Tobold's Blog
Monday, August 08, 2011
Not separate features

Apparently everybody loves bullet points. Over the last week I've seen tons of posts on various blogs and websites reporting on Diablo 3, and they all have some variation of the following bullet point list: So what is wrong with that list? It suggests that we are talking about 3 separate features or news items here. But actually there is only one feature (real-money AH) and the fact that Blizzard isn't completely crazy.

Raph Koster once coined one of the laws of online games when he said that "The client is in the hands of the enemy.". The internet is full of cheats for games which involve players changing the data on their computer to give them an advantage in a game. Even mods are a form of changing the data to make a game easier, even if there is a valid point to be made that "it isn't cheating as long as it isn't explicitly forbidden". But just imagine for a second the difference in epic-collection speed of one guild using addons in WoW compared with another guild of equal skill not using any addons, and you will understand that mods do have a significant effect on a game economy too.

Earlier versions of Diablo were full of possibilities for cheating, with Diablo 1 having a serious bug enabling duping items right in the game, without even having to modify the data with an external tool. That didn't matter all that much as long as people were playing solo, but cheating is a huge annoyance in multiplayer online games. Adding the real-money auction house adds another level to this: By putting the Sword of Uberness on the AH you not only affect yourself or people in the same game as you, but everybody. Putting 1,000 duped Swords of Uberness on the AH would obviously pretty much kill the player economy.

Virtual items by definition have a marginal cost (the cost to produce one more of them) of very close to zero. In the real economy the price of any item for which there is plenty of supply drifts towards the marginal cost. For a virtual economy to function, the game company needs to artificially increase the marginal cost for the *players* to create an item. For the player the value of an item is roughly equivalent to what time it would take to farm another one. Thus an item with a low drop-rate at the end of a raid dungeon you need hours to get through is valuable, while an item you can farm dozens of in an hour is not. Duping or other forms of data manipulation, even mods, lowers the marginal cost of an item for the player. That first leads to imbalances (the cheating player gets an item for a low cost in time and sells it expensively to a non-cheating player for whom it would take a long time to farm that item), and then to market collapse as the cheat method spreads.

So when Blizzard says that: "Internally I don’t think [always-on DRM] ever actually came up when we talked about how we want connections to operate. Things that came up were always around the feature-set, the sanctity of the actual game systems like your characters. You’re guaranteeing that there are no hacks, no dupes.", I believe them. The real-money auction house *necessitates* all character and item data to be server-side, which can only be done with always-on internet connection. The connection requirement and the no-mods policy aren't separate features, but a logical consequence of the decision to enable real-money trade of virtual items.
I disagree. Diablo II had closed and open 10 years ago. There is absolutely no reason for no offline play (well there is, but it is not that marketing eyewash).

This is on the same level as the missing lan/offline option in and people getting banned for cheating in singleplayer in starcraft2.
I understand that you are upset about the lack of offline play. But how exactly would you implement offline play combined with the possibility to sell the items you farmed offline for real money without there being a possibility of cheating?
Not really. It is true that a RMT AH necessitates the other three, but lack of modding support and online-DRM are things that can and do exist independently in all sorts of games.

Outside of the RMT AH, I find the cheating argument somewhat misplaced when it comes to D3. There is no persistent world or lobby going on here - by all accounts you and up to 3 other players have to all agree to meet up in specific game "rooms," the same as Minecraft or Counter-Strike servers. If players want to cheat there... who cares? The only real big deal here is how items are account-bound which means you can move them every damn place.

Blizzard should be applauded for their novel direction vis-a-vis fighting gold-sellers since it makes them money in the process. But it could just as easily been solved by restricting items to accounts, or to specific servers, or hell, implementing cheat codes. There are TF2 and Counter-Strike servers with non-standard rules all over the place; if you don't like those rules, don't play there.

I don't care who says it or how often: there is NO WAY the RMT AH was put forth as a solution for any other reason than the Blizzard cut. There were other, equally valid options.
Then separate the experiances, have offline characters different to online ones. Give the player a choice, play online and access these features, or play offline and have the convenience of not needing an internet connection.

