Diablo 3 Postmortem by Jay Wilson @ GDC 2013

GamsSutra newsed up some of the interesting panels planned for the GDC 2012 conference (coming in March) and there’s one that’s relevant to our interests: a Diablo 3 postmortem by Jay Wilson.

Shout at the Devil: The Making of Diablo III
Speaker/s: Jay Wilson (Blizzard Entertainment, Inc)
Day / Time / Location: TBD
Track / Duration / Format / Audience Level: Design / 60-Minute / Lecture / All
GDC Vault Recording: TBD

Description: When building any game, but especially when it’s a sequel to the beloved Diablo series, it’s critical that you have a series of core design goals, or pillars, that you can use as a guide to making decisions and defining what you want the final vision of the game to accomplish. In this postmortem, we’ll explore the pillars that guided Diablo III’s development and how well we felt we accomplished each of them. We’ll focus specifically on the ones we feel we struggled with and the game design lessons we learned during those struggles. Examples of specific challenges of living up to these values will be provided, prioritizing them against one another, and evaluating how well they were accomplished after Diablo III was released.

Takeaway: Attendees will receive insight into the value of defining the core design elements that will drive their game development. In addition, they will learn the importance of measuring their game against those values, and using that knowledge to iterate on the final product, both pre- and post-release.

Intended Audience: This talk is intended for a general audience, including those who are interested in game design as well as project leadership. Project leads of all levels will also gain the benefits of good lessons learned on driving and iterating a game’s vision. The intention is for the talk to be general enough that specific knowledge of the Diablo series is not necessary, but such knowledge will be beneficial.

The summary lists core design goals/pillars, which sounds like Jay’s going to revisit the “Seven Design Pillars” of Diablo 3 that we resurrected in a post last week. It’ll be interesting to hear how he thinks the game lived up to those; you guys were fairly scathing about them in our recent post, and not just the usual handful of vocal haters in the comments. I posted a vote with options for all 7, and as of now 5 of the pillars are crumbling badly, with just 2 of them, “Approachability” and “Powerful Heroes,” above 50%, and “Great Item Game” reduced to a heap of rubble at 6%.

In light of that fan appraisal, I’m very curious to hear how Jay describes things. In postmortems developers can defend aspects of the game they feel were under-appreciated, and they can also be quite self-critical. For instance, Erich Schaefer’s Diablo 2 postmortem from October 2000 was, and remains, a fascinating read.

Here’s the vote from the Seven Design Pillars post, with the current totals. Voting remains open, so if you didn’t get in before, go ahead. Click for every pillar you feel the game handled well.

D3's Design Pillars. Vote for as many as you think were done well.

View Results

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Tagged As: | Categories: Blizzard People, Media Coverage, Other Events


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  1. Jay Wilson Doubled it jokes commencing in 3..2..1

  2. Wait a second, Jay Wilson is going to go around and talk about how great an example of game making design philosophy Diablo 3 is?


    What planet am I on? Is this real life?

    • It will probably be more of a “How not to design a game” than anything.

      I would love to hear it just to see what sort of excuses that he can come up with to justify the asinine decisions if there were any beyond “The suits made me do it”

    • We don’t know what he’ll say, which is why it’ll be interesting. Jay’s not a tool or an idiot, and he and others at Bliz have been fairly candid about missteps made in D3’s design. I expect that we’ll get a balanced presentation with pros and cons, though it’ll likely be more a lot more defensive/positive than most of you guys will accept, given the results on that vote.

    • I really don’t think the state of the game is due to Jay. He had some great systems in place that got stripped down faster than an exotic-dancer at Charlie T’s on 2 Dollar Tuesday.

      The skill rune item system — gone

      The talisman charm system — gone

      The Mystic gear enchanter — gone

      The unbelievably HUGE stash — gone

      The much larger number of legendaries originally listed on the community site (including many old d2 uniques like gull dagger, blood raven’s armor, etc) — gone

      After all these huge customization options being stripped from the game, we were left with a cold naked body in laying on the floor in the fetal position.

