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'Diablo III' glitch sparks computer game experience from hell

Published May 25, 2012 12:26 pm

Video game • Copy protection prevented millions from playing on the day of launch.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Imagine waiting 12 years for the hottest blockbuster movie, finally sitting down to watch it at a midnight screening, and then the projector breaks down. Or waiting 12 years for a book you've always wanted to read, opening up the pages and they're all blank because of a printing error.

That's what happened to millions of people in North America last week who waited more than a decade for the highly-anticipated computer game, "Diablo III," only to have it not work the day it came out.

"Diablo III" is a hack-and-slash role-playing computer game in which the player controls a hero in a fantasy setting who fights the minions of hell. Only in this case, players were battling the game's glitches more than the demons.

I'm going to preempt this regularly-scheduled tech advice column today for one important message: If you sell something, it better work. That wasn't the case with "Diablo III" and what resulted is one of the worst product launches in recent memory.

Blizzard, the famous game developer that made "Diablo III," instituted a form of copy protection for the game that requires a constant Internet connection in order to start the game. This is to prevent the game from being pirated. That means when you start "Diablo III," you must have an account with Blizzard's online matchmaking service called Battle.net. Then you have to log in and connect with Battle.net's servers so they can authenticate your legal copy of the game. This must be done every time you want to play.

The problem was the minute "Diablo III" was available to play, the Battle.net servers crashed in North America (Europe and Asia apparently didn't have this problem). Blizzard didn't say what happened, but the assumption is that with so many people waiting to play the game at 12:01 a.m. the day of the launch, the servers couldn't handle the load.

For most of the following day, Blizzard's servers were intermittently down, preventing many of the 3.5 million people who bought the game that first day (the fastest-selling PC game in history, according to reports) from playing it.

There's no excuse for such a botched product launch, even if Blizzard wants to place the blame on millions of people trying to log in at the same time. This is the same game developer, after all, who created "World of Warcraft," the most popular massively multiplayer online (MMO) game of all time. By now, Blizzard should have the most up-to-date server technology as well the most experience in dealing with this sort of networking since it must handle the crush of "Warcraft's" server load.

It's understandable for an MMO like "World of Warcraft" or "Star Wars: The Old Republic" to require a persistent online connection because those games require you to be online with other human players from around the world at the same time. But "Diablo III" is largely a single-player game that shouldn't require an online connection.

There is an even larger issue. More and more video games are turning to perpetual, always-on Internet connections for authentication to prevent piracy, and it's a slap in the face to consumers.

If you start your car, it doesn't ping a server at Ford's headquarters. If you turn on your TV, it doesn't contact Sony online to make sure you're the legal owner of the set.

Yet dozens of computer games have used this kind of copy protection before, and all of them have had disastrous technical glitches like "Diablo III." Such forms of copy protection don't stop savvy pirates from illegally distributing a game because they always find ways to circumvent them.

Instead, this Draconian form of copy protection only prevents law-abiding players from enjoying their game. And since games cost $60, that's downright criminal.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.






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