|Big Brother. The Future. You decide.|
Last night, I spent the best part of three hours attempting to log into a game.
It's been a while since I had this problem. Diablo 3's popularity isn't just on the back of them effectively giving away 1.2 million copies of the game: it was an anticipated behemoth before you factor in the Annual Pass takeups. There was a key difference this time around: a lot has changed in a decade, after all. Last night wasn't a problem with an untested or buggy game. The problem was the social networking framework Blizzard required you to connect to in order to play it.
You wouldn't think that Battle.net and Facebook have a lot in common, but they do. The intentions here are clearly noble: once you've done all the single player content there's a good chance you'd want to play with other people, after all that's what Blizzard games are all about. All your friends are playing Warcraft and Starcraft 2, so let's use the same 'social network' to allow you to connect to them too... except last night, Blizzard clearly underestimated the takeup. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised, Blizzard are notoriously good at not realising just how popular their games can be. They're also not going to spend excessively on reinforcing their hardware capacity... you know, in case no-one turned up and they were out of pocket ^^ Actually, I suspect last night was less about the 'lack of hamsters' and more about Blizzard having to deal with a system that's simply never had that much load on it before. We won't know unless they tell us, of course, and I doubt that kind of information is ever going to be forthcoming.
The issue that a lot of individual players will have completely overlooked in their zeal to play is the Global Play aspect of the D3 experience. I saw a pointed Tweet last night by the Brit gamer @totalbiscuit which showed a screenie of a message: 'Diablo 3 Servers are full' (for single player) and although I can sympathise, I don't think Blizzard's primary interest in all of this isn't the needs of the one player, it's the needs of the multiplayer. I was surprised when I saw complaints concerning the problems: when I finally connected I spent a couple of hours having a great time with three other friends clearing the Skeleton Boss for the second time. Not having to think too hard while we played, not having to worry about CC or loot drama or anything else was, quite frankly, a very liberating experience. The game is very polished and just at the right level of immersive to be a joy to play in co-op mode.
Blizzard sells games not simply on their content any more: they come with a level of service and community that is unique in the gaming world. Even during the issues, I was able to follow Twitter and get regular updates on problems and how they were being addressed: it wasn't as if there was no information available. I can entirely understand the frustration of the lone player: I think the biggest single failure last night was that Blizzard didn't make it clear that D3 is a new generation of game. It requires you to bolt yourself into an existing social networking framework, even if you have no need or desire to be part of it. The game will not function without a connection to the internet.
There will be those people who will simply chalk this down to Blizzard wanting to make more money by tempting people to use services they might not yet realise they want. There will also be those who will view the need to connect to a secondary service in order to play a game that was previously a stand-alone title as a disturbing development. Privacy is already a major issue with other social networking platforms...
Personally, I had a great time last night, and I suspect I will continue to have a great time in the weeks and months that follow. However, this isn't about me, or the other people who are in my position. I'm looking at the people who aren't happy, and wondering what the fallout might be in the days that follow...