Near the end of an interesting piece comparing WoW to SWTOR, by New York Times video game writer (and former Diablo Podcast guest) Seth Schiesel, the author hits upon a Blizzard design theory of relevance to the Diablo community.
Blizzard is clearly managing and designing World of Warcraft in a manner meant to slow or stop the game’s erosion of players. …In terms of the game’s design, the overall tone and difficulty have become much more accessible to casual players. The sorts of high-level demons and dragons that traditionally would have been conquerable only by people who played dozens of hours a week can now be felled by pickup groups of moderately skilled players.
“What we’re trying to do now is figure out what our current audience wants,” Tom Chilton, World of Warcraft’s game director, told me by phone last week. “It became clear that it wasn’t realistic to try to get the audience back to being more hard core, as it had been in the past.”
As someone returning to World of Warcraft after a long absence, I find the current direction of the game eminently engaging. As Mr. Chilton said, “We hear from a lot people who used to play a lot that they’re just not at that point in their life anymore, and they want to play, and they want to see the content. But they can’t make the same time commitment they used to.”
That design philosophy perfectly sums up a lot of the “dumbed down vs. accessible” arguments we’ve seen during Diablo III’s development. Blizzard is quite clearly designing their upcoming games (while changing WoW on the fly) to be more accessible to more people, and if that results in alienating some of the long time, hard core fans, well that’s the price they’re willing to pay.
Thus far, Diablo 3’s ever-increasing accessibility doesn’t seem to have gone much beyond the controls, interface, and presentation. The story and theme and mood are still appropriately dark and grim and gothic and horror-tinged, though you’ve got to wonder what Diablo III would look like if they were starting development today, in this bold new AoA (Age of Accessibility).
There’s a reason Blizzard employees have repeatedly cited the incomprehension of non-gaming relatives as justification for various Diablo III “accessibility” upgrades — it’s because they value the opinions of such people more than they value our feedback. After all, there are a lot more casuals than hard cores, and besides… we complain and rage now and then, but we’re not fooling anybody. Blizzard knows we’re all going to buy the damn game the first day anyway.