The Xbox and The Spin

Two things caught my interest today: one is the “Pros and Cons of an Always-Online Xbox 720″ article on IGN.com for its blatant spin job there, and the other is Marcus Beer’s sudden hypocritical disinterest in next-gen console speculation, which is tucked into the most recent Annoyed Gamer (around the 6:20 mark).

(Be warned, this is going to be a pretty epic rant.)

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Damage over time: Morhaime weakly defends Diablo III

Diablo III Lord of Greed

Mike Morhaime (not pictured above), the longstanding CEO of Blizzard and recent corporate servant of Bobby Kotick (pictured above) has taken to the Diablo III forums to apologize, make excuses, and write enough corporate-speak to hopefully convince players that Blizzard’s latest big hit is not a big shit.  This, following on the heels of news that Vivendi is trying desperately to sell Activision Blizzard but nobody wants to buy it — probably because word on the street is that they churn out unfinished games at a unsustainable rate — which makes me wonder if this damage control is a coincidence or not.

Using the ancient method of saying the opposite of the truth — for example calling the universal outrage over the myriad of errors and crashes “not-so-positive” and throwing out the “Every Voice Matters” slogan — Morhaime’s post is a wall of blue text that means nothing, but feels reassuring to look at.  The unforgivable DRM scheme is labelled a success, not because even one player enjoys it or feels like it’s fair, but because “we have not found any fully functional cracks” of the game.  Huzzah!

And that’s not even broaching the subject of the Real Money Auction House, which is Blizzard’s shameless ploy to capitalize on the worst instincts of its gamer base.  As Ars Technica says,

Many players feel the in-game auction house perverts the spirit of the game by allowing people to buy their way to top-level loot. But Morhaime reiterated that Blizzard felt this was the best way to protect players from shady, black market item trading sites that cropped up around Diablo II. He admitted that the service “isn’t perfect,” but said that the company is “committed to ensuring you have a great experience with Diablo III without feeling like the auction house is mandatory.”

Just as with StarCraft II, which has failed to live up to its predecessor in every meaningful way, Blizzard is calling on its restless congregation to have faith, for There Shall Be Patches, And We Shall Get Our Money’s Worth.  Some beautiful day, when our weary travels in Sanctuary are over.

Meanwhile, upcoming Path of Exile will be completely free, feature zero “pay to win” features, and have an infinitely more interesting end game revolving around map items.  I’ve already praised the game’s ingenious economy, beautiful graphics, and superior game design.  You can currently buy into the beta using a Supporter Pack, which I suggest you do; this independent developer deserves success, unlike Bobby Kotick’s monstrosity.

United Nations still moving to control the Internet

I’ve said before that I think the Internet is doomed in the long run, despite the victory over SOPA and other misleading “anti-piracy” censorship schemes.  Right now the FBI, DEA, and the RCMP are roaring because IPv6 will make it more difficult to track what everyone is doing online.  Meanwhile, “Digital Rights Management” is the name of the game in the video game world, where major companies impose ridiculous restrictions on how and when customers can access the content they’ve already bought (Diablo 3 being a perfect example), making people wonder what they’re actually paying for and when the paranoid power-grab will stop.

Well in case you forgot, the United Nations thinks that it should be in charge of policing and the world (big surprise!), and is overseeing a conference on the subject, the World Conference on International Telecommunications.  CNET reports on the secret document leaked to the public from the conference:

Several proposals in the newly leaked document, for example, would authorize governments to inspect incoming Internet traffic for malware or other evidence of “criminal” activity, opening the door to wide scale, authorized censorship.

There are plenty of greedy, power-hungry organizations seeking to have a hand in the rewriting of the treaty, including ones who want to tax content providers, control how new IPv6 addresses will be distributed, and otherwise shut down anything they don’t like at the press of a button.  Will they be successful?  I wouldn’t be surprised.  The La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo would be happy at least, don’t you think?

Diablo 3’s boundless greed will force you to buy Authenticator

Diablo III Lord of Greed

If you don’t have a smart phone capable of running Blizzard’s Authenticator app and want to use Diablo 3‘s upcoming “Real Money Auction House”, you’ll need to purchase one of their physical Authenticators.  This means that on top of the ongoing issues with DRM disconnections and errors, hacking continues to be a massive nuisance — even people with Authenticators are being hacked, as confirmed by many players.  If only players were allowed to have offline games, none of this would be a problem.

