We were all excited last night. After a 12-year wait, Diablo III,Blizzard's much-anticipated action-fantasy loot-fest, had finallyarrived. It was sitting there installed on our hard drives, waitingfor midnight to come, for Blizzard to unlock the game so we couldplay it. The midnight hour arrived, and Blizzard's servers were overwhelmed . Too many people were trying to play at once, and most of us woundup locked out. |
Diablo III requires a constant internet connection to play. Notjust to start a game or activate a new copy, but to play. Always.An hour and a half after I had started trying to log in from thetitle screen, I gave up. I couldn't play Diablo III, even thesingle-player portions of the game, because Blizzard's serversweren't working.
This is a problem. It wasn't the end of the world. Not even close. I'm not going toclimb up here and holler about what a travesty this is, or howangry I am, or anything like that.
It's not, and I'm not. Theservers are mostly stable as of this morning. When I woke up, Imade a groovy monk character and had a lot of fun blasting a ton ofshambling corpses into bloody bits. All the same, last night'slogjam neatly demonstrates the single greatest problem with anysingle-player game that requires an internet connection to play.
There will likely always be server problems with the launch of anypopular, ambitious online game. Something like this happenedrecently with Star Wars: The Old Republic, forexample—players had to wait a good chunk of time to get ontothe server of their choice and start playing. The thing is, The Old Republic is expressly intended as a massivelymultiplayer online game. That's the point—the game existsonly as a multiplayer experience.
But I don't really play Diablogames with other people. I like to click and plunder, to level upmy guy and get lots of great loot. I can tell I'm going to have acomplicated critical relationship with Diablo III, but I value therefreshing simplicity of its feedback loop. I don't really play Diablo games with other people. But the game I play doesn't need to be online.
With Diablo III,Blizzard has melded the classic Diablo formula into something of anMMO/Single-player hybrid. That's an experiment that I'm veryinterested to watch unfold, even while I'm not sure that Ipersonally want to be a participant. I remember last year when another hotly anticipated PC game cameout, Valve's Portal 2. The build-up felt very similar to lastnight—we'd all pre-loaded the game on Valve's distributionclient Steam, and anxiously awaited the midnight unlock.
And whenmidnight came, there were some issues—the game took a whileto decrypt, and twitter-grumpiness ensued. Twitter-complaining about Portal 2 was met with plenty of sarcasmand good-natured derision. "Oh, you have to wait an extra tenminutes to play your video game? Poor you! Let's keep things inperspective! These things happen." Those chiders had a point. In under 30 minutes, we who had beencomplaining were all happily messing around in Portal 2. I saw some of those same chiders online last night, but theirtut-tutting felt more misguided.
This was a different scenario, andso people were reacting differently. Portal 2 simply required aninternet connection to unlock the pre-loaded game, but due toBlizzard's always-on internet requirement, there was (and willforever be) no way for us to play Diablo III without their serversup and functional. Right then, during the launch hour, Blizzard's servers couldn'thandle the truth. I tried for an hour and a half to get in and playthe game to no avail . "Error 37" after "Error 37" after "Theoperation has timed out" after "Error 37." If it had been a simple matter of activating my game, I would havebeen fine—time and again I logged in for long enough to shakehands with the server before getting kicked because, presumably,the server couldn't handle the increased load that came fromletting me actually play the game.
I'm sure there are lots of reasons that Blizzard has decided torequire a constant internet connection, and fighting piracy is onlyone of them. Certainly the in-game trading economy, which will behugely engaging for a subset of players and hugely profitable for Blizzard and their parent company Activision, also factors.Doubtless there's also a desire to cajole single-player guys likeme to dip into multiplayer, a game-mode that will engage and retainplayers for much longer than single-player. But I don't want to get sidetracked making guesses about the insand outs of Blizzard's online strategy. The important thing to noteis that last night, a game was rendered unplayable for a largeamount of time entirely because of server failure on Blizzard'spart.
Maybe it'll never happen again. But maybe it will. We always knew that by demanding a constant internet connection,Blizzard was taking away a portion of the consumer's ownership oftheir game. Last night, as the starting gun fired, we got areminder of what that really means. It means that we play at theirpleasure, and that we no longer have the power to decide when ourgame starts and when it doesn't.
Republished with permission. Kirk Hamilton is a contributing editor at Kotaku .
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