Blizzard co-founder and president Mike Morhaime has posted a lengthy statement on Diablo 3 on the Battle.net forums to explain some of the reasoning behind Diablo 3's always-online requirement and the real money auction house
Morhaime seems keen to tackle "the perception that the online requirement is nothing but an ineffective form of copy protection that has already been cracked." He mentions that Blizzard haven't yet encountered any functioning cracks, but suggests that security isn't the main purpose of the online-only requirement.
"I fully understand the desire to play Diablo III offline; however, Diablo III was designed from the beginning to be an online game that can be enjoyed with friends, and the always-online requirement is the best way for us to support that design," he says.
"The effectiveness of the online elements — including the friends list and cross-game communication; co-op matchmaking; persistent characters that you can use by yourself, with others, and in PvP; and some of our customer support, service, and security components — is tied directly to the online nature of the game."
Diablo 3's online infrastructure is impressive. Jumping into games with friends is fast and easy and, when the Battle.net servers are stable, as they have been in recent weeks, it works quite nicely. The real mystery is why slick online service can't exist alongside a functioning offline mode. Blizzard suggest that Diablo 3's always-online requirement is the symptom of the overall design ideology used to build the game, as though Diablo 3 was approached from the ground up as an entirely multiplayer experience.
But it's not. I've spent more than half of my time with Diablo 3 playing solo. It's easy to outlevel friends, or fall behind, and the ability to drop in and run any chapter suits short spells of lone monster bashing very nicely.
Diablo 3 exists as a large series of small co-operative instances, which makes the decision to push everyone online seem more unnecessary, given that no huge game world to populate. The security argument is more convincing, especially if you factor in the the gold and real money auction houses, which would be quickly undermined by the discovery of an item duplication cheat.
On the real money auction house, Morhaime had this to say: "Our primary goal for including this in the game was to provide convenience and peace of mind for those players who might otherwise turn to third-party services to buy items. Black market trading sites can put accounts at risk and create many customer service challenges. We felt that the players themselves also deserved the opportunity to benefit from the extra loot they found, as opposed to having all of the benefit go to the black market/illegal trading organizations."
"We know the auction house isn't perfect, but with your help and feedback, we'll be able to continue making it a better experience for those who choose to use it. On the flipside, we are also committed to ensuring you have a great experience with Diablo III without feeling like the auction house is mandatory, which was never our intention. Thank you for all the feedback about that."
Blizzard are still working on major updates for Diablo 3. Upcoming patches plan to adjust loot balance and make legendary items more impressive. "We're also working on a gameplay system that will provide players who have max-level, high-powered characters new goals to strive for as an alternative to the “item hunt.” Morhaime adds. "We're not ready to get into specifics just yet, but I can say that we're actively taking your feedback into account as we plan out the future of the game."