What's Really Holding Diablo 3 Back?

Posted by Daeity On Monday, November 28, 2011

It's been over a month now since Blizzard stated that they're really just at the "fine tuning stage" of Diablo 3. We all know the game is done and Blizzard employees have been playing from beginning to end over-and-over with only a couple hints of the end-game boss (Diablo) being bugged.

All of the content is completed; voice recording, art, sound effects, assets, story, text/lore, bosses, NPCs, game engine, mechanics, animation, etc. According to Wyatt and Jay, it's really just fine tuning, character balancing, and technical systems (e.g. servers, load balancing, etc.)

Quality assurance and bug fixes will always be an ongoing process. Right now, the D3 beta is in excellent shape, and comments made by Blizzard employees paint a picture of very few bugs in the full game.

Minor bug fixes, fine tuning, and character balancing never held back their previous games though. In WOTLK & CAT, there were very few changes from beta to retail, and most of the fine tuning and character balancing happened post-retail.

You might argue that because WOTLK & CAT beta test periods lasted approx. 5 months each, that Diablo 3 should be expected to last the same. However, D3 is completely different in scope, game size, playing length, and gaming systems (consider the number of bugs in a smaller game like D3 instead of WOW). PVP is also very minor in D3, so very little balancing is required in that regard. During Blizzcon 2010, Jay Wilson expected that the D3 beta would last 6 months before release, but that was for the full Diablo 3 game. They shortened the beta into a tech demo for the most part, and changed their beta plans into a much more condensed release schedule of 2-3 months. That's what we're in now, and we're getting really close to 3 months.

The game itself is polished and ready. Really, all that's left are "technical issues" and fine tuning.

But.. if they were serious about addressing technical and server load issues, why are beta keys being released so slowly and also in so little quantities? Why had there been so little changes to the D3 beta at Blizzcon, and so few changes still? Why so much minor fine-tuning that's typically done post-release? Why the extension of the beta? Why the release pushback and official announcement which they've never done before? Why no crunch time and reallocation of employees right now to "fully" complete the game?

It's almost as if everything is moving very slowly on purpose. The development team is keeping themselves busy with minor character balancing and tweaking, and releasing keys slowly (remember that there's also high attrition due to the beta game length), as if they're trying to buy time for something else.

It can't be technical issues, like preparing or testing their servers. They've been through this so many times with all of their other releases, it's just a standard activity with no big surprises now. As well, there would be a major influx of beta keys when it's time to really stress test their servers..

During the last quarterly call, Morhaime said that RMAH testing would begin "very soon".

Could it be that it's just the RMAH holding everything back?

The game is ready, servers are ready, and they're just keeping themselves busy by making minor tweaks to the game now?

The RMAH is a really big deal for them, after all. Blizzard has been stressing the two most important aspects of Diablo 3 to their fans and investors; it's an item centric game and it has real money trading. Blizzard C-Levels even rushed to Korea to argue for it's implementation and use in SK.

I can't even begin to stress how much of a big deal it really is. It's Diablo's replacement for the (standard WOW) "subscription model" and it's also the new replacement subscription system for future games. If it's proven to be successful in Diablo 3, that is.

Could it be that they're just waiting for the RMAH to be approved? And that's when crunch time hits and they release the game shortly thereafter?

If that's the case, the game could be out today in a highly polished stated, but it would only have the Gold Auction House. The RMAH could be implemented a couple months later, but as a major content patch (or it could just be disabled until fully approved within the player's country).

Perhaps they're being questioned by various government bodies or approval agencies about the gambling aspect of the RMAH? Maybe these agencies don't even know about the gambling aspect of the RMAH, and are focusing on item drops instead. (The SK gambling board, for example, didn't know about it.)

Remember that a lot of these classification and approvals boards you're reading about on gaming sites might not care about gambling within the game, and it's other agencies that investigate these claims (after the fact). Announcements about "D3 APPROVED FOR PURCHASE IN X COUNTRY!" might not mean anything when it comes to the RMAH or gambling.

For example, when gaming blogs (like incgamers) announced that Diablo 3 had received a BBFC 15 rating. The BBFC doesn't care about gambling, the game or it's mechanics. They're film censors and they're only interested in cutscenes and gameplay animations. That's the extent of their scope.

According to the USK (Germany Ratings Board),

Payment systems have no impact on the rating decisions which are made on the basis of the Children and Young Persons Protection Act. In Germany this is a question of consumer protection and regulations around that field more than those of youth protection.
According to PEGI Consumer Affairs,
The transfer of money for in-game objects is fairly new. This method, in some games referred to as micro transactions, is still finding a way to implement itself on a more regular basis. We are aware of this and also recognize the fact that Diablo III is in the forefront of this development.

Because this is still such a rare phenomenon, we can’t really classify this.
Once these games (incl. Diablo) have hit the market, we can review all these complaints and let our experts group take a look at this. This panel is composed of scientists, child psychologists and media experts, and they are the once who can make the final judgement if our system has to be changed. This is not something we can do if we feel like it. All the changes to our system have to be based on scientific proof/research that it is indeed harmful, or should be warned for.
According to PEGI, there have also been complaints about the Diablo 3 gambling system. But, they will still allow the game to be approved so that they can study it's long term impacts before coming to a full decision regarding it's legality.

Knowing this, I wonder if the Korea ratings board is the only government body that Blizzard is waiting for. So, D3 is primarily being held back for a feature that's not necessary, most people have mixed feelings about, and because of one country? It's all so quiet on the media front, it's really hard to find out who is reviewing the game or who Blizzard is waiting on for approval.

So right now, it's really difficult to tell if the RMAH is the main reason for holding back the game. There are a few ways to confirm if this is the case though; timing of announcements (approvals vs release), public government reports (if you can find them, or if they take months to release), significant beta/game changes, beta key releases, technical problems, and testing of the RMAH. If the RMAH isn't tested "very soon" (e.g. 2011), for example, then we'll have more answers. :)