Blizzard Talks Diablo III’s New Path, Defends Online Req

By Nathan Grayson on November 13th, 2013 at 3:00 pm.

Welp, that’s it. I’ve done all I can do. In an interview with Diablo III: Reaper of Souls‘ lead designers, I attempted to comprehend once and for all why they refuse to simply add an *option* to go offline on PC. The auction house will soon be gone, the console version has no such requirement, and I cannot conceive a universe in which the game’s community suddenly shatters like a beautiful ice crystal just because its members don’t always have to be connected to the internet. And yet, here we are. On the upside, lead designer Kevin Martens and art director Christian Lichtner actually had some rather encouraging things to say about the rest of the game’s direction, though our chat was ultimately, sadly cut short. 

RPS: You’ve decided to drop the Auction House, which has made many fans quite happy. However, a lot of damage has already been done – not just to Diablo III’s economy, but to your relationship with players.

I don’t think people remember how mad they themselves were that they had an offline mode and online mode in Diablo II.

Martens: I mean, maybe it strained the relationship for a while. The thing is – and this is a Blizzard thing that long predates Diablo III – we’re playing and watching the game. We don’t just ship a project and move on to the next game. All of them get a lot of work.

There are two things that made getting rid of the auction house make sense. One of them was Loot 2.0 locking down, making sure that finding loot would be so satisfying and fun that no one would even miss the auction house. And the other thing is, we did some experiments binding just the top level of stuff. The Hellfire Ring, the Marquis-level gems, and whatnot. We sort of took some of the power out of the trading economy.

I think what we learned about the auction house is, people used it way more than we thought they would. Trading is a valid way to get items, but we know – and we’ve decided to put our stake in the ground – that finding a monster and killing it and getting the item is the most fun way to play. Has the most lasting satisfaction.

Now that we’ve nailed that, we feel comfortable getting rid of the auction house.

RPS: What happens to the economy when you flip the switch? I imagine people are going to go nuts with real money and gold-based sales before then. How do you plan to mitigate potential fallout from that?

Martens: Certain parts of the market will inflate, and others will collapse. The short version is, the expansion adds a lot of new items and item levels. It expands the power of the game, all the classes are being rebalanced, and we’re adding new properties to items – even existing items, when new versions drop.

The legendary thing and the new gem tiers pretty much takes care of a lot of that stuff. People can do anything they want. They can corner any market and amass gold or gems or whatever. That will help them a little, but not a lot. It won’t give them a huge advantage in the next economy after the 2.0 patch. That economy is full of new things, and all of them require you to play the game in order to obtain them.

And that’s what I think was missing from the game. Playing auction houses can be fun – that whole sort of market-cornering aspect can be a cool kind of minigame – but it took away from the core fantasy of what our game is. It’s about killing monsters.

The expansion also makes the simple act of killing monsters more fun. It’s kind of a whole-package solution. Doubtless, we’ll have to do tweaks and whatnot afterward, but I think we’re on our way to solving the trading issue.

RPS: Auction house or not, many people also ended up finding Diablo III’s endgame to be pretty repetitive. Drab, not-very-well-randomized environments, etc. Sure, it’s an endgame focused on item farming, but I think there are plenty of options to alleviate tedium.

Martens: Yeah, we’re improving randomization a lot. Adventure Mode is the promise of Diablo randomness working as intended. We had all of these different elements: the randomization system – the engine is very powerful at doing that. It can make random dungeons, put items all around in places, all the loot tables to make random items, etc, etc.

So we had that old-fashioned [structure of] play through the campaign four times in a row with increasing levels. Normal, nightmare, hell, inferno. That made players find different efficient parts of the campaign that they’d just play over and over again. It’s part of player psychology, and it’s understandable.

I think we had good things and bad things about that, but ultimately we took all the elements from the campaign, we put them all in adventure mode, and we have this mixing and matching system to keep variety fresh. And we just made that the best way to get loot. So variety has also become the most rewarding gameplay experience.

Lichtner: I would also add that, in Reaper of Souls, our exteriors are finally fully randomized. There are no longer patches that are predetermined. So that’s even more randomization.

