The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

September 22, 2011 -

You knew that inevitably in all the sweet talk going around about Diablo III's current beta, that someone would run into a problem with Blizzard's "Always-On" save system. The system requires that players always be connected to the Battle.net server - even in single-player. Also the game saves character data online.

From my own experiences, when the server disconnect me and another friend, we noted that all our progress in the campaign was lost and we had to start all over again. To be fair, the server at least saves your character data when you are disconnected, but clearly the system needs some tweaking or players will probably go insane...

Rock, Paper, Shotgun's John Walker offers an in-depth analysis of the "Always-On" aspect of the game and why it is currently - at the very least - problematic.

"My intention with Diablo III is to solo the game. I realise that’s not the way many will play it, it’s not what the Diablo series is most famous for, and it’s arguably not the primary way Blizzard intends the game to be played. However, crucially, it’s a mode of the game that’s deliberately programmed to work, with NPC story-based characters to join your party and interact with you, and a single-player plot to hack through. It is, undeniably, designed to be played as a single-player game.

However, the always-on DRM makes this the most remarkably annoying process. During the beta, Blizzard’s servers have dropped a few times. Of course, that’s expected during a beta, but it’s also not unexpected once a game has gone live. And here, when the server goes down, you’re left with a ghost of the game until it eventually stops you from playing at all. I found that suddenly when I fired my bow no arrows came out – I could wander around, enemies were still there, but clearly something was wrong. And then it froze, a message popped up saying there were connection troubles, and I was dumped back to the main menu with no way to play. For no discernible reason. I still had the game installed, had no desire to be online or use any online functions, and yet still couldn’t play."

Later Walker notes that these problems usually only occur when there are some technical issues afoot. And to be completely fair, the software we're all analyzing is still in beta. But making the game online all the time means that you can't do a lot of simple things you would normally do in a single-player Diablo game - like pausing - and the game is set up like an MMO complete with logout cool-down times and being logged out when you are idle too long. The latter is particularly bad because your character data is saved - but as I mentioned earlier - your progress is not.

You can read the RPS article here. It's certainly something Blizzard should read, because when the full game is released some players won't be as pleasant as Walker is about it.


Comments

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

And just like with Ubisoft, I expect to see server downtime in the weeks because of this. Hope no one has any SC2 tournaments planned in the meantime, as I imagine the entirety of Battle.net is going to be targeted. Could have some ill effects on World of Warcraft as well, though probably not as much.

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

To be more fair than the article indicated, your campaign progress is saved at "checkpoints", which appear with a reasonable frequency.  The most annoying place to be disconnected is the "bottom" of a multi-floor stage, as even if your campaign progress is saved, you'd still be resuming from town and ostensibly need to repeat that stage.

In other words, it works more or less the same as it did if you played the Diablo II campaign online and got disconnected, or offline and your game crashed (arguably better in the latter case, since a crash would probably result in a loss of items/exp as well as progress in an offline game).  I don't want to get into an argument about the frequency of losing internet connection versus the frequency of the game/computer crashing, but functionality-wise it really seems like all you'd lose if you have a reliable internet connection is a pause button.

The bigger problem exists for those who don't (for whatever reason) have a reliable internet connection.

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

I have a friend who is currently deployed in Afghanistan, and would gladly purchase Diablo III the day it comes out. But because of Blizzards insensitivity towards people without a constant internet connection, I guarantee he'll be receiving a pirated copy in a care package, to be freely distributed amongst his fellow servicemen. Now how do the people at Blizzard see this as a "win" for anyone?

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

While perfectly understandable, that may be easier said than done.

I was watching a stream of someone playing the beta, and when the server disconnected, the player was left walking around in a small section of the map that was all that was loaded, with monsters standing still, and nothing the player did interacting with the environment. So a lot of stuff looks to be handled purely serverside. He couldn't even properly quit the game.

It appears to be basically coded more like an MMORPG than a stand alone game with multiplayer.

