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DRM, Internet connections, and digital downloads for games and content are always controversial. My own colleagues here at Avault have very strong feelings about these subjects. Mentioning Steam as a service can raise the specter of a flame war between those who like Steam and those who hate it. But even as people flame each other, we can all generally agree that DRM does not really work to deter the piracy of games and digital downloads can be convenient, even if download services can get rid of the content later.
That said, it should be no surprise that Blizzard is forcing PC gamers to play Diablo III with a live connection to the Net. Blizzard wants to protect its investment, and DRM that does not involve a connection to the Net is shockingly easy to bypass. By the same token, connecting to the Net enables plenty of functions that both PC and console gamers enjoy. Achievements, chat, and an auction house that allows for both in-game currency and RMT for in-game content, are some of these goodies. While we may argue about the value of these services, I can understand why Blizzard would feel that an always-on Net connection would be in their best interests. If I were in their shoes, I would be sorely tempted to make the same choice. After all, Blizzard does not exist just to entertain us, but to make money while doing so.
However, that does not mean that I approve of their decision. My reasons are, perhaps, a bit different than most gamers.
First, to clear the air, it seems that Blizzard feels piracy considerations are not that important. Robert Birdenbecker has said, “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. All of these things were points of discussion, but the whole copy protection, piracy thing, that’s not really entering into why we want to do it.” That actually makes sense, considering that there are plenty of ways to modify games that require servers to function. While I am skeptical that the topic of always-on DRM didn’t come up at all, I do believe Robert when he says that there are other considerations. Whatever else this is about, piracy is not that important. But Birdenbecker’s statement reveals what is important to Blizzard. When he says “…no hacks, no dupes…” and you combine his statement with the knowledge that there will be real money transactions at the Auction House that comes with the game, and that Blizzard gets a small cut of those RMTs, then the real reason is quite clear. Blizzard wants to make additional money off their players, and they are embracing an MMO-lite gaming model in order to do so.
This is where I start to worry. Not because I begrudge Blizzard making money (make good games, and I will wish you healthy quarterly profits), but because I think the model they are using is flawed. MMOs are themselves a healthy model for gaming. I’ve talked at some length about MMOs as a successful model, especially Turbine’s “legalizing” of gold farmers’ services. It is a model that makes good money and provides an experience that many gamers enjoy. But Diablo III is not an MMO. Instead, what Blizzard is doing here is making a single-player game that has just enough MMO elements to generate extra revenue without actually being a real MMO.
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