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Diablo 3: the state of play two months after launch

Blizzard co-founder Mike Morhaime on always-online, the real-money auction house and more.

Mike Morhaime, Blizzard co-founder and president.

Blizzard boss Mike Morhaime has issued an open letter to the Diablo 3 community, addressing many of the concerns players have with the game.

In a post on Morhaime thanked players for their feedback, which Blizzard has gathered since the game's record-breaking, and controversial, launch two months ago.

"The launch week of Diablo 3 was memorable for many reasons - some positive, and some not so positive," he said. "We were thrilled that Diablo 3 had the biggest PC-game launch ever, surpassing the lifetime sales of Cataclysm (the previous record holder for biggest PC-game launch) in a matter of weeks. We've been floored by the response."

Diablo 3 was unplayable for many at launch as Blizzard's servers crippled under the weight of the many millions who were trying to log-in. Morhaime said the demand exceeded even its estimates - which it had upped in response to pre-orders.

"We've never gone from 0 to more than six million players across multiple continents within a few days with a brand-new game," he said.

"For Diablo 3, we looked at historical sales for Blizzard games and other top-selling PC games and watched pre-order numbers. We even upped our estimates to ensure we had additional capacity, or so we thought. In the end, it just wasn't enough, and that is something we will work hard to conquer for future releases."

Morhaime said Diablo 3 has been running smoothly for several weeks now, but there are issues the team are investigating, such as latency problems.

"Rather than address every subject individually, I'll just say that even as we work to address or resolve current issues, it's always possible that further issues will crop up. We hope that our actions in the past have demonstrated that above all else, we're committed to delivering an awesome game experience, and we hope you'll have faith that we will continue to keep that commitment and respond to any new or outstanding issues quickly."

For Diablo 3, we looked at historical sales for Blizzard games and other top-selling PC games and watched pre-order numbers. We even upped our estimates to ensure we had additional capacity, or so we thought. In the end, it just wasn't enough, and that is something we will work hard to conquer for future releases.

Some have suggested Diablo 3 has endured a sharp drop-off in players since launch as high-level players tire of the "loot hunt". Countering this, Morhaime said Blizzard will work to improve game balance and design to keep people playin, pointing to the upcoming patch 1.0.4.

"On the game balance front, this update will contain changes designed to further deliver on the team's goal of promoting 'build diversity', with buffs to many rarely used, underpowered class abilities. Another topic we've seen actively discussed is the fact that better, more distinct Legendary items are needed. We agree. Patch 1.0.4 will also include new and improved Legendary items that are more interesting, more powerful, and more epic in ways you probably won't be expecting."

Blizzard is also working on interface updates, social and communication improvements. The auction house will be improved to provide players with better information through tooltips and notices.

There has been a good deal of controversy and discussion about Diablo 3's real-money auction house, which allows players to use real-world cash to buy and sell in-game items.

"Our primary goal for including this in the game was to provide convenience and peace of mind for those players who might otherwise turn to third-party services to buy items," Morhaime explained.

"Black market trading sites can put accounts at risk and create many customer service challenges. We felt that the players themselves also deserved the opportunity to benefit from the extra loot they found, as opposed to having all of the benefit go to the black market/illegal trading organizations. We know the auction house isn't perfect, but with your help and feedback, we'll be able to continue making it a better experience for those who choose to use it. On the flipside, we are also committed to ensuring you have a great experience with Diablo 3 without feeling like the auction house is mandatory, which was never our intention. Thank you for all the feedback about that."

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Diablo 3 is its always-online requirement, which means players must be connected to the internet to play the game - there is no offline mode.

Morhaime insisted it was the right decision for the game, which was built from the ground up for multiplayer, but admitted it was in part an effort to combat piracy, and on this front, always-online seems to have worked.

"One other common topic we've seen in the forums is the always-connected experience, and the perception that the online requirement is nothing but an ineffective form of copy protection that has already been cracked," he said.

"While we've never said that this requirement guarantees that there will be no cheating or game cracks, it does help us battle those problems (we have not found any fully functional cracks). More important to us is that the online requirement is critical for the long-term integrity of the game experience. I fully understand the desire to play Diablo 3 offline; however, Diablo 3 was designed from the beginning to be an online game that can be enjoyed with friends, and the always-online requirement is the best way for us to support that design. The effectiveness of the online elements - including the friends list and cross-game communication; co-op matchmaking; persistent characters that you can use by yourself, with others, and in PvP; and some of our customer support, service, and security components - is tied directly to the online nature of the game.

"These and other online-enabled features are essential to our design for Diablo 3. That said, there are still improvements we believe we can make to expand the online experience and make co-op play even more rewarding, and this will remain one of our priorities moving forward. Overall, while there are some downsides to the online-only approach, I still believe this was the best long-term decision for the game."

Meanwhile, Morhaime teased patch 1.1 and the long-awaited PvP update, which he believes will convince veteran players to stick with the game. In addition, Blizzard is working on a gameplay system that will provide players who have max level, high-powered characters with new goals that act as an alternative to the item hunt.

"We're not ready to get into specifics just yet, but I can say that we're actively taking your feedback into account as we plan out the future of the game."

He closed by once again thanking players for their "candor and passion". "Your constructive feedback and thoughts are valuable - they will continue to help us be a better company. I just want to reiterate that while we can't claim to have ever shipped a perfect game, we are committed to supporting our games relentlessly and making improvements where we can. Thank you for your support."

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