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Blizzard: Money drunk and sense dry

Tell me what’s wrong with this picture. You go to a digital store-front to buy a game. You put in your credit card number and are promptly charged $60. Six hours later your game is downloaded, installed, and ready to go. It’s a dungeon crawler, so you crawl some dungeons, level up a bit and – WHAM. You’re hit with an error message thanking you for playing the starter edition of the game. The message helpfully apologizes for the inconvenience but due to a 72-hour approval process, you’re no longer allowed to level. Oh, and that gear you collected to sell to other players? Sorry, the auction house is off limits. Well hell, you may as well try some multiplayer. Except not: Starter edition.

Sound crappy? Welcome to Blizzard Land, your one stop shop for complete and total detachment from consumer expectations.

This is a real thing. Blizzard announced this week that all digital buyers of Diablo 3 will be subject to a 72 hour vetting process before being allowed to access the full game. There are so many things wrong with this it’s not even eye-roll worthy but well into “what the hell are they thinking” territory. In essence, despite shelling out $60 for the game — money which they receive almost immediately while you’re stuck waiting — every digital buyer will be treated as if they’re on a trial account until Blizzard deems them worthy of playing the full thing. Here are the limits:

  • Act I up to the Skeleton King is available
  • Level 13 cap
  • Unverified digital purchasers cannot trade items or drop items for other players to receive
  • Unverified digital purchasers are not able to chat in any public or game channels
  • Unverified digital purchasers cannot attach a custom message to friend requests, but they can send/accept friend requests, and play with their friends
  • Matchmaking available only with other Starter Edition players
  • No Auction House access (Real Money or Gold)
  • Global Play is not available.

It’s pretty evident that this is being done to stem the tide of gold spam (worthless in this game anyway). It’s also pretty evident that Blizzard does not give two damns what you think of DRM or why you think it. Don’t misunderstand, this limit isn’t DRM, but the mistake Blizzard is making here is of exactly in that wheelhouse: Punish legitimate players to get at the “bad guys.”

Except this is worse. It is morally dubious for a company to take your money for a full product — as the $60 price point would imply — and then give you something less and limited. Screw the nice-speak: It’s friggin’ wrong and ass backwards. After all, it’s not like they could just red flag common spam names which are almost universally random conglomerations of letters. That would be too easy.

When people talk about Blizzard being up on their pedestal, this is what they’re talking about. They don’t care what you think. They don’t care how you feel. All they know is that they won your heart ten years ago and made a metric ton of money on their stolen IP MMO and that you will continue to pay no matter what they do. Kind of makes you wish you’d ripped off some ideas of your own, eh?

Aren’t we happy World of Warcraft was such a success? All it’s done is completely shatter whatever it was we once believed Blizzard to be. Now they’re just another arm of Activision sucking the consumer dry while plugging its ears and saying “I can’t hear you, la la la la la.” Elders know best, after all.

I’ll say it now: I hope their next MMO fails. I hope it crashes and burns and teaches these guys that their customers are more than sheep to be led to the slaughter. Blizzard make good games. A lot of other studios do too and none of them have their heads so far up their own backside. This is a big shift for me; I don’t want MMOs to fail, even ones I don’t play. But the fact is, this won’t change without something big to knock them out of their stupor — and stupor is the right word for a company so money drunk and sense dry as Blizzard has become.

Update: Apparently they’re backing off and calling this a glitch now. Except it wasn’t a glitch yesterday when their company line was “intended feature.”  They’re also saying that the delay is based upon card processing. No.  I worked in the field and 72-hour delays are not only non-standard but flat out unusual for most transactions. As a matter of fact, most typically, if you were able to get past checkout, the funds are already “promised” to Blizzard, even if it overdraws your account. But that’s all irrelevant. Just by looking at their responses in the forum thread linked by Destructoid, you can see how the Gamespy quote directly contradicts what they’ve posted on the official forums. Back-peddle much?

10 comments

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  1. Ahtchu

    I’ve never read of anything with such a high customer disregard as this. I can’t think of an instance in any industry that someone pays top dollar for a product ($60 in this industry is like $100,000 in the car industry) only to experience the equivalent of a suspension. It would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.
    Blizzard, deconstructing reputations since 2007.

  2. bernardparsnip

    I had the same reaction when I read about this.

    I might have been more understanding if RMAH was a feature that would improve the gaming experience. However the general consensus is that using the auction house makes the game less fun, yet use the auction house you must in order to progress in Inferno.

  3. Stabs

    I think there are many things where our freedom is curtailed due to the need to control people who break the law or the rules. When you get on an airport you may be stopped and searched because some other people can’t be trusted not to smuggle drugs. We have to pay for a police force and suffer intrusions into our lives that they cause because people can’t be trusted not to break the law.

    Online item selling has become a gigantic industry over the last 15 years. Blizzard, with the RMAH, effectively declared war on that industry. What we’re now seeing is some of the fallout of that war as some of the cleverest people in online fraud attempt to maintain their profits against an opponent who holds most of the aces.

    Rather than railing against Blizzard for marginally inconveniencing some customers I think we should support them in their desire to move the virtual goods trade into the daylight.

    1. Drew

      I agree with Stabs, here. I don’t think limiting the leveling was a great idea, however. The rest of it – I’m good with.

    2. Chris

      Rather than present a 3-day trial to someone who paid full retail price, why not step up and take some other measures that are non-punitive to the average, honest customer? For example, disallow “jjgghgk” and other such names. Put an upper-end cap on the buyout price for grey and yellow items; ie, no more non-magicals being listed for 100,000 gold simply to facilitate the transfer of funds from farmer to farmer. As Drew says, many of their actions are appropriate. Limiting the game to a base 2 hours of progression for 72 hours is simply unacceptable and unfounded. To me, the whole thing seems more like a blanket coverage rather than a well thought out approach to actually stopping these things. I mean, really, the only thing this accomplishes is making farmers play the game silently for 72 hours. As long as they don’t open their mouths or actively engage in farming for those three days, what does any of this really accomplish?

      Frankly, I thought Blizzard was better than punishing their honest customers to get at the vast minority of wrong-doers.

    3. Ahtchu

      marginally inconveniencing some customers
      A ‘marginal inconvenience’ is inexcusable when you are buying a Bugatti of the gaming world. And ‘some’ customers is wholly incorrect: it affects ‘ALL’ paying customers.

      This isn’t about enhancing the ‘gamer experience’. This is about control, pure and simple, and Blizzard, Bobby and Co. want as much as they can of it.

  4. *vlad*

    Yes, seems to be an anti-fraud measure rather than some strange desire to piss people off for no reason.

    1. Chris

      Fair enough, but it does piss people off for no reason. We should expect better, more well thought out approaches from massive game studios that should know better.

  5. Tesh

    It’s D3. From the “always online” to the RMAH, it’s all about controlling the customers. Blizzard/Activision wouldn’t have the latitude to dick around so much with customers with any less-loved IP. They tried it with SC2, and saw they could push harder. That’s also a big part of how they pushed the grindy subscription model with WoW; people love the IP and even some of the gameplay so much they pay through the nose and learn to swallow the manipulation, even sympathize with it eventually in a lovely case study of Stockholm syndrome, moving the Overton Window, or just boiling the frog.

    It’s not about adding value for the customer, it’s about making shareholders happy without pissing off customers enough to chase them away. They don’t mind making us somewhat angry, since we stupidly keep giving them money.

  6. Ben Sanders

    So, if you have to wait 3 days before you can play it properly, you should instead buy from Amazon, or Game, or Play, and pay less for it. A physical copy will probably arrive within, say, about 3 days.

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