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

It may not be easy, but this same friend has played WoW without internet access on previous deployments, so I'm sure there will be a way to crack Diablo III as well.

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

in other words, all they're selling is a client, not even a real game...

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

Agreed.

Diablo and Diablo II were a favorite of mine to play on my laptop on an airplane or in an airport.  For the general lack of being able to do this, I'm not really anticipating the launch of D3 unless this changes.  (Really I'm setting low expectations for myself in preparation of not being able to enjoy a good game.)

I also live outside of the suburbs.  Dial-up and DSL (756k) are the only viable options, meaning my connection drops... often.

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

Why can't you pause an always online single player game? That's a design flaw, not something inherent to always online.

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

Use your stone of recall to go back to the act's city, do your stuff, then jump back in by hopping back into the portal.

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

Which is a PITA when you want to do something quickly like answer the phone or move a puking cat/dog to the linoleum.

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

No pausing even in solo play is a disgrace.

Champions/Star Trek Online has a pause function for crying out loud.

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

Forcing a constant internet connection even in solo play is a disgrace.

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

I've said it before but I suppose it bears repeating:

Simply allow us to play offline with the understanding that we cannot use our offline characters online.

Seems like a fair compromise to me.

 

Andrew Eisen

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

I refuse to buy a crippled game, which to me is any single player game that requires an always on Internet connection. They've tried to pretend that the decision had nothing to do with DRM but they are being disingenuous. I understand the other reasons they've given but as you've said none of those reasons prevent them from offering an offline, single player experience that you would not be able to take online. Earlier games have done it.

Anyway, I'll be buying Torchlight 2 on launch and ignore Diablo 3, just like I've been ignoring Starcraft 2.

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

It's all about their real cash auction house. They get a cut of the posting, the sale, and when the seller redeems their cash. Any player not online will not have the potential to be used as a revenue stream. So it's in their interest to force you to play online because you'd be more likely to spend real money whereas offline, they have no chance of making any money from you.

-Greevar

"Paste superficially profound, but utterly meaningless quotation here."

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

"...offline, they have no chance of making any money from you."

Sure they do, through sales of the game itself.

People who can't get online won't be able to use the auction house anyway so without the ability to play offline, they have no reason to buy the game and Blizzard won't make any money off of them.  Whereas, if there were an offline mode, Blizzard would at least have the sale of the game (plus happy customers and the potential for the offline customers to one day have internet access).

 

Andrew Eisen

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

"Sure they do, through sales of the game itself."

Of course they make money through sale of the game, nobody is denying that, but they make even more money if they force you to online-only play with the hopes that you will participate in the cash auction house.

The point I was trying to make is that they likely won't provide offline single player because it doesn't generate any additional profit for them. It's in their best interest not to. The cash auction house will be a golden goose for them more so than the initial game purchase once it gets into full swing.

-Greevar

"Paste superficially profound, but utterly meaningless quotation here."

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

That would solve the cheating issue that Blizzard claims is behind this ridiculous system, and yet Blizzard does not take that option.  From what I gather (I don't actually play any of their games), Blizzard tries to give their players what they want and keep them happy.  Analysis: This is an Activision decision motivated by piracy.

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

From what I gather (I don't actually play any of their games), Blizzard tries to give their players what they want and keep them happy.  Analysis: This is an Activision decision motivated by piracy.

That's the old Blizzard. It they still existed, we wouldn't be talking about this, and StarCraft 2 would have LAN play and cross-region support, amongst many other things they removed from the game.

The new ActiBlizzard is all about the money. They can say all they want how important we gamers are to them, but it's plain and simply not true.

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

Which will do precisely zero to prevent piracy.  In fact, it may even serve to encourage it.  After all, pirates are the only ones who will be able to play their copies offline.

 

Andrew Eisen

Re: The Problem with Diablo III and 'Always-On' Gameplay

Not good enough says Actiblizzard.

 
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