come up with a better strategy to deal with the situation.

Between this, the always-on DRM, the massive (and for some continuing) launch issues and the fact that it's just not a very innovative title, this is going to be the last Blizzard product I buy, barring a major change in how they do business. More and more, this is demonstrating that Diablo III is about getting money from people and getting more money from them after and the rest of the experience is being tailored around that. They're trying to make every title a constant revenue generator like WoW is but know they can't charge subscriptions for new titles. It's gross and it's a lousy way to treat loyal fans.

If this 72 hours lockdown (the progression may have been a bug [which got through QA how?] but there's still a lot of restrictions that will remain) is necessary to protect the integrity of their RMAH, then that model has failed and they didn't secure it right and that's what should be removed until that can get their act together. There's a lot of other ways to get a Diablo-like experience now. I'm not going to try to get a refund from them or anything but if this is their envisioned future as a company, I don't want any further part of it. None of this is for the benefit of the players, only Blizzard and that's not how you're supposed to work. I don't care what company it is or what good stuff they've made in the past, abusing paying customers this way is gross and wrong.

Parallax Abstraction wrote:

Between this, the always-on DRM, the massive (and for some continuing) launch issues and the fact that it's just not a very innovative title, this is going to be the last Blizzard product I buy, barring a major change in how they do business.

For me, it was Starcraft 2. After I realized I was personally just playing the same game the same way I did with the first one and getting the same results and rewards, I lost interest. Also, not having a Protoss campaign didn't help, as they were my race of choice. So there's no way I'll be getting the Zerg release and by the time the Protoss one comes out it'll be 2015 or something and we'll all have forgotten our protests of "Never again!", or moved on.

Now Blizzard is just a game developer that I used to know.

But you didn't have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don't even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough

Elysium wrote:

But you didn't have to cut me off

Well-played (for the first 13 levels).

These days I'm not sure Blizzard and "innovative" should ever be used in the same sentence.

Nevin73 wrote:

These days I'm not sure Blizzard and "innovative" should ever be used in the same sentence.

Perhaps not, but were they ever great for being innovative?

From the limited time I played the stress test beta, I can see there's things to like in the game, but for me those aspects get overshadowed by the choices they felt they needed to take so that the game could support the RMAH, especially when they're not the only show in town.

Elysium wrote:

So, let me just say as a fan, it sucks. It’s shameful, and it’s embarrassing for someone who has always tried to assume the best intentions to see the consistent march away from industry-leading games and service to corrupted, fallen hero. You guys are better than this, or at least you were.

Right or wrong, this is how I felt after Blizzard released WoW, so umm... welcome to the club?

Stele wrote:
AndrewA wrote:

My wife was badgering me to buy this game for us to play together, and I'd told her that we should just wait for Torchlight 2. This bit of news pretty much seals it..... no D3 for us.

Yep. Bring on T2. Blizzard can have my money when they pry it from my cold, dead hands. :p

+1

[edit]

mrtomaytohead wrote:
Parallax Abstraction wrote:

Between this, the always-on DRM, the massive (and for some continuing) launch issues and the fact that it's just not a very innovative title, this is going to be the last Blizzard product I buy, barring a major change in how they do business.

For me, it was Starcraft 2.

The last Blizzard game I bought was Warcraft 3. Does that make me a Blizzard hater hipster?

I'm not sure blizzard realise just how badly this could bite them in the ass.

Part of the reason WoW subs have traditionally held up so well is that despite the loud QQing minority protestations most of the customer base trusted Blizz.
They trusted them to produce regular updates, and they trusted them to value their community.
Slowly but surely however that trust has been eroded.

Once you loose the trust of your player base its very hard to ever get it back.

Elysium wrote:

But you didn't have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don't even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough

sum-bod-EEEE!

Diablo and Diablo 2 run just fine on Windows 7. Just sayin'.

I can't believe friggin 'Gotye was brought into this discussion. I feel so gross now, I need a shower.

