Proxzor’s Soap Box: Blizzard’s Era Wanes
By R. Molenaar (Proxzor)
Hey this is my first stab at writing for MMOHut! In this blog I will take a closer look into games and game studios where things went wrong. I will talk about failures and mistakes from gaming studios. Things they could have handled much better and features they never should have added into their game, as well as all kinds of related features that were not appropriate or not wise additions. I will review paths some studios have taken and how it has affected them in the long run. In this first article I will talk about one of the most anticipated games from the last two years, Diablo 3.
Diablo 3 was one of those games that everyone was waiting for. I mean, the launch of the first Diablo was one of those keystone titles that grew the online gaming industry into what it is today. The second edition released 4 years after went on to become known as one of the greatest examples of action PvP gaming even to this day. Blizzard has always been a studio delivering golden games. Name one notch in their belt they aren’t proud to have released? You’d be hard pressed to find one. And the truly successful ones? Just look at World of Warcraft, the biggest in the history of gaming even with a subscription based business model. But times change and even WoW has seen drops in subscribers in recent times. The players are becoming bored and each subsequent expansion seems to turn off more of the original playerbase that made the game great in an effort to cater to the casual players, unsuccessfully I might add.
The Time Has Come
Are we fed up? That’s a question that I would like to ask now. Aren’t we just burned out and haven’t we seen it all by now? Isn’t that the reason new titles like Diablo 3 have fell short of expectations? I’m not saying Diablo 3 was a bad game, not at all. I personally had a lot of fun in it, and I do think it’s a really good game. Everyone claims a different reason for this shortcoming: unfinished, unbalanced, lack of content. But many of these same buzz words have been dropped on so many new titles that it has begun to feel like dejavu. Aren’t we just fed up with MMORPGs and online titles in general now? Or are the investors funding them just fed up of the ever increasing competitive nature of the now mature industry and want to see the same fast return on investment they enjoyed in the old days. Let’s break down Blizzard and see what this culture has done to weaken the company and what they are doing to maintain their past merits.
The support in some games is absolutely terrible. Luckily this folly is one of the bits Blizzard goes above and beyond to avoid. I mean their game support and just everything is formidable, if you have any problem at all just call them up or send them an e-mail and most of the time it will be answered and helped in just a matter of hours to days rather than weeks like most F2P companies I’ve dealt with.
But I do think that even Blizzard went a little bit too egoistic when releasing Diablo 3. The game is well made and all but once you reach the end-game what’s there to do? It’s as if they learned nothing from why WoW is faltering and pushed forward with the same marketing strategy of the past that is fast becoming stale. Inferno is a nice addition but if that’s everything than Diablo 3 doesn’t have a healthy future ahead for it. I dare say it may even be cancelled a few years from now.
Slow Down, We Aren’t Going Anywhere
I am also not really happy about one big thing that has been Blizzard’s policy for a while. Since the terrible early start WoW experienced, Blizzard tends to err on the side of caution, taking as long as necessary to release their titles as complete gaming experiences. Even with the recent launch of Starcraft II they admitted that the full game still needed time and adopted a strategy of releasing fully developed micro-versions of the ultimate game, each featuring a very satisfying single player campaign. Diablo 3 doesn’t match this methodology at all. I think they made an error with releasing the game too soon in one of the most competitive launch summers the online world has ever witnessed. Player versus player is one of the major features that kept players hooked to D2, a dynamic player driven form of content that buys time for the developers to fine tune and launch extra content at their own pace. The current system encourages players to keep killing the same bosses for loot so that they can someday challenge an overly difficult PvE content (Inferno) that is hardly new from what they had been doing before. That’s not content, that’s an exercise in tedium.
The other seemingly rushed system I’ve complained about for months on our forums is the addition of the real money Auction House. Not only did it support the gold sellers and other power leveling services but it also supports the slavery of children in countries like China. Because you buy items and equipment with real life money it took has had destructive effects on the in-game economy. Everything is either too expensive or too cheap, and the relative value of the items seems unrelated to the going rate. Could Blizzard have guessed this? Could they have known it was simply not a feature that should’ve went live, or did they just decide to roll the dice and run a grand social experiment on live servers to make an extra buck?
Personally what made Diablo 2 so special was the black market. Sure there were many illegal factors to that but it was just so much harder to find something you wanted and the effort required discouraged enough of the community that the overarching economy never faltered as a result. Take one trip to the auction how in D3 and disappointment is sure to follow.
Behind The Scenes
Did Blizzard soften up? Since Activision and Blizzard merged together many people have contributed their diminishing quality due to stricter deadlines and forced implementation of features. As a frequent player of every Blizzard game from D1 to now I seriously see no reason to discredit this theory.
Something is going on behind the scenes that’s distracting the right people from making the right decisions and I have a hunch that Vivendi’s recent interest in selling Activision-Blizzard are tell-tale signs of huge changes to come. I am sure they all have noticed it as well, their control is fading away and so is the population. Clearly something is really wrong over at Activision-Blizzard and I really hope they will get their problems straightened out.
Where are the good old times where game studios actually cared about their games instead of launching unfinished products? I certainly can understand now why Valve might take a long time over Half Life 3, they remain one of the few publishers that still stick to their stringent quality standards without wavering. In the end it’s an industry founded on ‘follow the leader’ tactics and it’s only a matter of time before Valve’s continued success wakes publishers up from the era of the WoW Killer to realize that WoW is no longer the success story they should be chasing.