While Blizzard would surely prefer if the gaming populous just sang the praises of Diablo III, teething problems during the game’s launch dominated the news. The widespread problems players had while signing in, and the subsequent downtime during this period were prominent enough to be reported on mainstream news sources.
Like past examples of DRM follies, this will pass as fewer people encounter debilitating problems with the system, but perhaps it’s time a greater discussion was had about the value of DRM to the customer and to the publisher. ‘Always on’ DRM, where a constant Internet connection is required to play, regardless of the game type, is a system that’s gaining traction with publishers. In the eyes of the publisher, it is potentially the most effective to combat piracy. In the eyes of the customer, it’s a requirement that offers no advantages and significant disadvantages at the same time.
However, there are always more ways to look at an issue, and this is no exception. Despite Diablo III’s framework being a single player game, there are extensive features within it that push the game towards an MMO (particularly given that a Player vs. Player mode will be implemented at a later date). Blizzard have developed the game as a single player game, yes, but they’ve also utilised the Internet to create a fuller and richer experience as well (though that’s dependant on who you ask). In that regard, the DRM brings with it an array of features that offer the customer more options for play, which, strictly speaking, is better than any game that just features the DRM.
Of course, it’ll be personal preference whether or not customers see the value in these additions. Diablo III is marketed as a single player game, and the requirement of a constant Internet connection does not mesh with that marketing. As mentioned earlier, the game does implement some of the components from the MMO world, but that does not make it an MMO. Single player games are just that, and should always be available offline.
If there’s one advantage that single player games have over MMOs, its that: the ability to be played offline. The MMO market is constantly changing, and games that arrived to large fanfare can find themselves closing shop a year or two later (Blizzard’s success with World of Warcraft notwithstanding). When an MMO shuts down, that’s it: the world, the characters, the stories and the gameplay that went along with it cannot ever be accessed again (at least, not without some severe wrangling). For preservation sake, this is a horrible thing to occur, and while it’s unlikely that Diablo III will simply fade away into history and be forgotten, it could potentially be the fate of any game that utilises this form of DRM. The fact that I can track down an incredibly old game and get it working on modern hardware with a minimum of effort is one of the reasons I love PC gaming so much: it’d be an utter shame to lose this aspect of it as a result of overbearing DRM.
So Diablo III has caused a huge fuss in the gaming community – not for any negative reason, but because seemingly everybody is playing it. More than any other game released recently, Diablo III is definitely the one that’s gotten the most attention on the websites I visit and the people I talk to. I’ve been told time and time again how great it is, though I don’t think I’ll ever understand why people find it so good. I guess it’s not any different to me trying to explain how Ace Attorney is so great to somebody who doesn’t like adventure games.
Anyway, I don’t want to talk about the gameplay, and I don’t particularly want to talk about the game at all – I’m not going to play it, so I don’t really want to provide an uninformed review on something I know nothing about. What I am informed about, however, is the dangerous precedent that the game’s DRM has brought into the industry.
Always-online single-player DRM schemes have been attempted before by Ubisoft in Settlers 7, Assassin’s Creed 2, and a few others. All of these got strong and instant backlash, and it wasn’t too long before Ubisoft was back-pedalling, patching DRM out of their games, and falling back to more traditional DRM schemes as well. But Blizzard and Activision have succeeded where Ubisoft failed: They have released Diablo III with absolutely no offline capabilities.
Diablo III does have a single-player mode, and that is simply playing the multiplayer mode by yourself. The problem is that it does not have an offline mode, nor does it have LAN support. In the past, any game (not only single-player games) that didn’t work at all without being connected to the internet has gotten some serious negative feedback from the community. The only exception has been MMO games, which are an exception from the rule (though they have a whole heap of related problems I won’t go into).
This brings us to a second problem: Diablo III (and indeed any other game with DRM such as this) will not be playable after Blizzard decides to turn off their servers. Think about it: Diablo I and II are still very playable right now, and will always be playable, because they don’t require a connection to a server in order to run. In 15 years (or whenever the servers shut down), Diablo III will never be played, in any form, ever again. Unless, of course, Blizzard remove the DRM at some point.
If Blizzard succeeds with this super-restrictive DRM, the other studios will surely follow their example. They might get some initial backlash, but Diablo has already acted as a great big shield and will soak up the majority of the complaints. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in ten or so years, hundreds of single-player games were disabled forever due to servers shutting down. I would, however, be severely disappointed.