      To make things worse, after the game was in this vulnerable state, the WoW Strike Team came in and made so many changes to the fundamentals that make a game feel DIABLO.

      In the end, what was released on May 15th 2012 was far from the vision that Jay Wilson and the entire Diablo community had.

      • How many of those were truly added by Jay compared to removed under his watch though? Runes as drops existed as far back as the first gameplay preview which was right around the time he joined the project. How many of these things existed before he came along only to end up removing them because he didn’t understand the vision of the person who really put it in place?

      • “Postmortem” fits the game in every way.

  3. Hope they hire enough security…

    • It’s a trade show. The only ones there that don’t already have a real job in the industry will be people looking for work, and they don’t have the luxury of having any particular axe to grind about a title. Looking for a job tends to beat that out of you pretty quickly. They’re much, much more likely to suck up to Jay, portfolio in hand, than anything else.

  4. What a horrible idea. There’s really nothing good that can come of this from a PR perspective.

    Still, interested to see what happens.

  5. Include the SAME questions … again ???

    How many dead horses is this site going to beat anyway?

    How about announcing the new patch 1.07 and look into the future instead of trying to up the hit count of this site with yet more hate towards a game designer ?

    • I think we should continue to beat dead horses by the herd when it comes to Jay. His D3 vision single-handedly ruined my D2 sequel hopes, and the credibility of the franchise, IMHO.

      Honestly, 10+ years of waiting, and now nearly a year after the fact and I’m still bitter…way to go jaybird. Can one of his topic discussions be how there is a larger Diablo 2 community than Diablo 3? Replayability anyone?

    • I realize the only way to beat a troll is to ignore it, and that by definition I have just lost, but the intellectual incoherence of Thrall is amazing. So is it not newsworthy when a D3 panel at the biggest game dev conference is announced? Especially when it’s one that will apparently focus exactly on the same seven pillars of D3’s design we posted an article about a week ago, in a post that seems basically psychic, at this point.

      On the other hand, we’ve posted news about every Blue remark and forum post on v1.07, and done several original articles on it based on play testing on the PTR. If Thrall was consistent in his rabid fanboyism, I think it would be less annoying. Praise for every post praising about the game, whining about every post criticizing the game (not that this post has anything critical, unless you consider quoting the honest opinions of fans as critical, in which case you must be half ostrich to enjoy spending so much time with your head stuck in the sand). But no, he never praises anything. He just whines.

      And now he can do a victory lap and spike a bag of Cheetos, since an admin took notice of his whining!

      • Even the devs disagree with him. He’s defended things to the death, things Blizzard have corrected and said they had wrong.

        Him and his type are not fans of the game he’s a fan of being a fan and is incredibly destructive to the process of the fanbase conveying what might be genuinely wrong with the game and could help it continue to improve.

        Hopefully they ignore both extreme blinkered fans and hateful trolls and simply consider feedback from the rest.

      • Just fell out of my chair laughing… annnnnd it’s broken.

        You owe me a new chair Flux.

  6. Anyone else remember how exciting was to wait for diablo 3, the daily checking of this or other fan sites for any news tidbit?

    Looking back at it I see it as a bittersweet experience and it would have been hard for any game to rise up to the expectations built by the very long time between the announcement and the release.

    I spent countless hours in diablo 3, but it could have been so much better.

    Oh well there is still hope for the expansion.

    • More of a bitter experience, really. I sometimes log on and log off immediately. Can not play any more. Either the introduce huge changes in the game or they’ve lost a customer.

      • I actually have done this exact same thing – log in and log off immediately, or I’ll actually try to start a game kill literally 3 monsters and feel the boredom instantly.

