Blizzard Defends Diablo 3’s Four Player Maximum

Blizzard announced that Diablo 3 Maximum Players would be “four or five” way back in 2008. It was something of a controversial decision at the time, and the debate continued for a while (looking in the archives I found an “On The Drawing Board” article I wrote about it in March 2009). Eventually they decided on four, and the issue seemed settled. However, as the Diablo 3 community regularly proves Faulkner’s famous maxim, this issue has come back to life with the advent of the Diablo 3 PlayStation game’s debut.

There’s certainly a debate to be had over whether 4, 5, 6 or 8 players would be better. That’s mostly opinion, and any “facts” provided in that argument are pretty subjective. One man’s “screen is overcrowded” is another’s, “needs moar exploding cowbell.” What’s less subjective are bad arguments attempting to prove that the 4 player limit is due to the console. That, I think, is just a dumb argument, and not just because it assumes that Blizzard would hobble their 12m+ selling PC/Mac version of the game for a minor feature on the console much less important console version.

No, it’s because it’s not true, as many other games demonstrate. For instance, how does every Shooter and other open world, MMO-esque console game handle this? Generally by limiting it to 4 players in a game on the same machine, since that’s how many controllers there are, and/or the split screen display would be a problem. But those types of games almost always allow many more than 4 for online play, with 8, 16 or 32 in deathmatches. There’s zero reason Blizzard couldn’t have done the same thing with D3, with a limit of 4 on one machine and up to 6 or 8 when playing online. (Like how the PC/Mac limits it to 1 per machine, with a higher amount online.) They didn’t do that because they feel that 4 is a better max number than 8, for many, many reasons they’ve related many, many times.

Lylirra’s got a lot more patience than I do for this (and all other issues), since she offered a very thorough explanation in the forums.

Hey guys! I chatted with Wyatt about this topic on your behalf and, while he’s currently at GDC giving a sweet talk about refining game systems in Diablo III (including health recovery, combat controls, and character skills), he shared some information with me that I wanted to pass on.

we should be able to at least have parties of 5 instead of 4. that would at least be a good thing….

We know some players will always prefer to have more than four people in a group, and we respect that completely. Even so, while a larger party size may seem appealing in concept (and even in practice for other games), there are a number of factors which contributed to us deciding on four players for co-op in Diablo III.

First off, the four-player limit isn’t in any way related to the number of classes you can play. One reason we actually preferred the idea of four-player co-op as opposed to five was that we felt if the number was five, then players might feel as if it was mandatory to have one of each class in their party. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We want players to feel like they can charge through Sanctuary with their friends regardless of whether they have four different classes represented or (for example) a group with two Barbarians and two Witch Doctors.

We also wanted group buffs (like auras and shouts) to feel meaningful in both solo and group play. Right now, you buff yourself and others by the same amount. We like that shouts are good and auras are strong, and that my contribution to the group via my buffs feels significant. But as group sizes get larger, the best player buffs would potentially need to be nerfed either by:

  • Making them to be weaker, and subsequently tuned around multiplayer (which is a similar approach to what World of Warcraft uses)
  • Or reducing the effect buffs have on other players (which is what Diablo II wound up having to do later)
  • We don’t like the idea of these sorts of nerfs and want to avoid them as much as possible, which is part of the combined reason why we aren’t eager to increase the maximum size of groups.

    Another factor we considered is that of player contributions. We like that you can really notice the contribution of each person at four players. No matter what size group you have, whenever you add another person to a group, each player’s personal contribution is diminished. This has some bad side effects. For example, if you swing at a monster, it feels good when you’re doing enough damage to see its health bar move. At four players, it’s already possible to be punching a monster and not feel like you’re doing any damage because the bar is moving slowly. This stigma would get worse as you add more people to a group.

    Other factors we considered were that of screen noise and the number of players you can follow. At four players, we felt that you were still able to easily keep track of your party-members, but that beyond this size it became more and more difficult to monitor everything on screen. Additionally, the screen noise and spell effects generated by five players simply felt too overwhelming (this is something we tested quite extensively).