Martens: We’ve also got Nephalem Rifts, which are pretty small – they take 10-30 mins to play through – and we’ve realized we can break a lot of our own rules with them. They’re constrained, so everything that happens stays within that zone. We can do things we couldn’t do in campaigns that’d be easy for people to take advantage of.

We can do things that’d be tedious in a larger setting, but in a smaller one are freaking awesome. Like, one example is the summoner monsters. You’ve got your skeleton summoners – they laugh at you and they summon skeletons – and in normal gameplay you try to target them first. We also have the zombie mothers, and where they vomit, more zombies rise. We’ve stuffed a zone with those two alone, and so quickly it starts filling up with zombies and skeletons. To the point where you can barely move. That would be terrible if you had to get across an entire zone.

But for five minutes? You know, using all your movement skills, being a lot more defensive – it’s awesome. Same thing with buffs. Like, we can give you a lightning buff that one-shots every monster. You can just run down the hallway and everything dies. It can only last for 15-30 seconds, and it only works in Rifts. It’s a little period of arcade awesomeness in an otherwise random dungeon.

And those are just a couple of millions of combinations that could roll. You may never see those. We also play through, find especially neat combinations, save them out, and make sure they can roll again in the future.

RPS: OK, now the big one. The auction house is out, but the online requirement is still in. You’ve explained that it’s all about community and whatnot, but would adding in a simple option to play offline really hurt? I mean, the game’s already that way on console, and it’s not like your community would just up and disappear. Plus, if they did, I think that’d mean they never enjoyed being online with your game in the first place.

Martens: It’s interesting when you’re in the moment in gaming culture – when you’re playing the game right now – we see its flaws very well. When we look at the long history, it becomes sort of a rosy past. I don’t think people necessarily remember how mad they themselves were that they had an offline mode and online mode in Diablo II.

This will probably be controversial for me to say. People will be like, “I wasn’t mad!” But I was there at the time, and then I studied this for a living. It sucks when your friend or brother is online and he wants to join this game, but you realize you’re an offline character and he’s an online character, and there’s no way to transfer over because offline characters can be hacked and hex-edited to hell and back, right?

And then we had that split between expansion characters and normal ones as well [in Diablo II]. The community was inherently divided. And that’s what it boils down to. Long before any of this happened, we wanted to solve the trading problem. But before we even had the auction house, the always online thing was there.

The game is most fun when you can play with other people. To be ghetto-ed off to the side and not part of the real game, we didn’t want that to happen. This is an online game. We want people to play together. All of that predates the auction house. I can see how people would think otherwise, but the auction house was a salve we came up with in the last few months of the project. It was a six-year project.

RPS: Diablo III’s been out for a while, though. Don’t you think that changes the context a little? It’s not like people would be blindsided by this. They’d just have a new option, and so long as you explained the ramifications clearly – “This character won’t be able to go online, here is why” – I feel like most people would be OK. Better than them not being able to play the game at all, right?

Martens: Well, we have to remember that a lot of new players are still coming in regularly. You can have a solution that works really well for the most knowledgable people, but you can make it much worse for the people who want to join the community as well. We’re adding more community features as well. Clans and groups are coming too. You know, this is the game we made.

RPS: What if people don’t want to commit to a community? What if they just want to play the game?

Martens: We didn’t make that game. That’s the straight-up answer. We did not make that game, and we’re not going to turn this game into that game. We have the online mode because we learned a lot over the many, many years that Diablo II was in development.

That was the wrong choice to allow people to play offline, and we still stand by that. And we think Internet access is widespread. If someone has no Internet access, then yeah, Diablo III is not the game for them.

[PR motions that time is up]

RPS: Thanks for your time.

——

Postscript: It’s worth noting that I still had many other questions for Blizzard about its commitment to always online – both in regard Diablo going forward and future games. BlizzCon is, unfortunately, a place where hustle and bustle constantly threaten to overwhelm, and schedules dominate. I don’t think I had a single interview that didn’t get cut short, so them’s the breaks.

