D3’s Managed PR vs. D2’s Open Communication

Bashiok responded to a fan who was angry at the slow and seemingly-undirected development progress and pace of Diablo III.

It’s weird because this is exactly how we develop every single game. You have to go all in with a system. You have to believe in it and sell it and make it absolutely certain it’s the best it can be… until you figure out it’s not and throw it away and go with the new better solution you just realized was better. You don’t half [email protected]# something or noodle around testing possible theories, you find the best solution you can and you go after it full force, because that’s really the only way you can successfully test it and see if the electric fence has any weaknesses.

That’s the iterative game design we embrace. It’s what we do. I think the issue is that Diablo III is really the first game, in my opinion, where the window into the design process has been open all the way from the beginning* (and boy oh boy has it been open for a long time). We didn’t have BlizzCon during the development of Diablo II, Warcraft III, or even World of Warcraft. We didn’t have websites that supported big in depth articles, we didn’t have billions of people on the internet, we didn’t have twitter and Facebook and live Q&A chats and all this stuff we have now that offers unparalleled access into the play by play development of a game. For us we enjoy being able to share that stuff. You all get to follow along in the process of us creating our games! We think that’s awesome. But it has some pretty big cons in that sometimes it’s hard to understand why we work the way we do. I’m not going to ask you to “Trust in Blizzard” or some other far fetched motto, but I do want to impress that this isn’t different than the development of any of our other games.

*Sure there was StarCraft II but the design changes aren’t quite as HUGE because they tend to be more about individual units and their balance, although there were some very substantial changes to StarCraft II systems very late in the development process.

My coworker Rush pointed me to this thread late last night, and we fell into debate over it. As most of you guys know, this site is the evolutionary improvement of Diabloii.net, and we’ve been online, covering the Diablo games, and under the same management since 1997, shortly after Diablo I’s release. We followed the development of Diablo II very closely, enjoyed a lot of collaboration and access to the developers (we were famously responded to a fan who was angry for a weekend in early 2000, the first outsiders ever granted such access), attended every E3 that Diablo was shown at, etc.

As all of those events considerably predate Bashiok’s employment with Blizzard, (or that of anyone else currently on the D3 dev team) you may wonder what we think of his claims in this post. Click through to find out. It turned into quite a lengthy essay, with a great deal of first hand info about how Blizzard North handled things back in 1998-2001.(Very differently than they’re handled today.)

(I was tempted to just put a Rickroll video here and end the post with that. But it would have been wrong!)

The State of Diablo III’s Public Relations

I’ll start off by conceding some of his points. Bashiok is correct in that we’ve seen more updates about the D3 development process, from 2008 until now, than we did about any previous Blizzard titles, including Diablo II. Bashiok is also correct in that there was no D2 Twitter account, no BlizzCon before 2005, no D2 Facebook page, no D2 community manager, no BlizzCasts, etc. So yes, we get more regular and frequent updates these days… but that does not mean we’re more enlightened or informed. The existence of a D3 invited to visit to Bliz North, and twitter feedk, and a CM to make regular forum posts, etc, means that they have to communicate regularly to justify their existence. But does the frequency of updates, and the abbreviated format of something like twitter, just lead them to say the same thing over and over again?

(I have sympathy for Bashiok and the other CMs in this way, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve never wanted that job myself. The CMs are seldom allowed to share new info, yet they’ve got to communicate something to keep the fans engaged. Of course they’ve got to reword the same old stuff over and over again. What else can they do?)

So yes, we get much more communication, but if 99% is just mouth noise that adds nothing to our knowledge of the game, is that such a good thing? This leads towards the whole question of who Blizzard is marketing this title towards, and why we hardcore fans assume it’s us, but that’s not really the point of this article, so I’ll leave it alone.

The other major issue is that 99% of D3 info communication is filtered through PR people (the vast majority of whom are much less communicative than Bashiok), and take the form of scripted Blizzcon panel presentations, selected screenshots, edited gameplay footage, carefully-polished playable game demos, tightly-timed, PR-supervised Blizzcon interviews, well-supervised fan visits to Blizzard HQ, etc. Overall, there’s a level of oversight and control of Diablo 3 info that’s quite noticeable, and while I’m sure some of this is useful to the developers — they don’t have to spend time engaging in forum debates, answering fan emails, etc, as devs at smaller studios do — it does limit the variety and honesty of the game info that’s released.

Diablo II Community Relations

Almost everything about Diablo 3’s info releases vary greatly from how things were handled by Blizzard North back in the Diablo II days. As I admitted above, the updates were less frequent back in the day, but on the other hand, when we did get updates they were always worth reading. I’m sure some of the same circular, progress-less iteration (that so many of you guys were enraged by in Jay’s update yesterday) went on in the Diablo II days. Bashiok’s comment in this post, about having to go full bore into trying new things out to learn if they really work or not, is logical enough. That said, D2 took a year longer than planned, required Blizzard North to quintuple in size to create it, and was still released just 3.5 years after D1. Plus D2X was released exactly a year later, as the first (and still only?) Blizzard product to actually make its initial release window. (If we see D3X within 3 years, I’m sure it will be a huge surprise.)