There is no way in Diablo's Hell that the level cap and game restrictions was an "unintended consequence." Before it got removed here is the blue forum post:

As of patch 1.0.3, when purchasing a digital version of Diablo III through the online store or your Battle.net Account, players are restricted to the Starter Edition for the first 72 hours (sometimes less). Players on Starter Editions have the following restrictions:
Act I up to the Skeleton King is available
Level 13 cap
Matchmaking available only with other Starter Edition players
No Auction House access (Real Money or Gold)
Global Play is not available. Players attempting to connect to Diablo III Starter Edition in a region other than their Battle.net Account's home region will receive Error 12. See the Global Play support article for more information.
More information regarding the Starter Edition is available here:
http://us.battle.net/support/en/arti......

If you are still encountering the Starter Edition restrictions over 72 hours past the date of purchase, please let Customer Service know: http://us.battle.net/support/en/arti...

I haven't got Diablo 3, but part of me is still interested, which is why Ive been folowing this. I know Torchlight 2 will be out soon, but no Mac port has been formally annouced yet, so

Welcome back, Sean. Welcome back.

I was expecting another one of Sean's love letters to Blizzard, so this was a surprise.

The gimped offline mode in SC2 has made me hesitant with any Actiblizz product since, online only is out of the question, and now the RMAH and this debacle are way too far.

Heart of the Swarm may turn me into a hypocrite, but Blizzard is a company I don't trust at all.

Scratched wrote:
Nevin73 wrote:

These days I'm not sure Blizzard and "innovative" should ever be used in the same sentence.

Perhaps not, but were they ever great for being innovative?

From the limited time I played the stress test beta, I can see there's things to like in the game, but for me those aspects get overshadowed by the choices they felt they needed to take so that the game could support the RMAH, especially when they're not the only show in town.

I think so. They were never going to surprise you, but all the Warcraft games were pretty innovative at the time. Warcraft III in particular really pushed the genre, especially from a single-player POV. They pioneered the use of cutscenes that you actually wanted to see. And they created an entirely new genre with Diablo. (Btw, I'm not fact-checking any of this, so you can point out my omission of Demon Pepperoni Assassin III as a Diablo precursor if you'd like.)

In their "polish" phase (Paul, not pole) they may have lifted mechanics from other games, but they had a real knack for taking those mechanics and placing them into a useful and intuitive UI.

These days, their games are essentially just copies of their older games. And this time around the Skinnerian element seems to be less accidental or emergent from game design, and more like a built-in feature.

I suppose we can talk about how they used to be so full of promise and integrity, but a lot of times, these little companies grow up like people. And some of them grow up like Valve, all competent cool and cutting edge, with a bent towards moral causes. But others grow up investing in shady real estate deals and become so focused on money that they lose what animated them in their youth. I fear that may be what we're seeing out of Blizzard. There's a great Ben Folds line: "Well, I've seen some old friends sort of die or just turn into whatever must have been inside them." A little maudlin for a video game company, but pretty accurate, IMO.

Alien13z wrote:
DorkmasterFlek wrote:

I hate to beat a dead horse here, but they've been going downhill since they were bought by Activision. Coincidence? I think not. There is a clear shift in corporate attitude, and I'm pretty sure I know where it's coming from.

Agree 100%. Become part of a public entity and whatever the business objective was before, it changes to getting an ROI that justifies the purchase price. I'm sure Vivendi has a large cadre of product managers developing ever more interesting ways to monetize Blizzard's properties and goodwill, just as I'm sure Blizzard's leaders are getting a little freaky as they're progressively subsumed into the Vivendi-borg.

Me too. I ended my love affair with Blizzard the moment they announced StarCraft 2 would not have LAN support. That meant that gamers had stopped being first in their order of priorities, and they were willing to cripple us to save a few dollars to avoid suing KeSPA in Korea.

All that's come after that, for both SC2 and D3, is just more of that.

I'll buy Torchlight 2 instead, thank you. After all, they are the guys that really made Diablo and Diablo 2.

Minarchist wrote:

Sean, I think it's good that you're admitting you have a problem. That's the first step on the road to recovery.

