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

So, is people using stolen CC info to purchase D3 that big of a problem that Blizzard needed to implement this policy or do they not want to have a single cent slip through their fingers? I mean, I would think that it would be just as easy to find the accounts the fraudulent cards are attached to and deactivate them.

I haven't launched the game in two weeks. I told myself I would only play it on my ethernet-connected machine after lag on my laptop got me killed and the XBOX is right next to it so instead . . .

I've realized that as much as I'm interested in the world around Blizzard gaming and wanting to be a part of the conversation, I just don't have fun with their products. I didn't really want to be involved in a system-optimization simulator focused toward making players into micro payment contracted employees. I just wanted to shoot demons.

Time to crawl back to Shadows of the Damned I guess?

Dyni wrote:
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.

Let's see how much money they lose with declining interest in WoW and the people who drop out of the RMAH treadmill in response to this debacle. The price may suddenly jump by $20 to adjust for market inflation.

Nevin73 wrote:

So, is people using stolen CC info to purchase D3 that big of a problem that Blizzard needed to implement this policy or do they not want to have a single cent slip through their fingers? I mean, I would think that it would be just as easy to find the accounts the fraudulent cards are attached to and deactivate them.

The three days is because credit cards generally give you 3 days to report a stolen credit card or fraudulent purchase on your card. I believe that's an industry standard for credit cards.

gore wrote:

I suspect Blizzard was simply caught off guard by this tactic and did not have the proper safeguards in place to prevent it in a less disruptive manner.

Which, if that's the case, is a little mind-boggling. This exact kind of scam was widely talked about when Blizzard first announced the RMAH. I'm shocked they didn't prepare any safeguards against it whatsoever.

Nevin73 wrote:

So, is people using stolen CC info to purchase D3 that big of a problem that Blizzard needed to implement this policy or do they not want to have a single cent slip through their fingers? I mean, I would think that it would be just as easy to find the accounts the fraudulent cards are attached to and deactivate them.

There's clearly something more to it than just the value of the game account; Blizzard has distributed SC2 in the exact same manner, and it's only with the addition of the D3 RMAH that they've deemed it necessary to restrict new purchases.

I suspect that these ne'er-do-wells do use the fraudulent CC info to buy the game (which in and of itself is just a minor annoyance), but the real damage is done when they turn around and use the aforementioned CC info to buy items with real value on the RMAH. They could then transfer those in-game items to a "clean" account where they could sell them at their leisure, collecting the cash in their own paypal account.

So, basically, they could use the game as a way to funnel money from the fraudulent CC to their own account, with the only paper trail being the transaction log of the movement of in-game items.

One could certainly implement systems to track all that stuff, and chase down the culprits later - but you'd certainly rather avoid the whole mess if possible. Of course, Blizzard could prevent it all by blocking any AH activity for new accounts, rather than locking them down to trial mode.

I suspect Blizzard was simply caught off guard by this tactic and did not have the proper safeguards in place to prevent it in a less disruptive manner.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
gore wrote:

I suspect Blizzard was simply caught off guard by this tactic and did not have the proper safeguards in place to prevent it in a less disruptive manner.

Which, if that's the case, is a little mind-boggling. This exact kind of scam was widely talked about when Blizzard first announced the RMAH. I'm shocked they didn't prepare any safeguards against it whatsoever.

It does seem surprising. Given Blizzard's experiences with compromised accounts in WoW, they have to know that using video games to perpetuate fraud is pretty popular with the kids these days.

I have a general sense that D3 shipped before it was done. PvP is still TBD, "attack speed increase" was horribly and obviously broken up until the nerf in 1.0.3, and the RMAH wasn't even available at launch at all (and isn't even fully functional now). These guys seem to be playing catch-up.

gains wrote:
Dyni wrote:
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.

Let's see how much money they lose with declining interest in WoW and the people who drop out of the RMAH treadmill in response to this debacle. The price may suddenly jump by $20 to adjust for market inflation.

I think your grossly overestimating the correlation between internet outcry and wallet voting. Even if no one used the RMAH, they sold 6.5 million copies of the game at $60 in one week. "Declining interest in WoW" still leaves them with close to 10 million active subscribers.