During the D2 development process, most of the new info came via media coverage. In those days magazines were still viable, and seemingly every other month came a huge new preview in GamePro, or PC Gamer, or other long-forgotten print mags. (You can see lots of magazine covers in our D2 art gallery.) These previews seldom made it online — many of the magazines hardly even had websites back then — and we were always delighted when a fan would send us scans of a new D2 preview from some German or French or English or Australian or US gaming magazine. (This was before digital cameras were common, so scans were pretty much it, grainy and hardly legible as they usually were. God I am so old.)

We also got regular interviews with the developers, much as we see today. The big difference though, was that Blizzard North employees interacted directly with fans. Not so much in the Battle.net forums, which were unmoderated and overrun with intolerable trolls, but through fansites. It was not at all uncommon for Bill Roper, Max Schaefer, or other senior devs to engage in detailed game discussion in threads in our site forums, and whenever they did Elly or me could email them (directly) and confirm that it was actually them, and ask for additional comment or clarification, if need be.

There were also occasional online live chats organized by Blizzard, semi-monthly fansite interviews where a site got to send in ten questions, screenshtos of the week, developer updates on the official site, and more.

Plus, they weren’t just making polite, content-free posts to seem active. See Faceboo, for a good example of the kind of detained conversation and engagement that went on.

We also regularly hosted D2 devs in our old IRC chat room. Max Schaefer (AKA Brocklanders) would routinely show up and sit for hours, arguing features and chatting with fans about anything and everything. I remember one day when he gave out literally hundreds of D2 open beta CD-Keys, to anyone who asked. This went on after the game’s release, too. Peter Hu spent long hours, almost every night for months, in our IRC chat while he was preparing the massive v1.10 patch. Lanthanide was actually the most regular attendee in those times, which is how he got his name Max’s legendary PK debate with Sirian, as Peter’s acknowledgement of his feedback and conversation.

Compare that state of affairs to the modern day, where we have never and will never see a forum post by Jay Wilson, or anyone else on the D3 dev team. Not even in the B.net forums, much less on a fansite. Imagine Blizzard running an unmoderated fansite IRC chat, with Jay Wilson and Wyatt Cheng there to answer anything and everything the fans throw at them? I’m sure the devs would love it, but they know they’ll never get the chance… not while they work at Blizzard, at least.

E3 vs. BlizzCon

Rush at E3 1998

There were no Blizzcons prior to 2005, but when D2 was shown at trade shows such as E3, ECTS, and others, it was an open bar of information. The first E3 I attended was in 1999, and after gathering questions in advance from our forums, I headed off with something like 7 printed pages, hoping I’d get some small percent answered. The first morning I entered the hall, wandered around until I found the Diablo II setup, and was amazed to see a dozen demo machines, all of which had the entire Act 2 playable on them. There were no lines (early in the day; the afternoons had much larger crowds and waits to play), no 15 minute timed play sessions on small show-specific demos, no one asking you not to take photos or videos of the screens, etc. (In 2000 I played through almost the entire Act 3 in one run, and was actually into the Durance of Hate when the show ended for the day and the machines were powered off. At that point Mephisto was still unrevealed, and all news of Act 4 was a total secret, so I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I’d had another 30m of play time.)

E3 1999. Flux on the right.

Better yet, rather than BlizzCon rentacops and Anaheim Convention Center employees who know nothing about the game and are just ushers, the booth was manned by actual Blizzard North employees. Everyone worked the show floor in shifts, and I mean everyone; artists, programmers, modelers, tech guys, even the lead devs, though they were generally running live demos, or else back in quiet rooms conducing media interviews. All of these people were available to answer questions, and they were all quite talkative and friendly; happy to have a chance to interact with fans. (Elly wanted me to add that things were much the same at ECTS and other shows. Max or other senior devs would show up almost alone, without any PR to keep fans back, or to stop the devs talking if they started to say too much.)

Like I said, I had a huge list of questions to start off my first E3, literally hundreds on every aspect of the game, and when I first got in there I fell into conversation with (IIRC) added to the Act 5 mercs in v1.10. Standing by a demo machine, watching my first in-person Diablo II, we talked non-stop for something like 2 hours. I finally took a break from chatting to play for a while, and after that I talked to other employees and went through all the rest of my questions. By noon of the first day, when I headed off to pay $20 for a bottle of water and soggy romaine salad (the food at the LACC in those days was an extortionist affront to the culinary arts) I’d gone through my entire list of questions, and hand written several additional pages of notes on things I hadn’t even known enough to want to ask about, before the show.

That was how things were in those days for games at E3, for other Blizzard games as well, and it’s still how the show operates. I was last at E3 in 2007 (IIRC) to cover Hellgate:London, and the Flagship booth was virtually identical to the D2 booths I’d spent so many hours at in 1999, 2000, and 2001. Employes running demos, standing around, and eager to talk. Blizzard no longer attends E3, and while Blizzcon is a huge spectacular, and the panels can be fun, nothing from Blizzcon holds a candle, not even one of those skinny little birthday cake candles, to the amount of info a dedicated fan or media member could gather at E3.

If you’re press you can get an interview at Blizzcon, but you only get fifteen minutes, and if you’re a fansite (major media get private, longer interviews) you’re herded into a little room around a little table with 3 or 4 other fansites/small gaming sites, all taking turns asking questions of the developer(s).

