Diablo III After the Auction House

It’s a real sign of the times that a large company like Blizzard can react to feedback on the controversial Auction House feature in Diablo III, and ostensibly compromise the original vision of the game and its business model going forward. It certainly seemed like the kind of thing that was here to stay, given that it resolved the grey-market sale of in-game goods, and gave Blizzard a cut as well, so it’s worth applauding the wardens of the series for pushing to simply make the actual playing of the game that much better.

I should mention that I didn’t play the original Diablo, or Diablo II, but I have played other similar games, such as Torchlight, enough that I feel like I know something about the legacy of those games. I played Diablo III around launch and had a pretty good time with it, starting the game with several of the available classes before settling on the Wizard and playing through the content about 1 and a half times. I can’t say I felt too much like the loot in Diablo III wasn’t good enough often enough, or that the scaling of loot felt unbalanced – I was keeping up with the difficulty of the content, and that’s what mattered. However, I would say that the very existence of the Auction House changed my thinking about loot I wasn’t going to use for myself. This meant knowing what was important to all classes – what stats to look out for on item drops – and holding onto those items; after all, I wouldn’t be taking advantage of a major feature of the game if I didn’t. As you might expect, this made the process of loot sorting that much more tedious, because none of the comparison features in place were there to help you decide what’s good for other classes. The fun was sapped out of the game, and it became more and more about the money. I’m sure that aspect was fun for some, but it fundamentally changed how I played the game in a way that would eventually lead to something resembling workflow optimization. Gross.

I’m happy to say that with the advent of Blizzard’s “Loot 2.0,” the game has returned to feeling like a game. The first few hours of time with this update were filled with finding loot that was so much better than what I had, it felt like some big apology, and now that the Auction House is removed, if I find anything that’s not better, it gets immediately trashed. It is as though I am the center of my Diablo experience again, never sparing a thought for the real-world ramifications of that axe I found, or this Crossbow of the Bear’s Lamenting Tide – it’s all about what I need so I can get to slaying more demons, and in the end, isn’t that all any of us wants?


Starcraft II Region Locks

Let me start by saying I’ve been really enjoying the single player campaign in Starcraft II. It’s deeper, more varied, and better thought out than that of any other RTS I can think of. The character interactions in between missions give a lot more life to the story than you would normally expect from a genre in which the most personality you usually encounter is the voice that comes out of a unit when you click on it. Blizzard did a great job on the campaign, but the entire package costs as much as a console game. The only reason I can think of for this is, and this is where my complaints lie.

Region restrictions, especially the way Blizzard has implemented them, are extremely arbitrary. The only argument being given for using a region lock has been that “we cannot guarantee a positive gaming experience for users connecting to servers outside the supported region,” but lets investigate what a positive experience really means.

The first thought most will have is that of latency, but consider the region of space the North American version covers. From Anchorage to Miami, it’s about 4000 miles, while from New York to London, there’s about 3400 miles. Even within the contiguous states, New York to San Francisco is about 2600 miles. Keep in mind that between the UK and the US, there are transatlantic pipes of incredible bandwidth, meaning that there is but a single hop between the two. Between New York and San Francisco there are likely to be several hops, each one adding a little more  chance for packet collisions, drops, and latency. Couple this with the generally poor performance of home broadband in North America, and it’s hard to see why Blizzard would not at least let the rest of the English speaking world play together.

That brings me conveniently to my next point. What is meant by “a positive gaming experience?” Much has been made of the importance of community on the Blizzard side, but communities are built on communication, and the UK is region locked with other countries that do not speak English as a first language. This is not to say that players from those other countries never speak English, but language is an important factor in community building. Indeed, if you observe gaming communities online, they are universally split by language more than region. It is therefore not out of the realms of possibility to consider that European and NA gamers have always played together, and by separating them, Blizzard actually discourages worldwide communities, rather than allowing them to flourish. The answer here from Blizzard has been that players should buy multiple versions of the game, thereby creating financial barriers to “positive gaming experience.” Though that’s really not the message we should be sending: that it’s OK to regionally lock out the Internet – the first universally accessible means of worldwide communication and interaction.

If there’s a significant number of players out there that really care about their ladders, rankings and latency so much that they’re willing to forego worldwide liberties for the experience, then I think at the very least there should be the ability to create worldwide player matches. Then they would at least be separate from the ranked matches, but that still doesn’t really help worldwide friends who want to see how well they can compete in 2v2 or 3v3 matches. Ideally, there should always be an option: “Match with players in my region.” Done. It is technically possible, there’s precedent for it – Microsoft have done it with Live – and it solves all these problems.

It’ll be interesting to see what Blizzard decide to do as a result of community feedback on this issue.