I was chatting with a friend the other night regarding Diablo 3 and had been watching quite a few Diablo 3 videos on Youtube recently. The experience made me think a bit about the evolution of Diablo 3 compared with the start. While I do not possess any direct insiders to Activision/Blizzard (at one time I did), I’m just posting some ideas on why they did what they did.
The first thing to note is that the game has progressively become easier. This has been a great thing as many players that had quit at one time are returning since the content has been nerfed. Before this part though, the game had been notoriously difficult, even impossible. In a few interviews, some of the leads admitted that even their own staff could not beat the game on Inferno mode.
If the game is made too frustrating, it’s quite obvious to anyone that the player base will gradually die down. Blizzard has a history of doing this too as we see the constant swapping of hard-to-easy-back-to-hard content with World of Warcraft. You would think that by now Blizzard would realize that they need to figure out the sweet spot of challenging players and making the game accessible for casuals.
So here’s where everything started to click for me. First, I think that Inferno mode, right now in patch 1.0.5 is the real “normal” mode, unless you add higher Monster Power levels. Normal, Nightmare and Hell modes are simply training grounds preparing you for Inferno difficulty. Just like how levels 60, 70, 80, 85 and 90 were the levels where the “real game” started for World of Warcraft (e.g. end game content of raiding, heroics and PVP), 60 is where the real game begins for Diablo 3.
You have access to all items (that are not class specific for the most part), the monsters full abilities come into play, you get Nephlam Valor points and have access to all of your class abilities. At this point, you can experiment with different class builds and gearing. Prior to this, you didn’t need to optimize as much. Like World of Warcraft, you can also see something like Bind-on-Account equipment with items such as the Horadric Hamburger or reduced level items. To me, these are to help players who have already leveled up and managed to collect enough money to speed run their alts to 60.
Initially, everyone had no problems with the first three difficulties. When they hit Inferno, unless you were a demon hunter or a wizard (i.e. ranged class) or played with a group, people would encounter a lot of issues with survival. I think Blizzard did this intentionally and coincided many of the later patches as well as the Real Money Auction House release.
So my theory is that the intention behind this was to award the hardcore players who could speed through content and have them build enough gear and gold in preparation for the Real Money Auction House. Once the RMAH was released, struggling players who had money and still wanted to play would end up forking over money to give it a second try. Note that the Real Money Auction House also made its debut during patch 1.0.3 on June 12 2012, where a significant reduction in difficulty had been done for monsters in Acts 2-4 on Inferno. Doing things in manner would award hardcore layers by allowing them to be the first to seed the Real Money Auction House.
Another theory I have is that when Diablo 3 was released, it actually was a Beta release, not a full release. Considering how much “improvements” have been released since then, my theory is that Blizzard used the pre-1.0.3 game as the real beta test to see how they could tune the game better, knowing full well that the game probably was impossible for all but the best players. However, I think if Blizzard had delayed the game any longer or admitted that what people were seeing was still Beta, they would lose a great deal of face (I still think they’ve been losing a lot of face, but that’s more because of the pressure stemming from Activision).
I believe most of the features we’re seeing coming out as patches were already built into the game such as Monster Power and Paragon Levels. Something like Paragon levels seems like a feature that should’ve been in the game from the start. But why weren’t these features introduced early on?
Again, I think that half of it was that Blizzard didn’t know just how hard it would be for casuals nor the repercussions of the difficulty level they set early on. Second, I think Blizzard tends to cater towards their hardcore fanbase far too much. It’s the same issue that pervades World of Warcraft and it stems from their limited insight into what their real audience is.
Most of their insight, outside of statistics gathered from the game, I think are from louder parts of the internet (e.g. Youtube), their dedicated following and their own community forums. Unfortunately, I think that a great deal of their player base ends up getting lost because they simply do not care enough about the game to really do much protesting. If the game becomes too difficult or boring, they’ll simply quit. At that point, the only feedback loop to Blizzard is the dying player base.