    • I remember it quite well and quite bitterly. I visited this site for years enjoying D2, the trade forums, the guides, the different ideas people had, etc. All the while hoping for news of D3. When it finally hit I was so excited. That first video of the barb and witch doctor looked amazing. Then the long years and years of waiting. I remember worrying about this announced change or that one but still being pretty excited. Then there was a tournament in town and blizzard brought the monk demo with them. I went to both days of the tournament just to check it out. Though I left pretty disappointed. It didn’t have the Diablo feel. Then they even started watering it down from there. At that point there were still skill points to invest. When those hit the trash pile I think that’s when I really lost hope. Sure enough at release the game was a dud. I returned it during the 30 day money back guarantee and I still check periodically to see if they’ve overhauled it. It’s a very sad state for the franchise.

      • Seriously I was banking so many hours and days to waste on this game, I had quit WoW finally in 2009/2010, played starcraft2 at masters but I was like “Once Diablo3 comes out I will never see the sun light again” and to bank on this game that much and be this disapointed I’m left with an ache in my chest when I think about the failure.

  7. Post-mortem examination, or autopsy, an examination of a corpse in order to determine cause of death (Wikipedia)

  8. for teh lulz?

    there is an irony in that’s really an industry name for an event like this.

  9. Shout at the Devil? Wait, that sounds like Motley Crue is the opening act!

  10. Haven’t we suffered enough?

  11. Well, clearly he believes that they had a good game upon release, despite acknowledging errors after it. I´m curious about the way he looks at it now after months of patching. Also, we should not expect him to be so critical about the game, since he is still working at Blizzard.

  12. I foresee a huge steaming pile of PR spin coming out of this event.

  13. “The intention is for the talk to be general enough that specific knowledge of the Diablo series is not necessary, but such knowledge will be beneficial.”

    Heh. This is the core design team for the game to begin with. Maybe this is where they should have stated “knowledge of the Diablo series is a requirement” before hiring or moving people within departments to work on the game…

  14. I expect something pretty candid. Sure he’s still at Blizzard, but he’s also no longer the director, so he has some distance, and with that can probably fess up to some of the mistakes he might have made. Looking forward to it.

  15. Heh, looks like flux pushed Jay’s button with that poll. I wonder if it was just coincidence or if this site spurred the talk. I bet jay has been itching to talk about this anyway.

    I am really interested to see their take. Would also love to see what sort of player retention they are seeing and if the game really is despised by so many.

    • I’d love to take credit, but I figure this talk was in the planning for months. It’s going to be fascinating to hear how Jay defends or rebuts his own 7 design pillars though, after we just had such a *spirited* conversation about them and the fan opinion on their implementation is so obviously critical.

  16. They had such a great game in development, and they kept removing removing removing. I want someone to ask that. Why take away so much? Why destroy PvP?

  17. Perhaps predicting the audience reaction with their chosen title “Shout at the Devil”

  18. Ugh. Just when we had given Jay Wilson and Diablo 3 design a rest, HE starts it all over again. This horse died and is now a zombie?

  19. If Jay actually does sack up and give a candid assessment of what went wrong from the commander’s POV my respect for him will go up several notches.

    Still won’t ever touch anything he has a hand in making again… But in my opinion this is a great opportunity for him to man up and help prevent other people from making the same mistakes on other games when placed in a leadership position of great importance under the microscope of a rabid fanbase.

    It doesn’t need to turn into a public spanking. I’d be fine with him just going down the laundry list of missteps and telling other developers how he thinks he could have maybe steered his team in a different direction.

    If it’s all “D3 is fantastic can’t wait for the future f*** the haters” I’ll be a little disappointed… but not at all surprised. 🙂 To his credit brutal honesty might actually get him fired all together at this point.

    Solve Media: Sacred Cow

    • Your respect might go up, but if he was genuinely candid about the real things that wrecked the game in terms of orders from higher-ups, he’d be out of a job before he got back to SFO.