As a MMO player, I'm used to always being online. I'm also used to having tons of spam messages trying to sell me gold, phishing emails and having to be somewhat paranoid about security. Gold pharmers and the like have been a thorn in the side of many a MMO gamer, and to have Blizzard seemingly legitimise their business is very unsettling. I fear what will happen to that "market" when every item has a real money value. The skull-duggery that happens in EVE may turn out to be trivial to what may happen.

I don't have a crystal ball however, maybe it will turn out ok. But I do know I'm dissapointed in the lack of choice, and the direction in which Blizzard appears to be taking. We have less choice, and removing customer choice from a service is (IMHO) always a bad idea.

Until I see how this pans out, I'm not investing in any of Blizzard products. They have to prove to me that they know what they are doing. Trust can be won and lost, and atm they have lost mine.
But how exactly would you implement offline play combined with the possibility to sell the items you farmed offline for real money without there being a possibility of cheating?

I dunno... how about eliminating the possibility of offline items from being seen by other players? They already have "personal loot" dropping in multiplayer games, so it is not as if there are technical limitations going on. And if you "cheated" your way to full epic loot... so what? No, really. So what? Don't choose to play with that guy.

Besides, with a RMT AH in-game, there is really no distinction anyway from a guy who duped all his items and a guy who bought them from the AH (put there by botting computer farms, or multi-boxing farmers, etc etc).
@Tobold: I am not upset about the lack of offline play, as that is something I have no need for.

What I am upset about are the stated reasons for its absence. Again, 10 years ago they already had a solution for this. Open bnet (offline) players couldn't play with closed bnet players. Add the AH to this equation - offline players cannot use it, problem solved.
Diablo 2 was absolutely crammed full of dupes. For a while the currency was Stone of Jordan, a unique ring that many legitimate players never even saw one of.

The fact that people were using dupes as a currency shows how completely endemic the issue was.
But then the game would have to have two completely separate systems for items, one for "genuine" items completely stored and managed server side, and one for "offline" items stored client side. That is getting very complicated and expensive for the minor convenience of being able to play offline.

Gold pharmers and the like have been a thorn in the side of many a MMO gamer, and to have Blizzard seemingly legitimise their business is very unsettling.

I'm not so sure about that. The prohibition didn't work out quite that well. There is a good argument that can be made (and is often made in efforts to for example legalize some drugs) that if you can't prevent the illegal trade, it is better to have a legal market which can be controlled.

I fear what will happen to that "market" when every item has a real money value. The skull-duggery that happens in EVE may turn out to be trivial to what may happen.

To that I certainly agree, having made the experience with Magic the Gathering Online. Nevertheless I would say that the solution is not "remove the legal market for virtual items", but could only be "remove ALL markets for virtual items by making them untradeable".

I'm not saying that I like RMT Diablo III more than a Diablo III in which items can't be traded at all. I'm just saying that you can't have a game half-way between those two, nor one that does both.
"That is getting very complicated and expensive for the minor convenience of being able to play offline." Quite the assumption, I am not convinced at all that this is the case (again, it was in the game 10 years ago).

But this is what I am talking about. They are dividing the customers in first class (people who play online and can be seduced to spend money on the RMT AH) and second class customers (people who just want to play the game offline and alone).

Kotick quote: "So, what used to be a $50 sale is a $500 sale today."

Imo this is the one and only reason for no offline/LAN play of d3 and sc2.
Yes, mods help guilds get items quicker. But everyone has access to the same mods so everyone gets the items just as fast.

Mods are responsible for greatly improving the WoW UI. They implemented plenty of user content in the main game.

Too bad they won't allow it as I can't imagine me playing WoW without a dozen mods.
Too bad they won't allow it as I can't imagine me playing WoW without a dozen mods.

What you are saying is that WoW is unplayable with the standard UI. If the WoW standard UI would have all the functionality of the mods you are currently using, you wouldn't need the mods any more.

