Starting with Valve releasing Steam as a necessary tie-in product to activate Half-Life 2, videogame companies have developed a habit of using titanic releases to push forward new and controversial forms of digital rights management (DRM). Proponents and PR folks both claim that these will ultimately improve the experience of playing a game, while cynics cry that these are thinly-veiled attempts to quash consumer rights through more aggressive anti-piracy measures.
As I said before in my preview of Diablo III, Blizzard has always been a company with an unmistakable sense of its own identity. When fans rebelled against Diablo III’s artistic direction by staging an elaborate online protest, the company insisted that really it was the fans that were misguided. They even released a video spoofing Diablo III’s gameplay to ridicule the entire sentiment. And when the company unveiled the new DRM that would allow real-world currency to circulate through the game world and require players to always be connected to the internet, amidst all the complaints Blizzard maintained that this was a bold new step towards unified online play for a new generation of gamers.
Like Half Life 2, Diablo III is the kind of game fans would do anything to get their hands on, even if it meant putting up with any number of technical snafus. And given the sales figures the game has already reached, it’s clear that gamers swallowed their pride and bought the game anyway. But being the fastest selling PC game and largest PC game launch in history, some issues were bound to surface no matter how assiduously Blizzard stress-tested its online servers. And the game did inevitably open in fits and starts, conking out shortly after its release, and then kicking players out of the server for several hours the next day. But the level of dissent fans brought against Diablo III wavered between comical and genuinely frightening.
Disenchanted players took to Metacritic and assaulted the game’s user scores. Users reported of having their loot—the central object to many a Diablo III experience—disappear either through system failures or malicious hacking. Given the fact that real money is soon to be involved, these issues transformed from server hiccups to elaborate heists.
Blizzard, for its part, has been equal parts steadfast and responsive in its determination to see its vision for Diablo III through. They released an apology for the server issues, and later went on to say that they would be delaying the official launch of the auction house until all security concerns were resolved (when contacted for comment on this story, Blizzard referred me back to the full text of this response, available on the official Diablo III forums).
But what’s more important to recognize here than any of the intricacies of Diablo III’s launch is that the central premise of the game, and the transformation it’s going to bring to modern gaming, remains unchanged. Games, like everything else in the digital universe, have now entered into the world of social media—a world in which users are increasingly thinking of themselves more as citizens than simply consumers. The traditional definition of a “gamer” as a hobbyist is fast becoming archaic and outmoded given the regularity and fervor of battles staged between fans and game developers. This is not the last time a newly empowered legion of gamers will rebel against their hosts and masters, and I can only expect more fevered battles as the game industry continues to be subsumed more wholly by new and startling forms of media.