    In summation, we’re pretty happy about the size of four-player groups. HOWEVER, we know that the multiplayer aspect of Diablo III needs improvement and are already looking into ways that we can further incentivize co-op farming and efficiency in patch 1.0.8. Wyatt is currently working on a developer journal about this very topic, so we hope to share even more information soon. 🙂

    That “five player max for five classes” argument was popular back in 2008 also, but I find it pretty weak. D2 had 5 classes. D2X had 7. Did anyone ever play a game with exactly one of each classes in D2C or D2X? I played thousands of MP games over, and never cared to, wanted to, or needed to do so. Furthermore, if D3C has 5 classes and a 5 char per game limit, what do they do when D3X adds another class (or two)? Up the limit per game to 6 or 7?

    Believe it or not, the above quote is barely even the start of the thread, as Lylirra returned for numerous follow ups. Click through to endure read the whole thing.

    Plus it was stated before that too many players would clutter the screen.
    Lylirra: Yup! (That’s actually called out a little later in my reply, too.)

    Also, console 4 player co-op = decision to limit to 4 players on PC
    Lylirra: I know the “PC vs. Console” debate is its own sort of Eternal Conflict, and that it’s super popular right now to blame every design decision you disagree with on the development of a PlayStation 3 version. In the end, if that’s really what you want to believe in your (sin) heart of hearts, so be it. We may not totally understand why you believe that, but we can respect your opinion — because, hey, you’re a human being and you deserve it. <3

    As I've said before, though, the PC experience defined the console experience, not vice-versa. The core of the console game is based on the PC game — you get all the same content, systems, classes, skills, and runes on the console as you do on PC. Our goal when developing Diablo III for console was to deliver that same visceral gameplay you get with a mouse and keyboard, just on a different platform. We wanted the experience itself to be authentic, in as many ways as possible. (Quick FYI: the console version didn't actually go into full development until the game was released last May.)

    That said, the console version is its own game, and we've made a variety of tweaks to the PlayStation version of Diablo III so it makes sense on that platform, including a complete re-design of the UI and character controls, as well as combat pacing and boss fights. I point this out because it means we have the latitude to make adjustments to the PC game for console as appropriate, and that our decision to go with four-player co-op on the PC (as opposed to 5-player or 8-player co-op) was based on our goals for what would make a great PC game. Not because it's what console co-op would need.

    It's a disservice to game design — as well as your feedback and healthy discussion in general — to boil everything down to "well, you just did it because of console." Especially since you’re essentially ignoring everything we’re trying to talk to you about in the process. There were a number of different reasons that led us to decide on four players for multiplayer games in Diablo III, and none of them related to the development of console. You may agree with some of those reasons and disagree with others, or disagree with all of them — and that's okay! Critiques are good, so long as they're relevant. Unfortunately, reducing all your arguments to glorified strawmen isn't very relevant. (Nor does it give us a lot of useful feedback on which to base further improvements.)

    I find this to be a huge issue with your moderating skills on these forums. You allow people to get away with saying some crazy stuff, continually, and it does affect the community to a large degree.
    Lylirra: Being incorrect or having an opinion that goes against the grain isn’t a violation of any of our forum rules or guidelines.

    Having said that, though, if you feel moderation could be improved, feel free to hit up [email protected] Moderation is ultimately handled by a separate team, but we’ll make sure your feedback gets to the right place.

    Lylirra .. but what about the new rolls/dives classes have. We dont have it on pc…
    Lylirra: We added DiabloWikiEvade to the console version of the game for two main reasons:

    The first is because, fundamentally, the way you move your character around on the console vs the way you move your character around on the PC is pretty different. With a keyboard and mouse in a game like Diablo III, not only can you see a bit farther (because of how we’ve positioned the camera), but you can also literally point to a spot on the map, click it, and your character will move there on its own. Since the console version uses direct control with the joystick, your movement feels more visceral and gutsy, but it has its own limitations. You don’t have that same sort of omniscience over where your character is going to go. To get from point A to point B on a map, for example, you have to manually direct your character to that spot, navigating all the obstacles individually along the way. It’s super fun, and with Evade, we’re just giving some additional mobility to console players to balance out not being able to point-and-click.

