Mike Morhaime: Online-Only Approach Was Best Long-Term Decision for Diablo 3
It’s rare for a CEO of a AAA-developer to speak out and address the concerns of its playerbase, but today, Blizzard president Mike Morhaime spoke via proxy on the battle.net forums, addressing Diablo 3 players. His message? In short: We understand your concerns, we appreciate your feedback, we tried our best, we have great stuff to come, and we still believe online-only was the best move for the game.
Morhaime began by discussing the launch issues and how Blizzard tried to anticipate the volume of simultaneous connections:
“The launch week of Diablo III was memorable for many reasons — some positive, and some not so positive. We were thrilled that Diablo III had the biggest PC-game launch ever, surpassing the lifetime sales of Cataclysm (the previous record holder for biggest PC-game launch) in a matter of weeks. We’ve been floored by the response.”
“However, the launch had many challenges as well. It has always been difficult to forecast how many players we will have. With World of Warcraft, it was a challenge to handle the immediate demand when we launched back in 2004, and that was just in North America. We eventually expanded to other regions and reached nearly 5 million players by the end of the first year, and there were a lot of growing pains with that. However, we’ve never gone from 0 to more than 6 million players across multiple continents within a few days with a brand-new game. For Diablo III, we looked at historical sales for Blizzard games and other top-selling PC games and watched preorder numbers. We even upped our estimates to ensure we had additional capacity, or so we thought. In the end, it just wasn’t enough, and that is something we will work hard to conquer for future releases.”
Morhaime also addressed the player criticism that the persistent internet connection requirement was nothing more than poorly-implemented DRM:
“One other common topic we’ve seen in the forums is the always-connected experience, and the perception that the online requirement is nothing but an ineffective form of copy protection that has already been cracked. While we’ve never said that this requirement guarantees that there will be no cheating or game cracks, it does help us battle those problems (we have not found any fully functional cracks). More important to us is that the online requirement is critical for the long-term integrity of the game experience. I fully understand the desire to play Diablo III offline; however, Diablo III was designed from the beginning to be an online game that can be enjoyed with friends, and the always-online requirement is the best way for us to support that design. The effectiveness of the online elements — including the friends list and cross-game communication; co-op matchmaking; persistent characters that you can use by yourself, with others, and in PvP; and some of our customer support, service, and security components — is tied directly to the online nature of the game. These and other online-enabled features are essential to our design for Diablo III. That said, there are still improvements we believe we can make to expand the online experience and make co-op play even more rewarding, and this will remain one of our priorities moving forward. Overall, while there are some downsides to the online-only approach, I still believe this was the best long-term decision for the game.”
I appreciate Morhaime’s candor and sincerity, but if the design goal behind D3 truly was to promote cooperative play, then I’m sorry to say that Blizzard failed in that regard. Perhaps things will change with future patches and content releases, but polls and surveys have revealed that, by and large, people play Diablo 3 by themselves, because co-operative play is generally a less effective means of either progressing or farming.