Whether mods are necessary for Diablo III depends on how much the standard UI for that game sucks.
Also, the no-mods rule gives Blizzard a considerable additional potential income stream.

If you spend any time in the Internet Marketing world, as it's known, it rapidly becomes apparent that one of the best ways to make money in Internet Marketing is to sell products and services to internet marketers. They're very highly motivated, they're often "Desperate Buyers" (to quote one famous guide) - many people have gotten very rich taking this route.

By enforcing a no-mods rule, Blizzard open up a lucrative revenue stream - selling a better auction house, one feature at a time, to want-to-be-pro sellers. Mobile AH? Better posting? Bulk posting? Better mail handling? They can literally sell them like a sparklepony, $10 a time.
I think you are forgetting that Diablo 2 already had online and offline modes where the characters and items were separate for each mode. So Blizzard is actually removing a feature that was included in the previous version of the game.
I would say that the online-only and no-mods policy are a result of the GOLD auction house decision, and that the RMT version was a later addition. (There's some inconsistencies in the RMT AH screenshots that make me think it's a mockup or hurriedly tossed together for the press kit.)

On a tangent, did Blizz ever endorse the use of mods in D2? Most of the mods I saw involved hacking the executable which is about as far from "supported" as you can get.
Tolbold: Thanks for putting this out there. You're words represent my feelings 100%

People seem to be stuck in this expectation that games should cater to their personal playstyle, while still delivering every other feature.

Could blizzard have made a non-online always, mod friendly D3, yes. But when they looked at the the Diablo series they saw the modding, they saw the people playing offline only, and they saw the huge meta-game of trading items and selling items.

And they pick the RIGHT one to make the core focus of moving diablo foward.

Every other descision flows logically from that core design choice. To them there is no offline game, just as wow has no offline game. Becuase it would take away from the online world. They don't want to lock players out of their #1 feature and potental longtime income source for D3.

They realized they couldn't bank on good mods, they certianly couldn't bank on spliting up their playerbase again into compartiments.

Once they put their RMT marketplace as a core feature to the game everything else just falls into place.

Could they still include offline gameplay? yes, but it would weaken the title on a fundiment level. To them it's the gear meta-game they think is going to keep players in, and build revenue - and frankly for a loot based game kinda makes sense.

People have every right to be sad that Blizzard is not making the game they were expecting it's but very very hard to objectlivly critize the choices that blizzard is making in the developement of their game
Very well explained, Tobold, thanks for writing it up clearly.

One subtle change, though: some kinds of mods could be allowed if Blizzard wanted. World of Warcraft is the proof; WoW is largely a secure, unhacked game despite a very flexible modification ability. The key is the mods are UI only and Blizzard spent a lot of time building a sophisticated secure environment for mods that allows some UI changes without allowing outright botting. I often wonder if Blizzard felt all that effort was worth it, was part of what makes WoW successful.
Thanks for pointing out it will be online only.

I can now scratch this off my list of games to buy.

Was looking forward to a Diablo I could play solo whilst not tethered to a net connection.

Poor show Blizzard.
td;dr: Tobold's on, none of the above got it right.

The idea is to create a legal RMT platform so that RMT can be controlled by Blizzard. To make this happen the easiest (and cheapest) way is to cut off any offline interference.
Surely offline play in two modes or whatnot is technically possible, but as Tobold said - it's the result of Blizzard not being completely crazy. A RMT store on this scale requires security as strong as on ebay. Keeping assets on and there only removes a helluvalot of complications. And 3rd party apps require additional application interface (API) that grants additional forms of access - also a security threat that can be easily removed by not providing any API to anyone. So yeah: These three are intertwined and the store is the cause. If there were options to store things offline, on your PC, the choice to get rid of those was pretty simple after the RMT AH idea was voted through.
That's great reasoning. Really. It's actually very obvious. Of COURSE the game has to be online-only and modless/cheatless in order to facilitate their shiny new cash-generating idea.