One other thing with regards to Paragon levels and Monster Power, I think that if they introduced those features early on, they wouldn’t have been able to receive the feedback on the difficulty to make adjustments accordingly. The problem in introducing Monster Power levels from the start is that they needed to figure out the sweet spot for Inferno mode. In my opinion, that later became the gradient that would define Monster Powers. Paragon levels would’ve exacerbated the time necessary to put the final tuning into place since hitting Paragon level 100 would throw the scale of Monster Power and Inferno difficulty into an extended two months of tuning.
And of course, the big thing in all of this was to make the Real Money Auction House succeed. That’s where Blizzard’s biggest bet in the game was, not initial sales but returning customers. I think by giving the impression that Inferno was impossible without the right gear early on, Blizzard had secretly hoped that the Real Money Auction House would catch on, even with the nerfs. That way people could feel overpowered just by contributing a few dollars, even if you could get away with playing the game using a budget character.
The one thing I think Blizzard might’ve overlooked or not taken enough into consideration was the proliferation of botting. According to various players, botting is currently hurting the Diablo 3 economy. While the increase in Legendaries has made the game more accessible for people, those that figured on making a partial living now face heavy competition from botters. Although Blizzard’s policy is to be against botting, they have been quite lackadaisical in handling this issue (besides each account is $60 and more than likely the botters are those that are Blizzard’s real source of income on the Real Money Auction House).
Nonetheless, I don’t think these things are coincidental. I’m damn certain they were planned for this purpose. Also, what about PVP? That’s been a very controversial subject and no one knows when or even if it’ll happen.
From my experience with World of Warcraft, I feel that PVP ends up causing more issues than it solves. Certainly, there’s a lot of people who are excited about the prospect of battling each other in Diablo 3. However, there’s a lot of questions that need to be asked. Will PVP have its own set of gear the way World of Warcraft does and their own stats? Will the top PVPers be those with large bank accounts who use the Real Money Auction House to climb their way to the top? Will PVP mechanics be considered separate from PVE the way specs had been handled in World of Warcraft?
The only thing we know thus far from Blizzard officially is that they are working on it. More than likely, they’re battling these very issues right now. They have stated that they do not want to make PVP in Diablo 3 an esport style affair. Unfortunately, I think no matter what Blizzard does, the game somehow will end up being an esport where people are extremely competitive. The only way Blizzard can get out of this situation is basically turning PVP into the equivalent of the implementation of Pet Battles in World of Warcraft.
I think that for PVP to be successful in Diablo 3, Blizzard must fully examine the path of hell they created for themselves in World of Warcraft. First, I think gear should have no place in PVP. People want to test raw skill and introducing anything beyond vanity gear into PVP will more than likely fuck up the rest of the game.
Second, Blizzard needs to divorce the idea of integrating the Real Money Auction House into PVP. Once non-vanity gear is introduced into the game, then everything will become a race to obtain it. But I think gear has caused so many problems in World of Warcraft when dividing PVE and PVP that Blizzard needs to just dismiss it. In World of Warcraft, there might be some limited justification for having gear in that it is a resource based world where two factions are battling.
However, from a role playing point of view, there’s nothing in Diablo 3 justifies using gear in a PVP setting. It’ll be nice for some players as a reward, but why not just give them a pretty color? With World of Warcraft, there have been so many issues with gear and max level toons. For instance, back in Wrath of the Lich King, your level 79 would not stand any chance against a PVP geared level 80. In fact, you could have several level 79s or 80s as well. If they had no PVP gear, that one PVP geared player would own them.
I think for PVP to be successful, they need to keep it simple and within the boundaries of existing character abilities. Even that might be far too complicated with the numerous combinations and stats that can turn the tide of one class and one type of game play. Look at the countless nerfs and QQers on forums in World of Warcraft. If you buff one ability, someone else is going to suffer. Then it affects PVE.
From my own point of view, keeping PVP out of the game completely would be ideal. Hopefully, if they do include PVP, it’ll be limited to battle grounds and arenas. I certainly do not want to see world based PVP.
At any rate, these are just some of my recent thoughts on Diablo 3. I’m curious outside of PVP what other additions to the game are in store before an expansion.