Blizzard Fumbles Diablo III’s Launch, and the Consequences It Could Have

Although its actual development time was considerably shorter, in the minds of most fans, “Diablo III” has been no less than 12 years in the making. That’s how long it’s been since the release of “Diablo II,” and that’s how long it’s been since gamers have been craving a true follow up. 12 years.

And after just two days of release, some gamers are already more excited about “Diablo IV.”

This is mostly due to Blizzard’s controversial decision to have gamers log-in to its servers in order to play the game. What’s irksome is that it doesn’t matter if you’re playing single player or multiplayer; you have to be online. Ideally, this allows for a range of features that should allow the gamer to be in a constantly networked world where gamers can aid each other in their quest, and friends can drop in at any time to do battle by your side, as you smote your enemies with joyful ease.

In reality though, the servers have been having nothing but trouble since launch. The network has appeared so far to be insufficiently capable of handling the mass numbers of users “Diablo III” has added without doing that annoying crashing thing and rendering the game unplayable in any form. It’s almost as if Blizzard didn’t anticipate that the sequel to one of the greatest selling and most acclaimed games of all time might actually sell a few copies itself, and that a mandatory online account coupled with that could lead to serious server problems.

Of course, the conclusion that just about everyone who isn’t a Blizzard employee has come to is that the game shouldn’t require a mandatory online account. It’s so ludicrously unnecessary, in fact, that as I was booting up the single player for the first time and it asked me to create an account, I couldn’t help but think of the Kramer line from Seinfeld. “Why does Radioshack need your phone number when you buy batteries?”

Of course, “Diablo III” is actually a pretty good game once you’re able to play it without interruption (mostly…I still prefer “Diablo II”). That’s why I feel like once Blizzard gets their act together (and for the record, they are very, very sorry about this), the whole situation will blow over nicely. That’s in sharp contrast to the earlier controversy this year involving “Mass Effect 3” and its ending. An ending that was so hated that it caused one irate gamer to try to file a lawsuit for poor business practices against Bioware, and also tarnished the formerly pristine reputation of the series with critics and fans alike.

These controversies have got me thinking. Do game developers have it worse today than they ever did? I know we’re living through what many in the industry call a golden age of video games in terms of revenue and quality, but I wonder if the increased press coverage and larger user base of the medium has also led to an era of questionable amounts of customer control and input. I just don’t want there to be this fear of public backlash that causes developers to become gun shy about their every decision. That’s one of the things (along with piracy, the emphasis of the bottom line, and a host of other problems) that’s crippled the music and movie industry, and it would be a shame to see that happen to video games in a time when they could be poised to become a dominant form in entertainment and genuinely show new levels of growth and maturity. I’m not saying the above decisions were necessarily good ones, but neither should they have caused the storm of hatred that they did considering there are far worse precedents of launch troubles and bad endings in video game history that didn’t cause such a level of scorn.

What do you think, gamers? Do developers have to fear every misstep like never before, or is this just the natural reaction to a problem? And on the headline topic, do you think Blizzard has caused serious damage to their product or their reputation with this error in judgment?


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