You can line up and ask a single question at an open Q&A, but you’re speaking into a microphone while standing 30 feet away from Jay Wilson up on the stage. You might run into a Blizzard employee walking around the show floor and say hi, but there’s no place at BlizzCon for fans to directly interact with the developers. I bumped into Julian Love and we spoke for half an hour in 2010, but that’s noteworthy since what was assured in 1999 is almost unheard of today.

Let me note that this wasn’t some idyllic 90s thing. I covered Hellgate:London, and I’ve recently interacted with the guys making Path of Exile and visited Runic Games to play Torchlight 2, and those smaller studios behave much as Blizzard North did back in the day. The developers interact directly with the fans, they’re happy to answer any questions since they want/need the media coverage. Obviously some of Blizzard’s changes are out of necessity; as their games are just so popular now, but even back in 1999, the Bliz North guys Mike Scandizzo to know to stay out of the reach of Bliz Irvine’s PR tentacles.


All of this is, of course, intentional. As Blizzard has become more corporate and profitable (and larger) over the years, they’ve steadily built up the protective wall of PR, and steadily scaled back the access to their developers. Some from necessity; obviously Jay Wilson wouldn’t get any work done if fans could email him directly, but it’s more of a philosophy than purely out of necessity. So yes, Bashiok is correct in that we’ve gotten more updates during D3 long… long… long… development — than we did during D2’s.

On the other hand, the direct access to the people actually making the game, not just via PR-controlled interviews or public statements, was worlds apart from the modern day. I felt a much stronger connection to the development process of D2 than I ever have with D3, where I’m always conscious of the information being managed and produced and carefully-polished for public consumption.

I don’t think I’m alone in that impression. After all, we’ve seen numerous recent controversies, such as Blizzard’s attempt at forcing mandatory DiabloWikiReal ID on Battle.net, the introduction of DiabloWikiReal Money Trading into D3, and the Online-Only DRM of D3, where a lot of the fan outrage has come from feeling like we were being managed and manipulated and lied to. Blizzard’s excuses and justifications such as, “it’s a better gameplay experience!” in defense of removed features and added security measures rub a lot of us very wrong.

Compare it to something like Max’s justification of the PK switch; you could disagree with him (I did) but at least you felt like it was his honest opinion, and that he was leveling with you. Not like the entire explanation was a carefully-constructed artifice, manufactured from discussions with numerous employees and lawyers, where the only honesty and reality included was as sugar to help the medicine go down.

Obviously, you guys can form your own opinions on the info release style of Blizzard North back in the day, vs. the Bliz Irvine PR style we’ve seen with D3. I preferred the good old days, but then I’m nostalgic and weird. I did want to share out this info though, so you guys could judge Bashiok’s comments with a bit more objectivity. (In fact, I hope Bashiok takes insight from this too, since there’s no way he could really know how things were way back then, years before he joined the company.)

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75 thoughts on “D3’s Managed PR vs. D2’s Open Communication

      • IIRC all diablo fansites where given an option to like “join” the d3 game cycle more(i.e. get invited to events) at the expense of being regulated by blizz itself. Our wonderful site leaders said no because this site reports on anything that happens to diablo 3 no matter what it is or how people feel about it becuase that was the goal of this site was to bring the news and deliever the facts(Wiki), along with lots and lots of opinions ;)……i do believe thats the case but correct me if im wrong….

        • In total agreement, screw the so-called fawn sites that do nothing but kiss lots of ass to get access and hand outs, beggars, the lot of em! Then once the game launches the talk about how hardcore and true they are with the diablo games! “yeah I’ve played diablo since I was six!” this I’m sorry, means nothing.

          • There is a difference between kissing Blizz’s ass and constantly bashing and “creating” virtual controversies. DiabloIncGamer is, in my opinion, the best website in term of content and news it brings to the fans but at the same time they keep posting shit about Blizzard, post after post (Esp. the Flux guy). What do you expect after that? To have Blizz’s PR inviting them to all events? I’m sorry but I would certainly not invite them it was my company 🙂 

            On the other hand I agree that kissing Blizzard’s ass may also be bad for fans as the information/news may be biased 🙂

          • We don’t actually create controversies, some people read it like that because we are honest and fanboys don’t like anything bad said about what they love. Luckily for us, we have been following Diablo so long that we have learned that we are only fooling ourselves and the fans if we do not cover everything without rose-tinted glasses.

            I do find it amusing that people think we “post ***” about Blizzad. This is not the case, I just think people who read fansites in general  sometimes find it odd when they comehere and see that fans can actually be critical about something they are passionate about. It’s alien to most fansite readers. 

            Blizzard don’t care for public criticism that much on fansites but they need to remember we are here because we are huge fans of the game but we are also here to be critical, objective and honest to the readers. Just like every newspaper tries to do, and that is what this website is about and I love it 🙂

          • @ Imaginedvl

            “but at the same time they keep posting **** about Blizzard, post after post (Esp. the Flux guy). What do you expect after that?”

            Which do you expect game first Imaginedvl?  The degradation in their treatment and attitude or our criticism of it?

            If to criticise something is to be anti something then any piece of critique on any thing or one can simply be dismissed as anti it.  There’s a huge difference between hating on something and critiquing.  If there are no foundations to the criticisms (and note they aren’t large) then they would not stand up to argument, they’d stumble at the first hurdle and be nothing short of lies.