    The second reason is that the Evade ability just feels super (and forgive my eloquence here) console-y. We want the game to feel natural when using a controller, and being able to dodge and roll around really plays up that fantasy. It’s one of those elements that just “fits” on the console version super well, but doesn’t necessarily make sense for PC.

    Here’s a pretty good interview to check out if you’d like to learn more:

    You’ve said most of this before. I don’t think the issue is that people don’t understand your stance, the issue is that they think you are lying.
    Lylirra: If people think I’m lying then they don’t actually understand my stance very well.

    In that video (around 7:14) a monster drops a “buff globe” that increases exp greatly for about 10 seconds. I have seen no official world on this mechanic, will this come to PC’s also?
    Lylirra: It’s what we call a “power up” globe. Basically, there’s a small chance that whenever a health globe drops it’ll turn into a power up globe instead. These globes can provide the player with one of several small, temporary buffs (+MF/GF, +movement speed, +attack speed, etc) when picked up and last for very short period of time. They’re similar to Shrine buffs, but are designed to give players a quick boost during the middle of combat, rather than something you take from fight to fight.

    Right now, there aren’t any plans to bring power up globes to the PC, but that of course may change as we continue testing and poring through your feedback. 🙂

    “The core of the console game is based on the PC game — you get all the same content, systems, classes, skills, and runes on the console as you do on PC”

    regardless of reasoning wouldn’t that be considered a lie? whether it’s consoley or not this is not true statement since console has offline mode and no auction house (pc) and they get a dodge button while pc does not… Not the same for each other. so “same content” is false
    Lylirra: Yup! You’re correct that the console version will not have an auction house. Beyond that, since the console is based on the PC game, you get everything on the console as you do on PC (meaning you get all the same zones, events, monsters, bosses, classes, skills, runes, and systems like Infernal Machine, Brawling, and Monster Power on the console as you do on PC). Right now, we’re currently planning to ship with everything up to 1.0.7, potentially 1.0.8 depending on development time.

    There are also some features on the console version that are not present on the PC version, but I covered that in the post you quoted:

    “That said, the console version is its own game, and we’ve made a variety of tweaks to the PlayStation version of Diablo III so it makes sense on that platform, including a complete re-design of the UI and character controls, as well as combat pacing and boss fights.”

    This is because the game was originally designed for PC and needed some adjustments in order to translate well to consoles, specifically the PlayStation platform.

    If a feature or NPC that would be wildly popular and beneficial to the game (pick a hypothetical, random example) was doable on PC, but just not technically feasible on console, would that preclude it from ever being implemented on the PC because it would cause the games to diverge too much?

    Are the platforms tied together as far as Expansions are concerned or is the console version really its own game. My concern is that the console will hold back the PC expansion’s release and content.
    Lylirra: Working on getting you an answer to that. It’s a fair question, but I don’t know all the details off-hand.

    Lol, why do you insist on telling others how to play?
    Lylirra: The theory that we’re trying to aggressively redefine “what’s fun” has always saddened me. Our goal in designing Diablo III, and in supporting it post-launch, is to constantly iterate on its systems and content, incorporating new perspectives and feedback as we go. Each change we push is ultimately aimed at making Sanctuary more enjoyable for as many people as possible. Of course, “fun” is a pretty subjective term, so sometimes that means we’ll make a change that’s seen as unfavorable to a smaller group of players, but will (hopefully) be appreciated by larger portions of our player base.

    We’re always reevaluating our design decisions, though, and working to make improvements based off player feedback. Iteration is key.

    So you are saying Guildwars 2 got it wrong with the dodging built in?
    Lylirra: No. Are you?