Now, if you want to join Blizzard hate train and assume they'll bump up the expansion prices because they're just that evil, be my guest, but I don't think cash flow is suddenly becoming an issue for Blizzard. They're doing just fine in that regard.

Dyni wrote:

Now, if you want to join Blizzard hate train and assume they'll bump up the expansion prices because they're just that evil, be my guest, but I don't think cash flow is suddenly becoming an issue for Blizzard. They're doing just fine in that regard.

I don't think it's a Blizzard problem but Activision will make it into their problem. If there isn't an increase in profits quarter over quarter then investors get twitchy, executives get nervous and studios suffer. Success isn't good enough. Mega-success is required and Ultra-success is expected. (See the recent demands by EA that Dead Space 3 sell 5 million copies, or else.) If the money train even slows, either the consumers dump in more coal or it's the devs that go into the furnace. Did Blizzard want to release the game with so many features missing? I don't think so but I do think Activision really wanted a major release to kick off the summer.

Yeah, I'm pretty much angry all the time these days and quick to troll. Low blood sugar from the diet? Meds needing adjustment? Extra workload? All of the above? I'm forcing myself to stay out of any discussion of sexism/rape in video games right now because I'd boil over into rage and break a keyboard with every post.

I didn't mean any of that as a personal attack, gains. Sorry if it came across that way. More of an observation of the internet perception of Blizzard at large right now.

To be fair, in a public company I think it's probably fair that huge multi-year projects need to be a huge success, and by the same criteria something like Rage must have been a dismal failure.

As has been noted before, the biggest failure is that everything must be a huge success, the lack of a middle-ground, that everything has those high stakes attached and there's no room for 'okay'. At least not in "mainstream" gaming.

Dyni wrote:

I didn't mean any of that as a personal attack, gains. Sorry if it came across that way. More of an observation of the internet perception of Blizzard at large right now.

We're cool, no personal offense taken. In fact, your comment got me to really think over what I wrote and find the root issue, which is something that has been gnawing away at me over a number of recent and forthcoming releases. Devoted consumers are being given an inferior product to serve the bottom line. Nothing new really, but it's hitting some IP in which I feel really invested.

The games industry is in a painful transition period that happened a long time ago with most other large commercial enterprises. We aren't saddened when a car salesmen tries to sell us 'under car sealant' that probably should have been put on the car in the first place. We accept that supermarkets are going to continually reduce the quality and quantity of food they sell us for a set price (maybe that's just the UK :P.) It's what they've always done.

With the gaming industry there has been a feeling that we are all on the same side. Brother's in virtual arms against the general public who imagined all games to consist of crudely coloured block people jumping endlessly about between small platforms to a litany of cheery musical notes. Game making was a collaborative effort and games companies like Valve, Blizzard and Bungie were, we felt, our friends and that they didn't, as a rule, go in for many shady practices.

Unlike other businesses, who have been manipulating us for years, and who have learned, through much trial and error, what we will swallow, in terms of gentle gouging, and which tricks will go unnoticed the gaming industry is having to feel it's way through this process to find which we practices we will accept and which we will rail at.

Technically, I think Blizzard would be legaly liable as an accessory to international money laundering, if not considered a primary perpetrator.

Also, even with the block to the RMAH there are work arounds. Because items acquired with an account purchased with a fraudulent CC can be sent/ sold for game gold to another account and then sold for real currency at a later date. I don't think there is a time limit on culpability for money laundering.

So I can see a situation where the grace period for a CC Blizzard has had on file for a year and has been used to purchase SC2 or WoW subscription would probably get a pass on the 72 hour moratorium or at least it would be shortened considerably. (say within the hour it would take to get to the skeleton king)

Whereas any brand new CC tied to a new battle.net account would be stuck with the full 72 hour grace period.

*sigh* Well, yesterday's anger has turned inward, so I'll lash out in hopes of curbing my depression.

All of this stuff illustrates that Diablo III is not a game. It is the OS on which the RMAH runs. Everything in the game feeds their micro-payment machine!

Brothers and sisters! Throw off your DRM chains! Embrace the Divine Divinity!

I shall shine a Torchlight on the lies they have hidden in the shadows!

Hell is not a game!

*Is escorted off the premises by StanliTech security representatives.*

Titan Quest!