Given the opportunity, I would’ve liked to delve deeper into notions of Blizzard’s love/hate affair with Diablo II, the assumption that its audience won’t understand one whole new option so why even try to explain it, assumptions in general (Blizzard made quite a few of them here, some of them completely astounding), why it’s fairly hypocritical to look at one part of your audience and say, “We will do everything for you because we want this game to reach the widest crowd possible,” but turn to another and say, “Nope, go away,” and Diablo III’s potential for longevity (or lack thereof) in an era far removed from Diablo II’s heyday.

This sort of attitude has become pretty much par for the course with Blizzard, though, unfortunately. “You may think you know what you want, but we know better.” And sure, game development – good, confident development – requires that mentality to some extent, but there’s a breaking point. A time at which it’s worth noting the constantly erupting volcano of demand and considering a new approach. Or at least not writing it off in a, frankly, sometimes dismissive fashion.

I’m hoping to follow up with Blizzard, but it can be tricky to get further answers from them.

I should stress that I do like the direction Reaper of Souls is headed in, taken on its own terms. Blizzard seems to have finally remembered why Diablo first ensnared so many with his sultry, lava-encrusted eye slits, and it wasn’t economy and trading. New systems for randomization sound interesting and – in some cases – even like legitimate steps forward instead of sweat-soaked retreats into Diablo II territory. Also, groups and clans on the multiplayer side of things sound like solid, if hardly revolutionary ideas. I don’t think Reaper of Souls is a world-beater at this point, but it’s looking decently OK.

Still though, since the online requirement is here to stay, I can’t help but wish Blizzard would try to take advantage of it in more interesting ways. Think Path of Exile’s league/race events, which are based on, you know, Diablo II’s ladders. On the upside, it seems that Blizzard is at least experimenting with the idea of propping up a few D3 ladders in Reaper of Souls, but they’re being pretty cagey about the much-requested feature’s chances of making it into the final game. PVP, meanwhile, is still in the works according to Blizzard, but progress doesn’t sound particularly promising.

I’m glad Diablo III is improving. I really am. Right now it’s still straddling a wobbly fence with conflicting priorities growling on each side, but I’d like to see it eventually become amazing. One way or another. And if it doesn’t? Well, it’s not like the genre’s lacking options.

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189 Comments »

  1. TheBarringGaffner says:

    Wow, that argument at the end was flimsy. If all this stuff about how the game is designed around this always online thing is true, why is not a requirement on consoles?

    • Nicodemus Rexx says:

      Because double standards. Or something. Maybe there’s more non-internet using console owners than PC? Like they think the number of non-Internet PC users is a small enough sales hit that their financial agenda won’t be affected? But the console thing is potentially a roll of the dice?

      I really don’t know, those would just be my guesses without data. Sorry probably not helping much. :/

  2. harbinger says:

    “The game is most fun when you can play with other people. To be ghetto-ed off to the side and not part of the real game, we didn’t want that to happen. This is an online game. We want people to play together. All of that predates the auction house. I can see how people would think otherwise, but the auction house was a salve we came up with in the last few months of the project. It was a six-year project.”

    I’m pretty sure that’s somewhat of a lie, it may predate the Auction House but the decision came after late 2010, since they were still talking about an Offline Mode around then: http://goo.gl/lw8XHv

  3. Premium User Badge

    Stellar Duck says:

    Blizzard: Mac, only for games.

  4. knowitall011 says:

    console d3 is a separate game. if you want an offline pc version of d3, blizzard would need to make 2 versions for pc.

    get it?

    the d3 devs have stated it outright that if you want single player only on the pc, this game isn’t made for you. suck it up and move on to games that does. don’t act like a child.

  5. Premium User Badge

    luke_osullivan says:

    Well they got one thing right. This game is not made for me. Can anyone say ‘Torchlight’?

  6. nbringer says:

    Blizzard doesn’t love us anymore and makes games for somebody else. It’s not us, it’s them… So I guess we should let them go with their games and find new love elsewhere.

    I did that and I feel great. Blizzard was just an amazing relationship that ended as a bad memory.

  7. Kleppy says:

    Oh hey guess what, over a year after the games release it still hasn’t been cracked yet. This is a game with no piracy. Blizzard wins.

    • malkav11 says:

      If you assume it’s more valuable to halt piracy than to serve your customers or preserve games for the future, perhaps.

