The term "gamers" covers an incredibly broad spectrum. Like political factions, or religious cabals, we have our fair share of fanatics, a wide range of advocates from meek pacifists, to aggressive radicals, to snooty libertarians who laugh at anything and everything that they can. Whenever a negative issue raises its head you can bet that there'll be a vociferous reaction, quickly followed by a distancing movement from other quarters. But even in disparate camps there are subcultural communities too. Passionate activists turn pale at the personal attacks made by hotheaded terrorists, and fickle parties can turn their opinions around if it seems like the cool thing to do.
Then, of course, there are those who just want to play their games.
It's that last group who've been hit a bit hard by Diablo III's release. Furious gamers have poured rivers of invective onto the social media platforms, profane curses have gushed forth from every corner of the internet. You can picture the scene: after a decade's wait, delay after delay, change after change, a man takes the day off from work, having stood in line for hours to get his copy of Diablo III. The plan is perfect, the boss has given consent. The man has used his ailing grandmother as an excuse...all is well.
But then he gets home and, having maybe played half an hour or so, ultimate failure consumes his heart, and the phrase Error 37 greets his every move. By morning he is a gibbering wreck, he hasn't slept a wink, his voice is hoarse from all of the swearing, and his neighbours now believe him to be an alcoholic. He takes to the Net, calls the developers some rather rude names on Twitter, and gets a mixed response from fellow misers championing his ire, and other forum dwellers labelling him "entitled" and telling him where to get off.
Of course, teething troubles aren't exactly anything new. Battlefield 3 and FIFA 12 were plagued with irritating server issues. Skyrim was a buggy, hellish mess when it first emerged. (It still is for some!! - Ed.) And what about Blizzard themselves? Well, World of Warcraft limped out of the stable, riddled with connection issues. Starcraft II, fared far worse, with notions that you'd only be able to play as one faction during the campaign, a bunch of folk went hysterical over Real ID, and the approach to LAN play was lacking to say the least.
All of those games, however, were fixed incredibly quickly (with the possible exception of Skyrim), and have gone on to be huge successes. In fact, Bethesda's beautifully buggy game actually proved glorious because of its glaring flaws - spawning endless, hilarious YouTube clips, and giving the workplace watercooler never-ending streams of anecdotes.
Let's make no bones about it. Diablo III will be fine. The problems will get sorted out, the reviews are slowly rolling in, and everyone who has played the game agrees that it's something pretty special. But unlike the Mass Effect 3 furore, which had gamers frothing over creative narrative decisions, surely this boils down to a simple premise: there are people out there who've handed over £40 and not been able to enjoy the product for which they've paid.
I'm not sure if complaining about that makes you entitled. It makes you a disgruntled consumer. Sure, it's a first-world problem, but if we're going to have a discussion about Things That Are More Important Than You Not Being Able To Play The Game That You Bought, we could widen the net to gaming in general, and then where would we be? Should consumers shut up and accept the monetisation buggering meekly just because we want to play the game in question? Is it really that black and white? If so, there's a much bigger problem here than we first thought.
Of course, even though it will all get fixed eventually, it's got to have been a little bit embarrassing for Blizzard. We can sympathise with a slightly undercooked release as a result of publisher deadlines, or a lack of time and funds. But this is something different. It should have been a triumph of will - a glorious unveiling of pure vindication, as a huge AAA name took on the mantle of connecting gaming and proved its undeniable brilliance. The stage was set, the scribes had their quills at the ready. Instead, it's a little bit like Janet Jackson's Superbowl boob-slip - everyone's talking about the event, but mainly for the wrong reasons.
Then there's the principles behind this always-on internet business as well as the practicalities. If one considers the history of Diablo, to acknowledge its place as a bastion of singleplayer (or local LAN co-op) magnificence, this always-on internet requirement seems all the more frustrating. There will be those who were looking for a loot grinder to play in all weathers, in all situations, and now that just can't happen. There are reasons, of course, good reasons as Jon has pointed out, and Blizzard should absolutely and unequivocally make the game that they want, but there's a shady side to this as well. True, the connected experience adds much to the game, but the flipside tastes of restrictive DRM, with that touted auction house hovering as a spectral elephant in the room. That's where Blizzard are hoping the real money is, and the only way they'll be able to push that is by keeping online player retention high.
Yet as with most outcries in this industry, the prevalent sense is that none of it matters. Games will continue to be released with crippling bugs, players will continue to moan and bitch before shutting up and handing over their money. The most sinister aspect is what Blizzard's always-on requirement means for forthcoming games. Will this lead to more restrictive measures from triple-A titles and larger publishers, knowing that they can implement whatever the hell they like without fear of repercussions in the sales figures?
We reflected in our PWNCAST last Sunday on how it might have been easier and speedier to play Diablo II out of the box than its weighty sequel, and that's just not right. In an age of digital distribution, superfast broadband speeds, mountains of RAM, and processors that think at a blinding pace, it's fundamentally wrong that we find ourselves more restricted in our gaming choices, less able to play the games we want, where we want; that it takes more time to start playing the things we want to play than it ever did before. It's wrong, and it's got to change.