    BS BS BS TheXelnaga here from 5 years counting feedback from Diablo 3 classic forums and longer then that on Diablo 2 forums , who has participated in every Diablo podcast under the sun, ask Bashiok who is TheXelnaga, I have been giving valuable feedback for years, I was giving feedback when Bashiok was MicahW as the Tyrael Icon. You guys have not been listening, I have mounds and mounds of data backed up on the internet way back machine I have been posting for years based on player feedback.
    Lylirra: I really dig your passion. 🙂 One important thing to keep in mind, though, is even though we may not have acted on your feedback in particular, that doesn’t mean we don’t value it, or that we haven’t made positive changes based on player input. Many of the improvements we’ve made since the game launched (as well as those currently planned for 1.0.8 and beyond) have been inspired, influenced, or guided by community discussion.

    Hooray. We payed to be beta testers for consoles.
    Lylirra: You keep using that word…

    Well, that was fun. Anyone got any weekend plans?

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    24 thoughts on “Blizzard Defends Diablo 3’s Four Player Maximum

    1. Its definitely possible that Blizz limited it to 4 players because of console. Well never know. Sure, it may be a dumb thing to do, and you could point to other console games that feature more than 4 players. But that is assuming Blizzard would never implement something for dumb reasons, and as were learning more about the decision making behind the auction house, that isnt true.

    2. Its like saying “it would be stupid of blizz to implement the ah based on the idea that only 10% of the players would use it, and because the idea is dumb, they surely didn’t do that.”

      we will never know, so its probably pointless to speculate.

    3. Remember the cluster fuck that was 8 player d2 games? I’m glad 4’s the max. Even if they reduced all sfx of every spell by every players in a hypothetical 8 player d3 game by 99%, it would still be a cluster fuck.

      • How was it a cluster? I can be in 8 player baal games, cow games, or even rushes i cant remember any major issues germaine to the 8 player limit

      • The games already a cluster fuck with a WW barb and CM wizard. adding 1 more class isn’t going to change the fact the screen already has clutter. It’s telling that was pretty much the last reason given why more than 4 players was not what they wanted to do. Instead we get firstly shit like, we dont want players to feel forced to have the 5th class be the 5th player and blizzards whole “balancing” act. Their need to over balance d3, imo, has really impacted the game negatively.

      • I didn’t think D2 was a terrible cluster on screen with 8, but I do think D3 would be. I’m glad the limit is 4, personally I think with 4 the screen gets to be too cluttered already.

    4. “One reason we actually preferred the idea of four-player co-op as opposed to five was that we felt if the number was five, then players might feel as if it was mandatory to have one of each class in their party.”

      Sounds 100% in line with their design philosophy. God why does Blizzard feel the need to keep players from making their own choices :(. And dodging in consoles, nice, too bad you can’t do shit like that by even running away from an attack before/while a monster is starting their swing or attack.

      • See, and this is why nothing that comes from Blizzard should be ascribed any value to. They will regurgitate the same phrase they are told to, despite everyone (probably themselves included) knows it’s a bad design choice and needs change. After half a year they will meekly admit they were wrong on the subject and announce that they MIGHT change it SOMEWHEN IN THE FUTURE.

        It has been that way with the difficulties, it has been that way with the whole skill system, it has been that way with the auction house, and this process will repeat throughout the next years. At its end, there might be something like a better game, after something like 2 XP packs and 5 years later, the question is just, do you really want to be a part of a bad game crawling towards the aim of being mediocre? Because the core systems and idiotic additions that have been done to keep it alive like paragon levels prevent this game from ever becoming good.

    5. 8 players, 8 followers, pets and whatnot. Leave the 4 limit for console, but I definitely would like more than 4 players. Also I cannot see how the 4 limit has something to do with balance. Diablo 3 is not balanced and probably will never be. Screw the balance and give some fun back.
      Please ?