      • Yes this is very true. I doubt we will get anything but PR for that reason. If I was Jay Wilson’s brain I’d be like “OK Jay we can do this… Remember the talk we had earlier? Keep your head down. Don’t say shit. We got mouths to feed. If someone hit’s you with a hard question about one of the pillars just do like we rehearsed… Diablo 3 is a fantastic game but like any game it can always be better and we hear at Blizzard stand by our games(unless you need a transfer). I’m excited to see what changes the new lead developer will bring.”

  20. Sounds pretty interesting. Even if it will be 95% PR most likely.
    On the other hand, Jay going out and saying that everything is terrible in D3 because the customers says so – which is what it seems some people want from Blizzard – that tells us nothing about how things went wrong either.

    On a similar note, Blizzcon is going to be pretty interesting as well.
    Wonder if they will limit the time for D3 related questions at panels as much as possible 🙂

    Since we can know for sure that lots of the people who have a new-found (or long-lasting) hate for Blizzard, Diablo and life in general will show up for Blizzcon anyway. Which isnt wrong at all, keep showing your discontent.

  21. its going to be more of the same. Anyone thinking it will be Wilson spilling the beans on behind the scene info or even a truly candid recalling of the d3 development simply has their heads in the clouds. It’s going to be Jay patting himself on the back and the rest of the d3 dev team, with a few anecdotal “this is what we did really well” here is why and here are a few mistakes we made. It seems painfully obvious despite remarks of morhaime and others that they want to fix the game… that blizzard sees no problem with itemization and the current stat/damage system.

    Someone needs blow up and print a few of these http://i.imgur.com/h6OUS.jpg
    and unveil them during the postmortem

    • chimpomon hit the nail on the head. Although I don’t know what you mean exactly by this:

      “It seems painfully obvious despite remarks of morhaime and others that they want to fix the game… that blizzard sees no problem with itemization and the current stat/damage system.”

      Are you saying they are trying to fix this or are you saying they see no problem with current itemization and stat/damage system?

      • Sunds like he is saying that blizzard sees no problem with current itemization and the current stat/damage system and probably wont change it for the expansion. At least that is the vibe I am getting from that post so far.

        • Yes that is what he is saying and it is true that the devs have never out right come and said “Yes our items are just stat sticks like WoW” but on some level they have acknowledged that items needed to be changed with the legendary patch when they added “cool effects” still the legendarys are still just bigger numbers nothing that interesting.

    • The pic is amazing.

  22. Is this for real? The amount of PR bs we are about to see will leave me sick for a year.

  23. The fact is, characters are the weakest thing in D3 (and items) because they have zero power even at level 160. No items = no damage, no survivability, nothing. Thus the whole game is flawed at the core, your character is a weak pile of garbage unless you have godly gear.

    That is the main, fundamental problem with D3.

    Sadly, it cannot be fixed even with an expansion because of the RMAH and people would cry like babies if their godly gear became “not so godly” as they do each patch when things are slightly nerfed.

    If they change itemization and character power the game will be one of, if not the best ARPG ever made.

  24. I feel like I am not the only one who visits this fansite like people in medieval times visited the castle gallows to see wretched people getting what they deserve. ‘Confess!!, confess your game absolutely sucked!’

    I think part of the reason I still give a crap about Blizzard is because of that new titan mmo. I want to know that the company can recognize a bad game and learn from it.

    • Yes this unannounced highly kept secret Titan MMO is the biggest carrot they got dangling infront of us (their loyal yet aging fan base) – I will say though I would like to see a Warcraft 4. Besides those things, I’m very close myself to writing Blizzard off as just another gaming company.

      • Yeah sometimes I think a War4 would be good. Really what I want to see is a Blizzard game that is addictive. Its been a really long time since I just felt compelled to play one of their games.

  25. The only “Directing” Jay Wilson should be discussing is with the customers, is when hand him their tickets to get directions to their seats.