            The complaint and observations remain constant, it’s always the same because those are the facts and they happened already.  The only way it’ll change to something different is if the situation changes and that’s out of everyone’s hands.

            Just as a fyi the degradation of relationship was to do with the Starcraft site (now closed) not this site.  That was told to me on the phone by PR. “DII.Net has done nothing wrong” – I’m quoting, not paraphrasing.

  1. Very nicely put!
    Can I vote for something in the middle?  I completely understand why they want to “protect” devs with a PR wall, but how about have less PR people, don’t have fake updates like we get, and when it’s time for real updates, let the PR people make more “events” out of them and really hype things up?
    That way, when something big happens, it’s something big.  In the meantime, community managers can grow beards, manage wallpapers, and just honestly say, “no update” or “update coming next week” when asked.  Sometimes, it’s just best not to know exactly how the sausage is made.

  2. Shouldn’t you take into account that blizzard has millions more fans today? Back then, they had a booth at E3 that wasn’t even filled up. As you said: You could play the demo for however long you liked, with no lines. Today, Blizzards ‘booth’ is an entire convention on it’s own. Play time is limited to 15 minutes, and there are still huge lines to get those 15 minutes.
    The dev team might be larger today, but not big enough to be even close to manage the lengthy close encounters that you experienced 13 years ago. Imagine Jay Wilson just standing around on the floor somewhere at Blizzcon or even E3 today. Well, one can try. Because all I see is an immense sea of people, all turned more or less toward the same point in the middle. So, the Q&A panels is really the only way to give comprehensive information to anyone and still have a reasonable hope that word gets out to the still much larger public that’s not at the convention. Basically, they’ve taken the only proper steps they can considering the huge gaming community out there today.
    Finally, I’m kind of amazed that people are complaining that the developers, the ones actually finishing the game, aren’t taking more time off, NOT DEVELOPING, to answer everyone’s questions, chatting up on the forums, twitter and IRC.
    No, I’m damned happy they are focusing on giving us a damn good game while they hire someone else to deal with our incessant complaining, our throng of questions and massive impatience. All honor to Bashiok for taking money to answer forum posts with the same damned information again, and again, and again. And you know, that’s not because he can’t give information of any use. It is because people ask the same freaking questions over and over and over again!

    • Did you read the whole article Stark? Flux did say at the end “some of it is because they’ve got that many fans now and wouldn’t get any other work done”[sic]

      • Flux acknowledges the effects caused by the millions and millions and millions of rabid fans Blizzard has gained in the meanwhile but he plays it off as a minor detail, imagining instead that these changes to Blizzard’s PR approach are totally needless and the result of some sort of evil corporate greed.

        Do the people who run Zelda fan-sites get to go to E3 and have extensive one-on-one time with Shigeru Miyamoto? Sure, you might be able to go to E3 and talk to Bill Roper, but Flagship is not Nintendo, and Flagship is not Blizzard. WoW made Blizzard a major player in this industry, and that forces changes in their approach to PR. Flux is correct to note that his nostalgia isn’t just for the simplicity of an earlier decade, as smaller companies are still able to adopt that approach today, but he fails to recognize that Blizzard is far from alone in their approach to PR, and it’s not just some sort of evil corporate scheme to keep the fans at a distance. Blizzard isn’t one of those small companies anymore, and it’s not fair to think of them as such.

      • Sorry, missed that one sentence. Still, I think there’s a bit overweight about how the communication changed without taking account of the factors that made them change.

        • “factors that made them change”  You mean like being purchased by Activision?

          Actually that’s not it, though it’s an easy one-liner. Bliz PR was always a wet blanket on what the guys at Bliz North wanted to do; our invite to come see the game pre-beta back in 2000 was all from Bliz North, and they had to argue PR into going along with it. When I visited there in 2003 to play-test the v1.09 patch, that also was entirely forced through over PR’s objections. It’s one of the main reasons they liked being Blizzard “North,”as the distance from HQ gave them more autonomy.

          As for Bliz being too popular and busy these days to directly interact with fans… that’s largely an excuse to bubble them away from us. Obviously Jay Wilson isn’t going to spend all day fielding forum questions, but devs in plenty of large gaming studios interact on their forums and speak more directly with fans all the time. The lead WoW dev did for years, until quite recently. There’s no reason Bashiok couldn’t post on fansites directly, instead of just on B.net and via Twitter and facebook. It’s all part of their PR strategy to centralize communications and keep things more official and less intimate.

          I didn’t stress it in the OP, but I don’t suggest their current strategy is a bad one, for their bottom line. Spending time to interact with individuals or fansites is counter-productive, compared to making a few centralized posts on their own forums. Just because we don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not a successful strategy.

          I wasn’t even arguing that they *should* go back to the old days, even if that were possible. I was just trying to offer a semi-objective description of how things were 10 years ago, as an FYI to anyone interested.

  3. Somehow i really like your writing style and I feel like you make a valid point.

    BUT… Again I taste your very obvious “disliking” of Blizzard, and I cant help wondering why you keep running this fansite. Is it only out of nostalgia, cus you seem very vicious/incensed…

    • Who says a fansite has to dedicate itself to kissing Blizzard’s ass 24/7?

      Maybe if they were desperate for Beta invites… but this site has been around longer than most of the current Blizzard game developers right now.