*Is tasered and dragged out.*

gains wrote:

rant

That's Blizzard's problem now isn't it, there is a long list of good competition now.

...To which I would add Path of Exile, going to open beta in August apparently.

Path of Exile? I think that's where the security guard dumped me!

B'dum, tssssshh!

fangblackbone wrote:

Technically, I think Blizzard would be legaly liable as an accessory to international money laundering, if not considered a primary perpetrator.

That should be a serious consideration on their part.

Higgledy wrote:

We accept that supermarkets are going to continually reduce the quality and quantity of food they sell us for a set price (maybe that's just the UK :P.) It's what they've always done.

That's definitely not the US's problem.

wordsmythe wrote:
Higgledy wrote:

We accept that supermarkets are going to continually reduce the quality and quantity of food they sell us for a set price (maybe that's just the UK :P.) It's what they've always done.

That's definitely not the US's problem.

Yes, I understand you have the opposite problem.

Scratched wrote:
gains wrote:

rant

That's Blizzard's problem now isn't it, there is a long list of good competition now.

...To which I would add Path of Exile, going to open beta in August apparently.

I was in the closed Beta and it was decent, though it is an MMO so the always on internet is still a thing there. I am waiting for Torchlight 2

I'd say PoE is more like Guild Wars (1) in how it's online is setup than a 'traditional' MMO.

Well put Sean. I didn't get into WoW, so there was a huge gap for me between Warcraft III and Starcraft II. Somewhere along the way I think Blizzard changed (activision merger? internal changes? who knows). I still enjoy their games, but I agree that this is no longer a company who cared about pleasing their customers as their #1 priority.

Free map every week for Starcraft? Free Diablo II OST? Annual holiday wallpaper and/or parody song? What happened to all that?

I know I'll eventually get back to D3 at some point (took a break about a month ago at the start of Act 3 and haven't been back since) but I can't say I'm in a huge rush given the weekly drama that's going down with the game.

gore wrote:

I have a general sense that D3 shipped before it was done. PvP is still TBD, "attack speed increase" was horribly and obviously broken up until the nerf in 1.0.3, and the RMAH wasn't even available at launch at all (and isn't even fully functional now). These guys seem to be playing catch-up.

They also made the mistake of opening their mouths at a investor conference call and promising to ship two titles this year, which essentially yielded their ability to use their "when it's done" get out of jail card on either D3, HotS, or MoP. Plus, let's not forget that the game was stuck in development hell for a very long time, and even then they were making significant revisions to the core systems in the last few months before release. Namely the skill/rune system and itemization. It's also very telling that BlizzCon isn't being held this year, which would suggest that they're in some sort of "all hands on deck" mode if they can't waste any time working on ancillary events like that.

My hope is that things will improve (or at least stabilize) by the inevitable expansion, but Blizzard's been in need of a proctologist or a glassectomy for a while.

"when it's done"

"When it's done" is very much a double-edged sword, and it seems more and more developers that can say "WID" are hitting a brick wall in some form, notable examples being 3D Realms and id. I don't think it's a bad thing if companies are given limits, but I suppose the problem to conquer is matching the scale of project with what you want to achieve and resources available, which is similar to the "quality/speed/cost, pick two" phrase. My thoughts/wish for most projects now is that they take as long as they need, and not a moment longer.

Scratched wrote:
"when it's done"

"When it's done" is very much a double-edged sword, and it seems more and more developers that can say "WID" are hitting a brick wall in some form, notable examples being 3D Realms and id. I don't think it's a bad thing if companies are given limits, but I suppose the problem to conquer is matching the scale of project with what you want to achieve and resources available, which is similar to the "quality/speed/cost, pick two" phrase. My thoughts/wish for most projects now is that they take as long as they need, and not a moment longer.

My guess is that the final D3 RMAH business model is something that came up relatively late in development.

Most of Diablo 3 seems to have had plenty of time to be perfected: it is very stable (network issues aside), the graphics are solid, and there are actually very few bugs in general. Where things get wonky are design defects in (or omissions of) systems that somehow touch the RMAH, directly or indirectly: PvP, drop rates, itemization in general, difficulty curves in the endgame, and of course the issues with fraud.