  26. Maybe bring back the old D2 crew. A shame they got laid off. I just wish they could use D2 as a core for D3 and build around the good aspects. But they seem gone.
    1. The legendaries are to damn randomized
    2. The storyplay is rather poor (they even killed Deckard Cain :O)
    3. There’s to much Wow in there. Auctionhouse? It’s a joke!!! I even don’t like the talentsystem that much either. I even find the JC and BS as a good joke..
    4. Where’s the Single player option???

    My suggestiong: Take the game off the air. Give It a couple of more years, so you BLIZZ can finish working on the game. D3 is not nearly half-finished!!

    • And look at D2. There’s still around 20K peeps playing on my realm every single day. And how old is that game?? 20 years old??

  27. I lol’d at postmortem, since its so fitting lol. This game is so dead now that they even ruined PVP … when I read they gave 30% class bonus to ranged classes in PVP instead of doing a flat dmg penalty like D2 had, I seiously thought the entire dev team has downs syndrome. The activity on the forums has gone down drastically, threads and topics stay on main page far longer than before. I have not touched the game in over a week, and will not unless they fix PVP which is all I care about at this point.

    For anyone wanting what D3 should have been, bar the lore / storyline which is different … one phrase … Path of Exile. My jaw is floored with the talent in that game and the customisation and endgame it has to offer. It is so amazing in terms of possible character builds, nearly endless, everything about it is ridiculously customisable … the skills, the massive passive tree, the potions themselves (yes lol), and the rare items can be rerolled endlessly too. Very original currenct system, exciting pvp, immersive storyline and lore … Jay ‘F that loser’ wilson eat your heart out.

  28. If you would read what I wrote instead of making insults, you would understand the reason of my posts.

    First: the way this site is handled simply attracts the usual Blizzard hate trolls as I came to know them over the past years. Just scroll through most of these \negative\ inspired threads and then come in here like flies to shit … and don’t say this is a meeting place of fans of the game: it simply is not. It is a meeting place of hate guys.

    Secondly: if we LOOK at the core of these \complaints\, they are as dispersed and wild as anyone can think of. There is no coherent criticism.

    I’ll put in some keywords: always on line being called DRM, no local copy, session spoofing, cracked authenticator codes, massive (read the word again) massive duping, no grouping awards, wrong rnd tables, not enough content, Bobby Kotick inspired, Activision killed Blizzard, Blizzard North were the only ones with talent, too hard, too easy too boring. I could go on for hundreds of pages.

    No big deal really, but I draw the line when this site wants to allow hate posts about a person. A human being like Jay Wilson, who was lead designer in Company of Heroes AND Warhammer 40: Dawn of War… While most of the posters you attract to this site are not even capable of writing a 4 rule game, it simply stinks to see a fan site come to this.

    It is a deep rooted problem with your site and to give an example of some real fan sites: I would like you to visit http://www.boardgamegeek.com where thousands of games are being discussed … and LOVED (even the so called bad ones). The difference ? I guess perhaps age as I always had the impression I was listening to 10 year olds with male voices after downloading the Pod Casts.

    BTW most of the above \comments\ I made against this game were simply used as trolish examples (as there was never a session spoofing nor massively cracked authenticators or massive dupes going on … and the newest XBOX has … always an internet requirement…) The AH, I won’t even mention as I prefer a controlled IN game AH to visiting gold maffia websites and crook cracked virus infested \trading\ sites.

    One last remark: when I play SOLO I gather around 60K Gold worth of goods in 15 minutes, when I group up (even in public mode), I gather 110K Gold per 15 minutes … so I have (again) NO clue what you mean about no grouping awards…

    (this last remark just to show you how EASY it is to counter just ONE of your so called pilars …)

  29. At this point I don’t really care. Moved on to other hopeful games like Grim Dawn. Also testing Marvel Heroes but so far it isn’t too fun (but an upcoming patch sounds good though).

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