      I applaud this site’s honesty and straightforwardness. If you want ass-kissing, go visit “diablofans”.

    • What Elly said. I tried to write this in a very even tone. Obviously I’m not entirely objective or unbiased, but I said so in the article, and gave reasons why.

      The bigger point though; we love Diablo 3 and all of the devs seem to be great guys. Like I said in the article, I’m sure they’d enjoy much more fan direct interaction. We’ve posted numerous anecdotes from people who met jay wilson or others at blizzcon and thought they were awesome. We enjoy running this fansite and informing you guys. We like bliz games and developers. I even like bashiok on a personal level; I just think he has to do crappy things for his job, which I tried to mention in the article.  The “problem” is Bliz PR. And even they aren’t evil or malicious; I’m sure they honestly think they’re doing a good thing and are managing the community properly, according to some “how to run PR for a big company” manual they’re working out of.  I just happen to disagree with them.

      Moreover, do you like everyone you work with? Do you like everything about your job?  I doubt it. No one does. You probably hate that son of a bitch in accounting. But that doesn’t mean you quit doing your job, or do it poorly. You do the best you can, while working around the hurdles life throws up in your way.

      • I can’t help but agree that suggesting that Blizzard PR is a form of “forced sexual intercourse” is fairly “vicious”.

      • My take on it is that I’m fine with the PR-managed message we get, it’s only natural. Although I wish they wouldn’t treat us like idiots: noobs made single player characters by mistake, so that means no one can have them now!

        My beef is really with Bashiok’s sometimes complete inability to answer the actual question being asked. Like when we tried to find out repeatedly how the “tiered armor looks” would work, he didn’t seem to grasp that what we wanted answered was whether tier 4 looked completely different to tier 3, and whether the stats meant that any tier 4 item would almost always be better than a tier 3 item or not. With the logical conclusion that at the end of the game, all characters are going to be wearing tier 17 or 18 and look identical (except for colours and any uniques etc). He just didn’t grasp that as the issue.

        Also re: Peter Hu, he did come around a lot in the run up to 1.10, but also in the final 2-3 months before the xpack was released. I think the massive Q&A sessions I had with him, about 5 or 6 in all usually lasting between 1 and 3 hours were where we got the majority of information about the xpack pre-release. Of course D2 was already out by that stage so we knew the types of questions to ask about, which helped. I also contributed a bit to the xpack itself; I gave him a list of suggested improvements to the normal unique items (since exceptional and elites were going to be introduced) which he used about 85% of if you can give it a figure like that, as well as other small change suggestions like stacks of 12 keys instead of 6, poison/fire shrines dropping potions in stacks instead of single ones. Another suggestion was making Fire Enchanted boss modifiers appear in red, Cold Enchanted in blue etc. Whole bunch of other small things like that which I can’t remember any more.

    • This is a Diablo fan site and the Diablo franchise was not created by Blizzard. Previous games weren’t developed by Blizzard.

      So, I can’t see the connection here. He can run a Diablo fan site while he hates Blizzard.

      BTW Blizzard is absolutely the most overrated video game company in the world.

      • What? The entirety of Diablo, Starcraft and Warcraft was created by Blizzard, they were called Silicone And Synapse before, but that was before even the Warcraft franchise, which predates both Diablo and Starcraft under the Blizzard name.

        If you’re thinking about Blizzard North, that was still Blizzard.

        • Not really. Blizzard North was originally Condor and set up by the Shaefer brothers et al. They really had a distinct and separate culture from Blizzard Irvine and generally didn’t get much interference at all.

    • If he’s anti-Blizzard for being constructive and not swallowing everything their PR tells him, then you’re a naive fanboy who can be fooled anything. Children believe everything corporate tells them.

      I’ll play Diablo III when it’s released and I’ll love it. I like Blizzard and how they make games but I’m not listening to their PR at all. That must be difficult for you to accept, that the world isn’t just black or white. 🙄

    • doh,I think Flux defends Blizzard Irvine to much,and they have proved they don’t deserve that

  4. Thanks for sharing with us how it used to be back then. I also appreciate the mostly impartial interpretation of how things are these days vs the past, especially given the fact that relations with Blizzard and this site has gone sour since then.

    That said, and like you mentioned, things today aren’t how they used to be. It could very well be that the D2 guys felt they needed to communicate (or rather, please) their hardcore fan base to create a successful sequel.

    Because of the huge popularity of Blizzard’s other games, and the huge expectations people have from them because of this, they are (quite possibly more than any other gaming company) put under a massive magnifying glass.

    Did Blizzard PR make mistakes since this game was announced? Yes (the first one being announcing the game a year+ too early).

    Could they have been more consistent and insightful with the information shared with the community? Yes.

    Will they learn from their mistakes and change something in future games? Probably not.

  5. What a great read Flux. Can almost see you getting excited just describing how things were back in the day from this article. Easy to see how some of you who have been in this business for the long haul are currently feeling disillusioned which comes across sometimes in the general comments made in these articles. Easy to understand though, the way things are managed now at Blizzard & the way fan sites are almost completely dismissed by the CMs these days. Take the recent comments about how this site was definitely making things up to drive traffic for instance.

    Anyways, keep up the good work everyone. 🙂

  6. i think its obvious blizz has changed so much in the last few+ years. i always said, its nothing special to try something for 100 times and see what works, its special to get it right the 3rd time. that is whats blizz is today. iterate iterate and iterate till you get it right. eventually anyone can get it right.