Also, some smythe has been sleeping on the job:

unable even to give Blizzard it’s 15% tithing

Shameful. Simply shameful.

Also, it's 'eke', not 'eek'. Unless you just saw a ghost, in which case 'eek' might be appropriate. Either that or a double barreled shotgun loaded with rock salt rounds.

Yes, I've been watching Supernatural on Netflix a lot recently. Why do you ask?

Elysium wrote:

But you didn't have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don't even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough

kazooka wrote:

Warcraft III in particular really pushed the genre, especially from a single-player POV. They pioneered the use of cutscenes that you actually wanted to see.

I hated WC3 compared to the first two Warcrafts. I thought it was a downgrade to make cutscenes with the game engine from previously beautiful cinematic scenes scene in the previous games.

Great piece, Sean. I tried to give Blizz the benefit of the doubt on Diablo III - while the always-online stuff was bullsh*t, they did make what I found to be a really fun game.

But the locking out paying customers thing is too absurd... well, too absurd to not get a response like this. So well done.

Having not played D3 and remembering only partial addiction to D2, limiting my viewing of SC2 through YouTube and general VOD, I can say it's been months since I last engaged with anything Blizzard and/or bnet. Basically, I'm an outsiders looking in.

I'm trying to figure out how digital purchases affect Blizzard differently than copies purchased at a retail store (last-gen brick and mortar). Besides more money for Blizzard, I can't really think of anything. For better or for worse.

So, could this decision be based on pressure from retailers?
Is capping the level of enjoyment helping Blizzard in any way? Are we considering a conspiracy theory that involves digital customers finding out the restrictions and going out to buy a second copy?

I understand that Blizzard treating retail and digital purchases differently is wrong and it should be a cause for concern. I just want to know a concern about what?

Hobbes2099 wrote:

I'm trying to figure out how digital purchases affect Blizzard differently than copies purchased at a retail store (last-gen brick and mortar). Besides more money for Blizzard, I can't really think of anything. For better or for worse.

Credit card fraud. If the CC fraud happens to the physical retailers then they deal with the problem and the associated costs. If the game is bought from Blizzard directly then they have to deal with it all and the associated problems.

Honestly though, I can't see how this isn't different for every single other digitally distributed game ever sold.... but I guess none of them had the RMAH.

Duoae wrote:
Hobbes2099 wrote:

I'm trying to figure out how digital purchases affect Blizzard differently than copies purchased at a retail store (last-gen brick and mortar). Besides more money for Blizzard, I can't really think of anything. For better or for worse.

Credit card fraud. If the CC fraud happens to the physical retailers then they deal with the problem and the associated costs. If the game is bought from Blizzard directly then they have to deal with it all and the associated problems.

Honestly though, I can't see how this isn't different for every single other digitally distributed game ever sold.... but I guess none of them had the RMAH.

Plus blizzard already has their digital store. As you say, the new factor is the RMAH, which I guess is acting as a magnet for low-life, although as also mentioned before, why not just block AH access for 72 hours (*) and let people play the game bit of the game.

(* During which time you probably won't have gold to spend to buy items, be too low level to get decent value yourself to sell, and too low level to immediately use what most people are selling)

I tried buying SC II, living here in the Caribbean. Via website, no go etc etc.
So in the end I phoned Blizzard, told them here is my credit card number, please take my money.
They couldn't.... bravo...well done.

When I heard about Diablo III and everything around it...same sh*t... so never mind.

Sad to see Blizzard going downhill in service and experience.

The other thing is Blizzard kind of ends up setting industry standards and I've no doubt we'll be seeing plenty more games sold to us in trio packages (ala $180 for sc2) and more games with systems akin to the RMAH which, while I've had some fun with D3, I deem rather frustrating as a gamer.

krev82 wrote:

The other thing is Blizzard kind of ends up setting industry standards and I've no doubt we'll be seeing plenty more games sold to us in trio packages (ala $180 for sc2)

They've said in the past that the next 2 games will be priced as expansions. I would expect $30 or $40 each.