As for the Auction House itself, the market for D3 gold is already booming, and thanks to the use of bots some people are making plenty of real money already.  Activision-Blizzard is jealous of this profit, naturally, and wants to stop it.  But much like real enforcement, the illegal side of the equation won’t be affected by authentication, because they’re not using Blizzard’s auction house!  Check out this interview with an anonymous gold farmer:

Activision-Blizzard’s Diablo III DRM issue isn’t fixed with apologies

Diablo 3’s error woes have been making big waves, and RockPaperShotgun‘s Nathan Grayson has written an excellent editorial explaining why people shouldn’t let Activision-Blizzard off the hook just because they apologized.  Doing so, he says, sends a signal to other developers that players will be forgiving if they decide to follow the same route.  One quote in particular, from id Software’s Tim Willits, is provided as evidence:

“Diablo III will make everyone else accept the fact you have to be connected. If you have a juggernaut, you can make change. I’m all for that. If we could force people to always be connected when you play the game, and then have that be acceptable, awesome. In the end, it’s better for everybody. Imagine picking up a game and it’s automatically updated. Or there’s something new you didn’t know about, and you didn’t have to click away. It’s all automatically there. But it does take juggernauts like [Diablo III] to make change.”

That’s not the kind of change we can believe in, folks, but Diablo 3 probably will change it all anyway.  Here’s another piece discussing the stupidity of the “online single-player” game, on GameInformer.  They say:

So what’s the big deal about asking them to take the next step to be online all the time? For one, it means that we as gamers no longer own the games we play. By purchasing a game like Diablo III, you are no longer buying a product, you are buying the right to use a product at the discretion of its owner.

This much should be obvious, don’t you think?  When you play a multiplayer game which hosted on a company’s servers (see: Metal Gear Online) you know that they might shut down the servers some day, even though you paid full price for it.  You paid for access, yes, but without any promise that there will be something to access a few years from now.  That sucks, but at least it makes sense from a logistics point of view.  If you remember Diablo II’s multiplayer service, any character left inactive was automatically deleted after three months, saving Blizzard’s servers the storage headache.  But why in the hell should a single-player game carry the same fate?  It’s a greedy, short-sighted, and cruel system of control.  Is Activision-Blizzard contractually obligated to provide you anything in return for your dollars?  No, of course not.  They could shut down Diablo 3 tomorrow, if they wanted to.  Or they could just cut you off, for whatever reason.  The ridiculous errors people are encountering drive home the bleak reality of this.

UPDATE: Jim Sterling’s coverage of the MetaCritic backlash is worth looking at.  Although I keep noticing people say that Blizzard has been working on the game since 2001.  Much like StarCraft 2, the game was not actually in serious development for a decade; I’m sure they were tinkering, but the water only started to boil when Activision bought Blizzard, and started promising that a new Blizzard game would be released every year from now on.

OUCH: Leave it to John Walker to take a righteous sword to Diablo III’s many problems like no other.

Specifics on Diablo III’s online-only DRM problems

RockPaperShotgun has detailed the ways in which Diablo III‘s online-only system will affect players, including being logged out in the middle of a game due to server problems or connections, a cooldown period, and no ability to pause the game.

According to John Walker:

You can’t pause. In fact, in most ways, the game acts like an MMO. For instance, quit it, and you’re given the optional cooldown to have your player clear the server properly. But it’s not an MMO. It’s not even close to an MMO. So when I’m playing the single-player game, and I’m in the middle of a frenzied mob, and there’s a knock at the front door, there’s nothing I can do. As happened to me yesterday. Twice. On another occasion I was surprised by a phone call that led to my having to do some other things. I’d safely left my character in a cleared area, but long between checkpoints. When I came back to the PC, I’d been idle for too long and the game had logged me out.

Being idle logs you out?  No pausing the game?  Dropped connections?  This is Diablo, not World of Warcraft.  No matter what the justifications for including an online-only Digital Rights Management system, or how many great “features” come with this connectivity, this is disappointing and unnecessary.  This wouldn’t bother me so much if Blizzard wasn’t a leader in the PC gaming field, being copied by dozens of other companies; they set the standard for what games should be doing.

Of course, the real blame still goes to Activision.

I suggest you read the full post, as it explains even more annoyances with the system.

Blizzard is now soulless: confirmed

Listen.  I’ll admit when I’m wrong.  Why, I can remember a day when I was positive that StarCraft 2 would be a legendary example of great game design, and even tried to follow the online Korean tournament scene, GomTV’s “GSL”, you may remember.  I wrote an article about the design principles I believed were behind the choices for the three races’ units and features, then watched as Blizzard fumbled patching and balance until it was clear: they’re clueless.

Well the days have gotten darker for ActivisionBlizzard, as they’ve revealed their greedy little plans to control and monetize everything.  Surely this is Activision’s part in milking Blizzard dry, but that doesn’t pardon anything.  What’s the big sin?  There’s actually 3, as reported by PC Gamer, and summed up by RockPaperShotgun…

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