Diablo 3 is removing its auction houses! That's a pretty significant about-turn for a game that's generated a lot of controversy from its extraneous features and requirements. So now, given that these trading posts are being removed, and given that the recent console version proves that an offline Diablo won't herald the rise of the Prime Evil, will Blizzard scrap the game's always-online requirement? Spoiler: no.
On the week of SimCity's ill-fated launch, during which a lot more people wanted to play SimCity than SimCity's servers could handle, Maxis SVP Lucy Bradshaw promised us each a free EA game for our troubles. Today, EA announced that SimCity sold over 1.1 million units in its first two weeks (well, there's your problem), and Maxis announced the list of apology games for SimCity owners to choose from.
Maxis GM Lucy Bradshaw has responded to criticism that SimCity could have featured an offline mode, saying that yes, it could have, but Maxis "rejected that idea" for a different vision.
The connection problems of SimCity's botched launch may almost be behind us, but now that more players are actually playing, the critical bombardment has adjusted its aim to target the simulation itself. Players are reporting bugs, quirks, and mysterious behaviors, and discontent has swelled into accusations. Our review criticizes many of these problems, but is there a bigger story? Were we misled?
SimCity's server congestion was sneezing us out of the game all last week, but it may finally have kicked its launch cold. I've been in the NA West 1 server all morning without once seeing the words "connection" or "error"—just splines reticulating everywhere I look. SimCity's approval rating might be trending up elsewhere, too—its official site now displays the status of every server, and there are green lights from San Francisco to Antarctica. Wait, why is there a server in Antarctica? Don't penguins use Linux?
The cheery response to the announcement of a new SimCity game was quickly tempered back in March by the announcement that it'll require a permanent online connection to work. Videogamer caught up with Maxis' Lucy Bradshaw to ask why SimCity won't end up mirroring Diablo 3's launch. Bradshaw says that EA are "investing quite a bit in making sure we're locked and loaded."
Blizzard have sent a statement to Kotaku following up on yesterday's news that those buying the Diablo 3 digital edition find themselves limited to a starter edition of the game for up to 72 hours. The level cap is described as an "unintended consequence" of security measures added to tackle credit card fraud and "reduce gold spam and other harmful activities that can have a negative impact on the game experience."
An incoming patch is set to lift the levelling limits for new players, but it will leave all other starter edition restrictions in place. That means you won't be able to post in public chat, drop items for other players, visit the auction house or join public games (you can still jump into games with those on your friends list). The Blizzard statement notes that "these are temporary (often lifted within a day and at most 72 hours) associated with digital purchases for the protection of players."
Numerous players on the Battle.net forums say their Diablo 3 accounts have been hacked. Affected players logged in to find all of their items gone and, in some cases, strangers added to their friends list. There are even a few players with Blizzard Authenticators are claiming that they've been compromised.
This morning, our own Tom Hatfield woke up to find all of his items gone, Eurogamer's Chris Donlan was found wandering around Sanctuary being controlled by someone called "Anna", Team Dignitas' Nathaniel tweeted to say that all of his items have been nicked. "I love always on DRM to protect servers," he says.
It's often hard to get a handle on the numbers affected by a hacking outbreak, but the amount of anecdotal accounts suggests a significant problem. It's bizarre enough that players running through Diablo as a single play game are having to put up with account hacks and disappearing items, but there's another concern. The real money auction house is due to open next Tuesday.
Speaking to Joystiq, SimCity Lead designer Stone Librande has revealed that the new SimCity will be an "internet-dependent experience." You'll need to stay connected to the net through Origin if you want to keep playing. He cited SimCity's multiplayer features, like the global economy that will let players sell excess resources on a massive connected market, as the reason for the always-online requirement.
Though SimCity will maintain its connection through Origin, we won't have to buy it through EA's digital store. SimCity will be available to buy through other digital distributors, and at retail, but that's small comfort for those with unreliable internet connections. As we've seen with Ubisoft, you can have the most stable connection in the world and still be at the whim to server switches and meltdowns at the developer/publisher end.
For many PC gamers, the recent trend toward always-connected games – sometimes referred to by the name of its top-hat-wearing, mustachioed alter ego, “always-on DRM” – is an oncoming black cloud. Developers, however, insist that there's a silver lining. The likes of Blizzard and id, for instance, argue that they'll make up for a tiny loss of control with a heaping helping of convenience. "In the end, it's better for everybody," id's Tim Willits told Eurogamer. "Imagine picking up a game and it's automatically updated. Or there's something new you didn't know about, and you didn't have to click away. It's all automatically there.”
And then Darkspore's dark days happened.
Diablo 3 game director on lack of offline mode: "the game’s not really being played right if it’s not online"
We met up with Diablo 3 game director, Jay Wilson at Gamescom to discuss Diablo 3′s always-online requirement and some of the issues that PC gamers can face when playing online-only games.
Some players might not have access to a stable internet connection. What should a player do if, say, the internet wiring in his house is flawed?
“Erm… upgrade the wiring in his house?” suggests Wilson. “I mean, in this day and age the notion that there’s this a whole vast majority of players out there that don’t have online connectivity – this doesn’t really fly any more.
“I mean, at our hotel, there’s nine wi-fi networks that I can access. Just from the hotel! And they’re all public – they’re all paid – but they’re pretty cheap, and they’re all publicly available. So the notion that there’s just tons and tons of people out there that aren’t connected – isn’t… I don’t think is really accurate.”