This is an extreme analogy, so ignore the proportions of the context... But that's like saying that of COURSE your civil liberties have to be violated in order for a police state to successfully stamp out crime.

I'm happy with having a little bit of crime if it means those civil liberties stay intact. I'm happy with an underground market of morons fleecing each other if it means I can play my Diablo 3 the way I want to.

This is all ass-about-backwards for me personally. Blizzard is impeding me in ways I care about to protect people in ways I DON'T care about.

So when I complain about no mods, always-online and real-money AH... sure. I'm complaining about inextricably-linked failings. I'm not complaining about the AH because of what it is or because I don't want Blizz to turn a profit or other people to knock themselves out wasting their money on whatever. I'm complaing about it because of what it costs the game to implement it.
Further to my point, I think it IS important for reporting sites to list the bullet-points.

In politics, try talking to the public about the dangers of lack of redistricting oversight by a sitting party. No-one will care. You have to lay out bullet-points that make them care.

So too for this - first is the AH. Everyone is, "So? Good for them, yay profit, I won't use it, why will I care?" The next points are WHY you will care and WHY it is a bad thing.
Offline play just a minor convenience? I'm sorry but you are mistaken. The best and obvious solution (one which would make everyone happy) is to include offline play which would be completely separated from Bnet. There would be no contact between the two, cheating would not be relevant for offline play, neither would be mods.

Maintaining two systems is hard? Do you mean to tell me that with Diablo 2 Blizzard managed that just fine but now, with a myriad of new resources they would find it too hard? That's ridiculous.

What pisses me the most is their stupid reasons for not including offline play. Just come out and say it: they don't want people to pirate the game and they make lots more money by keeping a closed system. But claiming that it would be too "confusing" to a player to have offline and online modes, or that they are "surprised" that people would ask for such a feature in this day and age, is insulting.

I'm not going to bother listing all the reasons why someone might want/need to play offline. Read my last post if you can't come up with any reasons.

They could have handled this better, at least tried to ease us into it, or just come with better arguments but they spouted too much PR bullshit for my tastes.
Thanks for this post Tobold. It clarifies exactly what I was thinking when I saw some of the responses to this announcement on the forums.

@Nelson I think you'll find that the mods in WoW mean its completely unsecure. Sure you can't dupe items easily but all the bot mods out there that allow people to farm gold, honor, etc. would be easily transferred to Diablo III where they would be far more lucrative. The scale on which people would bot to farm drops would make the game unplayable.

And that leads directly to why there is no offline mode. Sure you could simply separate them. But that would still mean having item data client side. If D3 is always-on all the item data is always server side which makes it far harder for cheats to get their grubby little paws on it. Instead of putting on your tin-foil hats and raving about Blizzard's evil plans to take over the world is it not possible that they have some kinds of DRM on those items that they can't afford to have client-side?
One significant side-effect of Diablo 3 not having an offline single-player mode is that I will not ever play a hardcore character in Diablo 3.

I didn't spend all or even most of my Diablo 2 playtime playing hardcore, but I definitely did some and enjoyed it as a very different experience.

But my hardcore play was exclusively single-player offline. Permadeath + death if your internet connection drops out = a combination I want no part of. Hence, Diablo 3 = no hardcore for me.
The problem with Open/Closed BNet on a system like this is simple;
it would detract fromt he value of the "real"/Closed items. If you could just as well, for free/by cheating, have epic gear by playing on Open, why would you want to invest time and money in Closed for those same items? Just for the ePeen/"I did it the REAL way" factor?
It would simply make their auction system utterly meaningless to most people.
@MMOtte: Diablo 2 is still alive and kicking, and not just with a small community. Go re-install it and log into battlenet to see what I'm talking about.

The way they kept people playing battlenet instead of SSP was special items, crafting recipes and runewords only available on Ladder and when the Ladder reset on battlenet. There are mods to let you have all these things on SSP but from there you might as well hack in everything you want anyways and collecting and bartering for items is half the game.
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