  8. malkav11 says:

    I wasn’t mad about it in D2. Not once. Not ever. For starters, I did not play D2 as a multiplayer game. I don’t think I even had broadband at the time. Secondly, it wasn’t an offline/online split. It was offline, insecure online, and secure online. So if you wanted to play with someone, you fricking took your offline character into insecure online (not a problem since you’re playing with someone you fricking know and trust), or you arranged to both have online characters. Hassle? None. Level of choice and control over gameplay experience afforded to customers? Total. Remind me again why that wouldn’t work for D3? Oh, right, it would, Blizzard just refuses to do it.

    Oh, and if it’s your design for the game, then why the fucking hell did you put out a console version without that requirement? Surely an online game is a fucking online game?

  9. Bart Stewart says:

    Kevin Martens: “The game is most fun when you can play with other people. To be ghetto-ed off to the side and not part of the real game, we didn’t want that to happen. This is an online game. We want people to play together.”

    Hmm. This sounds familiar… where have I heard this before?

    Lucy Bradshaw: “Always-Connected is a big change from SimCities of the past. It didn’t come down as an order from corporate and it isn’t a clandestine strategy to control players. It’s fundamental to the vision we had for this SimCity. … [C]ould we have built a subset offline mode? Yes. But we rejected that idea because it didn’t fit with our vision.”

  10. Randomdude1000 says:

    This is why I like Cloud Imperium and Star Citizen. Despite the fact that their livelihood is going to depend on the success of their official game server, they are going to allow private servers, offline mode, and official modding tools. Those gestures instill goodwill and trust in their fans, and will also encourage them to produce top notch content to entice us to spend more money. If they try to start milking the franchise, or get lazy or greedy, fans will have the ability to “fix” the game as they see fit. It’s ultimate freedom, and ultimate trust in their fans that we will support them in spite of the freedom not to.

    I’m disappointed that Blizzard would choose to ignore longtime, loyal fans that helped build their company. I’m disappointed by the industry in general for attempting to force always-online down everyone’s throats, especially when it is shoe-horned into new entries to an existing franchise, at seemingly no one’s rabid demands. I have yet to see the value in removing/omitting perfectly valid modes of gameplay and alienating players who want or need them.

    I have a decent cable internet connection now, but this wasn’t always the case. I live in a very hilly and mostly rural part of Texas and internet quality and availability varies wildly from one house to the next. On top of that, new technology takes a while to reach areas like this. I didn’t even have my first broadband connection until late 2005, and it was a shitty, intermittent line-of-sight wireless “service”. Even today, not everyone who games lives or can choose to live in an area with a solid internet connection. I’d wager that the number of players with bad internet is not something to be as dismissive towards as Blizzard seems to have been.

    I still remember the day that they announced the merger with Activision. A little part of me died that day. I knew it was trully the end of the Blizzard I fell in love with. I think the quality of every game and every WoW expansion they’ve done since has suffered (with the possible exception of Wrath (which was probably already too close to completion by that time to be corrupted)). Aside from crappier business practices, the drop in quality, for me, is most noticeable in the quality of their stories. Many people don’t care about the lore of the games, but every ret-con is a dagger in the face, and their attempts to twist the evil horde and the evil zerg into morally ambiguous victims is ensaddening*.

    *Ensaddening is a perfectly cromulent word I picked up from the internet. No one read to the end anyway.

    • Randomdude1000 says:

      Editing isn’t working for me, so I just wanted to add that the trend of trying to turn every game into a co-op or multiplayer game, at the cost of the single player experience, is depressing. Some people like to avoid the toxic online gaming community, or just plain want to play alone (without lag or server availability getting in the way). The popularity of Skyrim is testament to that. I can see how multiplayer may extend the life of the game and potentially bring in more money because of that, but come on, don’t make single-players second-class citizens. Mod support can extend a game’s life-span, too.

  11. projectmwgames says:

    just signed up to say thank you RPS for trying.

    ..guess I gotta keep staring at the connection bar again while playing when ROS comes out.. (hardcore player)

  12. Premium User Badge

    Ham Solo says:

    Well the internet connection in my country’s military barracks is mostly utter shit, so I won’t buy that game then. That’s okay, there are alternatives, I donr’t have to put up with Blizzard’s bullshit.