  7. Back in the ECTS days it was very apparent that Blizzard PR and the devs were aware that the hardcore fans were really important at conveying the developers ideas and messages. Who better than the enthused to spread the word. I remember going to ECTS with Elly and Gamespot and IGN were being given a demo, when we walked into the booth, IGN and Gamespot were asked to move aside so we could get the developer’s (Max Schaefer) time. How things have changed 🙂 

    Bring back Susan Sams’ (Paul Sams wife) to PR, she totally got it!

  8. Nah vicious or incensed might not be the right words, as english is not my native language, i’m Dutch, sorry.

    I’ve lurked this fansite for what feels like ages, but lately I sense some sadness/disliking blizz/ambigiousness in Flux’s writings, but that might be me.

    Again: I’m a huge fan of this fansite, and always appreciated Flux’s writing style anf opinions. Just wondered what going on lately or that it’s just me 🙂

    • I agree, Freekje.  Just be careful when you criticize the writers (especially Flux).  All they do is send you hate PM’s and delete all your threads.

    • It’s not just you. I get this feeling of bitterness in almost every post flux makes (althought i really did like this article and his reply above), i do not get this feeling from other authors of the site though. It’s like, even if he agrees on a change blizzard made he will still throw a little bit of poison against them justified as “just to express those who oppose” but it really is just bitterness against “the monstrous PR managed Blizzard corporation”. It’s like “he loves to hate blizzard” and it shows in almost every post. And if someone like you or me express the feeling we get from his posts, we are flamed to death from the enraged crowd that opposes to RMAH, online-only or whatever (when they are actually enraged because the game is just not released so they can burn unlimited hours like we will all do!) or just be told that it is our own idea.

      Well, I am reading this site before d2 was released and i do remember a different flux. One that would mostly see the positive side of things, apply some constructive criticism sometimes, but never such bitterness. Now it’s mostly constructive critisism and some poison. But then i am old and weird and maybe a bit nostalgic…

      • NOT a flame response, but I do think we all see things from different perspectives and can read into anyone’s words in different ways.  Personally, I don’t see this essay (or hardly any other news post Flux creates) as an attack toward Blizzard.  I see it more as a critique on the things they currently say and do.  Constructive criticism, yet ultimately ineffectual since most lines of communication with Blizzard are reserved for major media outlets and the uneducated masses.  You say you remember a different Flux, but you should also try and remember a different Blizzard, too.  One that was once willing to communicate, wouldn’t feed us useless PR swindle speak, and would react directly with their fans rather than ignore or side-step their biggest questions & concerns.
        Read into this message however you see fit.  And just to invalidate my position on how I’m not trolling you, I DO hate the online-only DRM.  Not because the game isn’t released, but because it’s unnecessary for my own personal play style.  I don’t care about playing with random people; on the occasions where I want to do multiplayer sessions, I’d team up with my friends.  The fact that Blizzard feels the need to host and moderate my game on their own servers is pointless when a game could just as easily be created via TCP/IP.  No hacks, no dupes, no bots, no whiners, no morons, no server down for maintenance, no hassles.  Plus, while the shared stash is an improvement over D2’s item storage issues, it’s still far too small for my taste.  Having options like ATMA and GoMule to alleviate multiple accounts and mules made item hoarding infinitely easier.  I fully understand and accept that reverse engineering could potentially weaken the online experience over b.net as it did in D2, but again, it wouldn’t affect me personally since I don’t hack, nor would I bother to ruin D3 on b.net since I’m entirely uninterested in their servers.
        …But that’s another topic entirely.
        To the point: I think this was a great read, Flux.  The times have changed.  Blizzard’s become massively popular, information can be shared worldwide in the blink of an eye, and, with so many people scrutinizing their every word, they simply can’t keep every fan happy and satiated.  That said, it’d be great if they were a little more forthcoming and brutally honest with us to quell our mistrust, misgivings, and our general displeasure with the pointless effbook, twitter, and 98% meaningless blue posts.  The public receives more contact from Blizzard than we did back in the days of D2, but when the majority of it is bum fluff then really I prefer the earlier days myself.

  9. Very nice man. Things sure have changed huh? I really wish Blizzard could go back to those old roots of interacting with their fans as they did with Blizz North. People can argue till their blue in the face to defend Blizzard and D3, but we all know who the true minds behind the Diablo games came from. I just really hope Jay and his crew can hack it. Just seems like their stuck in where they want to take the game, and gave up with refreshing it with new ideas back to more the D2 style. I do admit Jay had some huge shoes to fill.

  10. Don’t overthink it.  If you’re not the kind of person that can stand a totalitarian, ultra-corporate environment where ass-kissing is rewarded and innovation is punished, you won’t work in Irvine.  It isn’t just the sterile environment, or the fact that the job consists of making shinier iterations of ideas from the clinton administration, it is the creepy corporate-fascist ambience of Irvine itself.
    So, that is who is left a decade later – either people with no creative spark to begin, or people who need the money for personal reasons and are willing to crush whatever spark they had to get it.

  11. I think less communication would be better, at least until later on.

    It’s impossible for fans to not form an opinion about all of the information they share, and its difficult for that opinion to be meaningful without having played the game beyond the intro. 

