When I reviewed Diablo III last week, I touched on the fact that in a very real way, it's a game that we can never actually own. Too much of the experience, from Save games to actual access, are controlled not by us, but by Blizzard. And, as John Gillooly noted last week, even the experience of playing the game isn't 'ours', as Blizz reserves the right to change the mechanics without notice, in order to make the game fit in with some obscure design goal.
It gets worse, it appears. Blizzard's published its first Game Design Update, and just the very wording of the document implies that, in a fundamental way, the game isn't even being designed for most players - rather, the entire process is being driven by pleasing a small percentage of end-game players who, once they finish, dive back into the game on ever-higher difficulty settings.
You can read the full piece here, but the salient sentence is pretty early on. "As more and more players begin to perfect their character builds and progress into Diablo III’s higher difficultly levels," says the Update, "some of the most prominent feedback lately has been about game balance and design."
Well, fair; the game's pretty much designed for the repeat player, who just wants to build and build and build. But not too much later Blizzard reveals some interesting stats about the game, namely, that 80 per cent of players are level 30 or less, and less than two per cent of players have unlocked Inferno difficulty.
The rest of the post goes into a lot of Blizzard's 'design intent', and looks at what makes Inferno hard, and why, and how that's something Blizz will be focusing on, and making changes - like last week's hot-fixes - based upon.
To sum up, Blizzard intends to keep changing core game mechanics, using whatever method it deems necessary, to appease a small minority of players; furthermore, even for those few players at that level, Blizzard still says, yes, you're just going to have to farm previous Acts to progress.
Does this sound like a Diablo game to you? I know, essentially, that it's Blizzard's game to do with what they will, but I still feel a bit gypped. It must be even more frustrating to people who aren't in the loop for these changes, the more casual gamers who feel they should be able to just, I don't know, have fun without needing to pay constant attention to change logs and patch notes. Blizzard admits it didn't do a great job sharing information about the last hot fix, but it's solution is less than ideal. "... our intent moving forward is that when there are circumstances where a hotfix is necessary, we’ll communicate changes that could impact your ability to play your class through ‘Upcoming Changes’ posts in the General forum."
So, you still need to be paying attention.
I do respect Blizzard's aim to make a game without an 'ideal' range of builds for each class, and I'd say even now they're pretty close to that goal, but I do not like what's driving that mission.
What I've always loved about Diablo, right from the very start, was how it was up to the player how much time and effort you put into the game. You could play casually and have a blast, or really lose sleep over levelling up and how to build your character. Now, it seems, there's really no casual option, and Blizzard never intended there to be.
I'm really glad that Blizzard was nice enough to send me the Collector's Edition of the game - it came with Diablo II, and I think I'd much rather be playing that right now.