In a move sure to be divisive, video game giant Blizzard announced that Diablo 3, the decade-later sequel in its popular dungeon hacking franchise, will require players to have a steady Internet connection to play. Read: no singleplayer for you unless you're online.
Video game giant Blizzard is no stranger to controversy. Even just recently, the company's decision to include players' real names on its forums and Battle.net multiplayer service kicked up quite a furor.
This latest move promises to be just as controversial, as online-only DRM — meaning without an Internet connection you can't play at all — is something that has been incorporated by other companies and is never popular. For instance, game developer and publisher Ubisoft featured the same security for its PC release of Assassin's Creed 2, and the game was rendered unplayable for long periods of time in attacks similar to the ones that crippled Sony's PlayStation Network and locked its players out of multiplayer on the PlayStation 3.
You know what honest, paying customers had to do to actually play their singleplayer game that required an always-on Internet connection? Either wait for Ubisoft to sort its server woes out, or crack the game's protection, and the game was surely cracked. In this way, the draconian measure was only encouraging piracy. Said woes may only last a night or the better part of a week, but there's no way to tell, and that doesn't help you when you finally have some time set aside for some gaming and you simply can't.
Ubisoft dropped the protection for its sequel on the PC, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, but maintains that such measures help reduce piracy, and the company plans to use it in future titles, such as Driver: San Fransisco.
Blizzard explained the decision to PC Gamer:
"We thought about this quite a bit," says executive producer Rob Pardo. "One of the things that we felt was really important was that if you did play offline, if we allowed for that experience, you'd start a character, you'd get him all the way to level 20 or level 30 or level 40 or what have you, and then at that point you might decide to want to venture onto Battle.net. But you'd have to start a character from scratch, because there'd be no way for us to guarantee no cheats were involved, if we let you play on the client and then take that character online."
I'm already on the record as not being a fan of online-only DRM across the board. I think it not only lumps your players in with the pirates you're looking to squash, but it also puts up an unnecessary wall between paying customers and content. Also, why not just tell players that if they want to play offline and singleplayer that's fine, but they can't take those characters online? On the one hand playing the game online will surely be the draw for most players, but on the other, Blizzard's strategy seems to hinge on a lot of artificial constraints, and this is essentially telling everyone that there is only one way to play.
Blizzards games are a target for piracy, no doubt. StarCraft 2 is one of the most-downloaded torrents of all time, and both Diablo and Diablo 2 featured multiplayer that was pretty much crippled by cheaters. Not allowing players to bring offline characters online will certainly help this. Shackling the singleplayer as online-only will not.
How much this effects players has yet to be seen. Diablo 3 doesn't have a release date yet, but the beta is already underway for a select few, and should open up to more soon. In other Blizzard announcements: Diablo 3 won't be mod-friendly, and it will be getting an auction system that involves real cash.