    From a gamer’s perspective, many of their recent changes SEEM like a return to D2.  As a developer, their changes seem like a reasonable result of an iterative process that started with a clean slate. 

    I don’t know, I want to play the damn game already, like, SEVEN @$^#ing years ago!!! But at the same time, the Diablo franchise IS worth years of this torture.

    • I agree that less is more, and that begins with Blizzard pulling their heads out of their backsides and not announcing a game when it’s four years out. This has nothing to do with change over time, evolution of the company: they’ve been doing this since WC2. STOP DOING THAT.

      I realize they want feedback during the development process but feedback any time before 2010 was mostly worthless, now that we can look back on it.

      • Heck, even if they said in 2008 “yeah we’re working on D3 and its years out” that would have been fine.

        But instead they created giant PR bomb of excitement, and it’s only been frustrating as a fan for the last 3.5 years.  

        Brief moments of excitement with each new major article or announcement, followed by some crazy test of willpower to lower your own hopes of D3 releasing soon, and ending in frustration. 

        No wonder people are taking it badly.

  12. Blizzard is a massive company now. They have magnitudes of employees more than what they did back in the pre-WoW days and that game’s success had to mold the future of the company. They have so much coming in that they have to direct it.

    That influx of audience is also an influx of everything that goes with it and there has to be a way to moderate it. Blizzard didn’t have CMs back then because the position (and even the idea) didn’t exist. Their progression is fairly standard, in terms of public relations, to any other business that chooses to adapt along with today’s technology and social atmosphere.

    Basically, this was kind of bound to happen, and a lot of what you saw at E3 simply isn’t feasible today. It is for Bill Roper or someone at runic games because they still have a fledgling audience, likely mostly made up of us.

    Can you imagine what would happen if they put Jay Wilson at a booth at BlizzCon, fully accessible to everyone there?

    Although I have to say that their PR is disgusting and needs to be scrapped and re-worked, and I say this from personal experience. But there’s allowances that have to be made simply from the natural progression of one “era” to the next. It really is a much different world than what we grew up in, and what the world was like while D2 was in production.

  13. FB and Twitter don’t put extra pressure on the situation because they are crap at disseminating information. They’re marketing. They are a necessary aspect in media relations now. You HAVE to have a twitter account, HAVE to have a FB account, just as it quickly became the norm to have a website back in the 90’s.  But whereas websites can relay lots of information a FB update and tweet can’t.

    So while it’s easy to real off a list of the outlets when it boils down to it, it’s the same now as it was then. A website and exhibitions.

    • Yes, and although Bashiok likes to think that the “the window into the design process has been open all the way from the beginning” it’s still nothing like what D2 was. For example we knew what almost all of the areas of Act 1 looked like as it was being made. Then they started work on Act 2, and we eventually saw a lot of that. We saw a little bit of the early Act 3 jungles and the travincal, and nothing at all of Act 4.

      Contrast that with D3 where what we know about Act 1 is mostly from the beta and the Blizzcon demos, what we know about Act 2 is almost entirely from the Blizzcon demos (and screenshots) and practically nothing about Act 3.

      They could have easily set up a ‘reveal of act 1 environments and monsters’ feature every month, 6 weeks or 2 months over 2011 where they progressively revealed more content. Instead all we get is lame seen-before screenshots and concept art with no explanation. Then something genuinely new comes out at Blizzcon and that’s pretty much it.

  14. This sounds like what happened to Comic Con. It’s a lot harder to actually talk to the creative types than it used to be. Hell, they’ve pushed the actual comic books off to the fringes. If you wanted to buy a book, they were at one end, and if you wanted it signed by the writers/artists, it was at the other end of the convention floor, across a vast sea of non-comic related crap. Niche hobbies just get ruined by popularity. The punk rock kids were right all along.

    • Ironically, I was at the SDCC 3 or 4 times back in the 90s, since I lived in San Diego and had friends who were big into comics and other geek stuff and could get us free passes. (I wasn’t into comics or much of the stuff at the show, so it was just a couple of hours of curiosity for me.)  My clearest memories are of the upstairs rooms screening obscure anime to absolutely standing room only geeks. That was in the pre-Internet days when actual Japanimation was really hard to come by and you could only hope for a blurry copy of a copy of some friend’s VHS tape of Akira or Ninja Scroll.

