The passion of Diablo 3: one of the most contentious PC games is also one of the most successful
Blizzard did as much as it could to try to kill enthusiasm for Diablo 3 in the minds of those of us who grew up with the series. We weren't interested in spending money on items, and the decision to require an always-on Internet connection was controversial. The Blizzard that allowed players to spawn copies of StarCraft so one copy could be used for multiplayer games is long dead. There is also a divide between how the true believers view Diablo 3 and how the impersonal market reacted to the game's release. I've seen Diablo 3 described as a failure, with people on the forums and Twitter wondering if Blizzard has learned its lesson from the fan reaction to the game and the design decisions that led to things like the real money auction house and complaints about the lack of end game content. While a business may be more interested in your money than your kind words, recent events have proven the power of both. What we must keep in the front of our mind's when discussing the game is that Diablo 3, despite its rough public reception, has been a monstrous hit.
The developers are feeling the pressure
David Brevik was one of the creators of the Diablo franchise, and he had his own criticisms of the way the series has been handled. “They made some decisions with the loot system that were very different than the way that we did it in Diablo 2 and I think that obviously the community has been upset with some of the decisions they made.,” Brevik stated in an interview with IncGamers. “Having all of your powers work off your main weapon and things like that, to having blues that are more powerful than yellows,” Brevik continued. “Eventually the auction house and how that worked, even something as simple as when you equip an item and it’s bound to your character permanently would have totally changed the dynamic of the game.” He also plainly stated his own disappointment in the reaction to the game. “I am sad because people are outraged and, you know, some of the decisions they have made are not the decisions I would make and there have been changes in philosophy and that hasn’t gone over very well. I think in that way, I am a little sad,” Brevik said. “Suddenly I feel like I was just thrown under a bus,” Blizzard technical artist Chris Haga wrote on Facebook, linking to the interview. Game director Jay Wilson was much more blunt. “Fuck that loser,” he wrote. A screen grab of this Facebook exchange spread across the Internet within hours, and suddenly Diablo 3 and Blizzard had one more controversy with which to deal.
Communication was re-opened
Wilson didn’t retreat or become defensive when his caustic retort to criticism became common knowledge. Instead, he wrote a long, earnest explanation and apology to fans of the game and posted it in the official forum. The message is long and fascinating, but some sections stick out. The most striking are the times when Wilson is upfront about how certain aspects of the game have failed. “Some players believe Diablo has never been about crushing challenges, but more about efficiency and farming. Some players want a game that tests them to their limits. Neither player is wrong,” Wilson wrote. “As it stands, Diablo III simply does not provide the tools to allow players to scale the game challenge to something appropriate for them.” He stated that this is something that is being addressed in future patches. He also addressed the balancing issues introduced by the Auction House, and admitted that there wasn’t an easy solution to the problems it brought to the game. “The Auction House has also proven to be a big challenge… Getting a great Monk drop that you can trade for better gear for your Wizard is obviously a great benefit, but it does come with a downside,” he wrote. “The Auction House can short circuit the natural pace of item drops, making the game feel less rewarding for some players. This is a problem we recognize. At this point we're not sure of the exact way to fix it, but we’re discussing it constantly, and we believe it's a problem we can overcome.” Wilson also apologized for his remarks and thanked those who were playing the game. “Saying that, I'd like to apologize to all of you, the players in our community. You deserve better than my reaction to Dave's comments,” Wilson stated. “You deserve more honest communication about the game and what we're doing to make it a more awesome experience for us all. We care about Diablo very much, and appreciate your passion for it. Without you, we wouldn't be able to do this, and for that I can't thank you enough.”
The game is already a monster hit
Despite the overwhelmingly negative response from online fans, the game has already set sales records and is likely already profitable. Diablo 3 sold 3.5 million copies in its first 24 hours of availability to become the fastest selling PC title in history. It sold over 6 million copies in a week. That's impressive for a $60 game, but the $100 Collector's Edition proved popular; many online retailers sold through their allocation of the higher margin version of the game. The game proved important to Activision Blizzard's second quarter revenue. “Through July, more than 10 million players have entered the world of Sanctuary,” Activision Blizzard stated in an earnings report. Blizzard was responsible for 39% of the company’s revenue in the second quarter of 2012, compared to Activision’s 29%. Sales of Diablo 3 also helped Blizzard see a 32% jump in revenue from the second quarter of 2011, while Activision was flat year over year. There is a wide gulf between the complaints over Blizzard’s Diablo 3 design choices and the number of people willing to spend money on the franchise. It’s been argued that future expansions and games may see a drop in sales due to negative fan reaction, but that same claim was made before the release of the title, and is often repeated before the release of other big-name Activision Blizzard franchises such as Call of Duty. The lost sales have yet to materialize. Diablo 3 will remain a contentious product, but it’s unclear what Blizzard has learned from the experience of launching one of the most popular PC games of all time, and how those lessons will be used in the development of future products. From a business perspective, they’ve made all the right moves. That being said, the importance of how the game is perceived remains important. “We believe it's a great game. But Diablo III has flaws. It is not perfect,” Wilson wrote. “Sales mean nothing if the game doesn’t live on in all of our hearts, and standing by our games is what Blizzard does.”