  13. Presbytier says:

    Just off the top of my head here are few other online only games: World of Warcraft, Everquest, Everquest II, Anarchy online, The Old Republic, Age of Conan, Ultima Online, etc…..

    So my question is why doesn’t anyone troll them about an offline mode constantly?

  14. cloudkiller says:

    “maybe it strained the relationship for a while”

    Keep telling yourself that Blizzard. I went from loving you as a company and trusting you to make games that were pre-purchase worthy to absolutely hating you. You ruined one of the greatest franchises in gaming, laughed when people complained it was broken, ridiculed the franchise’s original creator and are still arrogant about the whole thing.

  15. Distec says:

    Does the RPS post system work? I’ve tried making 4 posts and nothing shows up.

    Effin’ test.

    EDIT: Great. You eat up 3 of my essays, but you let me post this stupid self-test, and now I look like an ass! Still won’t let me make replies though.

  16. namad says:

    martens ego is insane. what a jerk. I just cannot believe what sort of insane bubble this guy must live in.

    • Presbytier says:

      This has nothing to do with ego. No one goes to any other developer of an online game and troll them with the same question about an offline mode. They have answered this question dozens if times and if this journalist had bothered with the panels they answered it there. They made an online game they told you that before you bought it. This is straight up trolling on the journalists part in order to drum up page views, because they know that a few individuals keep getting bent out of shape over a made up controversy.

      • Distec says:

        In response to this and your previous post,

        Quite simply, those other games would not function offline. You could make the argument that a private, offline server with one toon to quest with can be considered “functioning”, but that would be missing the point. They are explicitly developed to be played with other people (or used to be), and that design is telling in many of their facets. D3 is nothing like WoW or Everquest. You won’t kill the last boss unless you have people with you. That previous Warcraft games were RTS’s isn’t a sound argument; they didn’t call their MMO “Warcraft X” because it wasn’t a sequel. As for Path of Exile, who cares? Entry to that game is free. As somebody else said, I will make concessions for zero entry charge.

        There is nothing about D3′s design that makes it an inherently online experience. You can solo the game without ever talking to another human, and this is what most D3 players already do by Blizzard’s own omission. It’s a perfectly capable single-player ARPG with an online-only component grafted onto it. It requires an internet connection only because Blizzard deigned it to be so, which is completely arbitrary. If the game was really so broken without a persistent connection, then how on Earth do you explain the console version?

        If Blizzard wants to make their games this way, that’s their right. But it is not trolling to ask for a straight answer on this kind of bullshit, especially when nothing they say adds up.

  17. Presbytier says:

    It’s not apples to oranges. WoW had two RTS under its belt before going online and Ultima had 9 RPGs before going online. Also if being an ARPG precluded one from becoming an online game then Path of Exile should offer offline as well.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      WoW was a different genre from the previous games, meaning it had different expectations. D3 follows the formula (genre, among other things) set by the previous games, and therefore fans of the series have some rather specific expectations about how the game is going to work. That happens to include an offline mode.

      One could compare D3 to all other games with online play, as you did, in which case complaining about the lack of an offline mode would be absurd. That comparison is so broad as to be useless though. People interested in the third game in a series with a well defined style of gameplay are more likely to compare it to previous games in the series.

      Feel sorta like a robot spelling everything out like that, but hey, there it is. Never played any Ultimas apart from Underworld, but wasn’t the MMO like WoW, a spin-off from the main series with completely different gameplay?

    • malkav11 says:

      Ignoring the vast gulf of difference between D3 and MMOs, yes, Path of Exile should also offer an offline mode. But at least it’s free.

  18. ShadowLeague says:

    Meh, I don’t like MMO’s. Will skip the Reaper of Souls add-on.

  19. xStahl says:

    Blizzard you liars that talk down to us!

    You sure made that offline game for PS3 you mouth breathers!
    You can take ROS straight up your ass, you’re too late and you won’t be fixing what was most wrong with your single player game, requiring me to be always online.

  20. Dances to Podcasts says:

    Don’t you just love interviews that are all about the interviewer? Journalists are my heroes!

  21. The_Great_Skratsby says:

    So they were full of shit the first time and maintain it out of sheer arrogance.

    Heh.