Few games have been as hyped as Diablo III.
A dozen years had passed since Blizzard Entertainment released Diablo II, and fans lined up on May 15 for midnight game sales, or to download the title online from home; Amazon.com saw the highest ever pre-order sales of a videogame, as well.
And what happened? Did Diablo 3 offer tons of amazing gaming?
Not so much.
Instead, fans spewed vitriolic anger across gaming forums, Twitter, and Facebook over not being able to play the long-awaited game. Blizzard’s servers were overwhelmed, and that hampered all play.
Even people who just wanted the single-player campaign were stymied in their attempts to play, because players are required to be connected to Blizzard’s servers at all times. That meant they had to wait for Blizzard to fixed the issues before they could play.
People who had taken the day off work to play found their vacation time wasted. Nice going, Blizzard.
It's especially infuriating because it doesn’t matter where the failure to connect your PC to Blizzard’s servers occurs. It could be your router requiring a reset, a cable in the street going down, a simple Internet outage, or even Blizzard’s own hardware issues; if you can’t connect, you can’t play.
Gamefaqs.com forum user jbtilley summed the issue up pretty succinctly:
I get maybe two hours tops to play games. When I sit down in front of my computer I want to play games.
- If the internet is down I lost a day.
- If there's lost packets on the internet connection I lost a day.
- If the bnet server is down for maintenance I've lost a day.
- If the bnet server is clogged I've lost a day.
And that’s really the issue right there. The fact that any number of things, all of them out of your control, can stop you from playing even the single-player part of a game is grotesquely unfair.
We grudgingly accept server issues often happen on launch days, with the console Call of Duty titles having issues sometimes. And servers occasionally will need to be taken down to deal with an external threat or for an upgrade. But at least with that title, it affects only multiplayer sessions; you’re still free to play the campaign mode until online quirks are resolved.
Even more frustrating is the fact that the "always-on" requirement is meant to be a part of digital rights management (DRM), which in theory helps combat piracy, though evidence shows it’s not overly successful.
Blizzard—which is also implementing always-on to protect their Auction House—has taken their problem and made it your problem with a consumer-unfriendly scheme.
They’re hardly alone. Ubisoft loves always-on DRM and even had the nerve to call it a “success,” though it’s a success that benefits them and not you.
Perhaps worst of all is an issue that Man_from_Uncle mentions, that “You'd have to be moronic to accept [always-on DRM] and ignorant as hell not to feel, that as the paying customer, you were getting the short end of the stick compared to the pirates.”
That’s right, there’s arguably even more of an incentive to get a pirated copy of a game that bypasses always-on DRM for single-player because it’s friendlier to play, and free or at least cheaper. Is this really the message a game company wants to send?
And unfortunately, rumors that next generation consoles will behave this way has set off alarm bells in the gaming community. Even if it’s just a scenario where you need a connection to start a game or boot your console up, it still represents yet another level of autonomy taken away from the consumer.
We get it. It’s not 1987; it’s 2012. With all the technology available, the code-wheels of yesteryear or prompts to enter the xth word on the yth page of the printed instruction manual have long stopped being copyright protection enough. And absolutely game creators should be able to expect that the vast majority of copies of their game out there have been paid for.
But the ultimate truth is still that if the only way you can think of to try to curb piracy of your games is to inconvenience your customers and make playing the game on its launch day a hit-or-miss affair, you’re not doing it very well.
Jeff is currently playing The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass; follow him on Twitter at JKLugar.