      • i dont really see how the number of players directly correlates with the amount of fun that i can have – the game and its maps + camera-distance are already pretty small and overloaded with effects ; so i don’t really see a point in adding more players – because the only way in which a 8 player mode makes sense is when people wander off to other parts of the map which kinda defeats the purpose of higher cap in the first place.

        i mean they didn’t even make a good job at incentivezing 4 player games – what makes you think that 8 players would makes anything different ?

    6. Its stupid how much effort they are putting into the developer blogs and not the actual patches…

    7. the game’s engine and networking can’t handle more than 4 people in a game

      D3’s devs did an amazing job making the game load so fast when you switch levels/areas

      but one of the sacrifices they had to make to get this speed was to limit the game to 4 players

    8. Most of this is silly-talk. The speculation about gamers thinking they’d have to play a class for each open spot and the like is plain ridiculous and flies in the face of all preceding evidence. In other words: not worth responding to. The only point they really have is screen clutter. I think it’s valid to say that at 4 players, there can be so much screen clutter as to make it difficult to see what’s going on and meaningfully control your character. OK. But so what? If I want to get together with 4 more of my buddies and have a 5 person clutter-fest, shouldn’t that be up to me? Of course it should. And if I’m opening up a public game and want to limit it to 4, how hard could it be for Blizzard to give my that option like I had in D2? Not hard at all. This is just another example of the arrogant “we know what’s best so we’re going to shove it down your throat” design philosophy from the bad old Jay Wilson regime that they need to abandon and move on from.

    9. “There’s zero reason Blizzard couldn’t have done the same thing with D3, with a limit of 4 on one machine and up to 6 or 8 when playing online. ”

      Money. Hello? The RMAH… It’s far cheaper for them to make a console game for the PC first then port it to the console then make two separate and distinct games with their own set of features.

      They already learned their lesson with Diablo 1 being a true PC port that had to be shoe stringed together on the psx, with Diablo 2 and not being able to put it on the console. So they made Diablo 3 a dumbed down console game end of story.

    10. I do think the two main reasons for 4 person games are 1. the on screen cluster issue 2. computer specification restrictions.

      That being said if only there was some system where you could, name and create a game, and maybe have the option of selecting how many people could join it. That way if you thought the cluster was an issue you could make 4 person game or if you didn’t think it was an issue you could make a 8 person game.

      Similarly, if you have the machine to handle an 8 person cluster game, go ahead make that game. If not make a 4 person game.

      Players wanting to joining a game could select from any of the game names/types listed.

      I wonder if this type of system has even been used before? /sarcasm and if you didn’t get it go play D2 where you could do all of those things.

    11. I will give them credit for trying to come up with a good explanation for why the console had little influence on the PC version, but I do not believe it. Although I really appreciate the writing Flux does, I cannot agree with him on this either. The one question out of that whole mess that was the absolute most important one got a push off answer and the typical pass on to somebody else. That question was about how much influence the console version will have on expansions for the PC version, and their concern over how much they can diverge. This is very bad for the PC version, and it really fuckin pisses me off.

    12. Just own up to the fact that you essentially gave us a console port with severe limitations and “accessible” gameplay, Blizz. The problems I, and many other people have, with D3 are DIRECTLY related to the console development. Don’t tell us we’re only seeing it this way because we don’t like the game as much as we wanted to. We’re not that stupid.

    13. When I still played Diablo3 my experience wasn’t really affected by the arbitrary player limit. Their reasoning behind it never satisfied me though.

    14. Wait, D2 had features balanced for multiplayer? All those times plowing through monsters ten times faster with a random group (despite the unholy mess on the screen and the monsters being eight times tougher) than you’d ever do solo must have been make-believe.

      Yes, it was impossible to take the game seriously in eight player mode.

      May Thor save us from developers telling us which part of their games we should take seriously.

    15. Jesus Flux, what the hell is happening to you? Nahh, we are the one’s who need the patience to put up with your logic.

    16. 4 Players is good. For me personally, it’s a performance and visual direction issue. Less players on screen casting things means a bit better performance, and visual direction to understand who is doing what at any given time.

      In the expansion, if they release new characters, increase the cap to 5. That’d be good.

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