  15. (sorry for big post)
    I know you concede a lot.  But trying to compare the Bliz of today vs the Bliz of then is just apples and oranges.  It’s just not realistic.  And I think you understate how much information we have been given over the last 4 years.   Did D2 give every other month updates in magazines for 3.5 years?   Probably more just towards the end of development right?   Where as we’ve been given access from the beginning of when they were ready to start showing tidbits of the game.   Pretend that they didn’t give us access to anything from 2008 to 2011.   How much information would it seem like we’d get if they just started PR for the game in 2011.
    WoW and Blizzcon changed EVERYTHING about Blizzard.   Their fan base simply grew to huge proportions.  You have to hide the developers (like you acknowledge) or they’d never get shit done.  Blizzcon also meant you have to provide something at the show worth attending year after year.  Thus smaller doses of info and earlier access to info was granted over a longer period of time.   WoW also raised expectations to levels that are very hard to succeed.  So you better believe they are going to take their time, iterate a million times, and make sure that what they release meets the enormous expectations we have put upon them. (and they have brought it on themselves by being so successful.  for better or worse)
    What about Runic Games though.  Would you say they’ve been as open as they were in D2’s day? I’d say no.  The amount of information they seem to be sharing is almost zilch.  At least their own site is really sparse of information.  I remember trying to search a few months ago for info on how dev was going and couldn’t find squat. (via their site or google)   I couldn’t even find any reasons as to why they’ve been so badly delayed.  (their press meet you went to resolved a lot of that but still)
    I think times have changed for larger studios.  The experience of following the development just isn’t going to be great.  They aren’t going to release info just because you asked.  They don’t need to for one especially when we clamour for the news.   We used to get game magazines because that was the only way to get info. And a magazine was dedicated to many titles.  So doing PR for a title was a lot more challenging and they had to actively work to get good PR.  Whereas now, its just so easy.  Especially if you are large.   So it takes a lot less effort.

    Indie dev’s on the other hand…They’d be freaking thrilled and more than happy to be interviewed.  Getting press as a little guy is just a really hard thing.  Where as Blizz has to beat people off with sticks.
    In the end, I think its a matter of perspective.  I didn’t follow D2’s  development at all.  I just saw one day that it was being released in a month and got very excited about it.   D3 I’ve followed since 2008 when it was announced.  And it was then that I found your site and started visiting.   How many people have followed as closely as us?  A very small few I’d wager.  To them, any tidbit of information is probably much more exciting than it is to us.  My bro for example took a much smarter approach.  I told him about it in 2008 and he was like, wake me when I can buy it.  He wanted to avoid the anxiety of the wait and he has done so very successfully.   He has nothing to be disappointed about as a result.  Kinda wish I had taken that approach.

  16. IMO rather than just hearing Flux’s nostalgic viewpoint on this topic, I thought this was presented in a very realistic, honest, and thoughtful way. The only thing I want to hear now are his thoughts on what (if any) of the old Blizz style of communication could still be incorporated in by the D3 devs to improve things.

  17. Blizzard employees are like rockstars. The vociferous fans eat up their words and treat them as people in a higher caste.

    But you see, it is not the employees I dislike – it’s the symbiotic nature between fanclub and company. This might seem odd coming from a writer for a Diablo 3 fansite. This is very similar to how I feel about Christianity – I think it’s a great philosophy, but I hate the fanclub. With popularity comes regulation, and security, and exclusivity. Everything has to become a secret to protect company integrity. Thus is the bane of being high-profile.

    When you have dinner with these people (relatively recently I had dinner with the lead devs/community managers at The Yard House in Irvine) you realize how real they are. They all have interests outside of their work – and it varies enormously. My conversation ranged from relationships and their kids to game design of Minecraft. The thing is that people don’t see that side of them – only the select handful that are allowed to breach the walls of PR. And it’s a shame.

    I think the “a day in the life of” articles were possibly the most “real” thing I’ve seen written in a long while – and that wasn’t even about games themselves. If you were to meet Bashiok (Micah), I think many people would change their minds about the man behind the waffle. All of these employees are very real, very imaginative, and very emotional people – about their careers and their personal lives.

    Anyways, I write this because I think current Blizzard devs and community managers aren’t appreciated fully because everybody judges what they see, and what they don’t see is the individual behind the media.

    • Agreed, all the devs I have met over the years have been great and Bashiok gets a lot of stick and he’s a really nice guy as I found out at lunch with him a couple of years back. Not that I should be surprised at that of course 🙂

    • lol if you think Christianity is a great philosophy you obviously haven’t read the bible at all.

  18. “I preferred the good old days, but then I’m nostalgic and weird.”
    This line skunks up the whole essay.

  19. I enjoyed reading this, but more as a nostalgic re-visiting of the good ‘ol days than a very realistic criticism of today.

    If Blizz North had never folded and remained a subsidiary development house within Blizzard, we’d be getting close to the exact same flow of information.  You seem to have this fantasy that Roper and Schaefer are somehow “different” and would somehow not be “corrupted” by the evil Irvine PR monster – wrong.  This is big-boy game development for a massive, exponentially bigger audience than during D2, and that’s just how it is.  Don’t live in the past, being the grumpy old guy, live in the present, take joy in what we get and look forward to release when it comes.

    • I’m inclined to agree that Flux’s tone has slightly changed, and while there is no open viciousness, I do happen to read a lot and the “tone” of any article is instantly obvious to anybody who has a habit of reading…and this does strike me as not vicious, but not unbiased either. Slightly vindictive towards Blizzard IMO.
      Also I dont think we’re helping them as fans, no matter how loyal/devoted to Diablo we may be! All we basically do is moan and speculate. We let all sorts of discussion carry on in random threads on the forum but we never put any of the likely conclusions/options on the main page, which I think we should!
      My fundamental point is: WHY WOULD THEY WANT TO REGULARLY GIVE US NEW INFO? See what happens whenever they do it? All whining, pessimistic, I-want-Bliz-North-back rants and the like that fans put up on the forums. So naturally they would get fed up of feeding us every development when they know its only going to make us crazy. I know I would if I was in their place!

  20. It’s annoying when they put a PR-spin on announcements instead of just being honest with their reasons for changes, no offline-play is an obvious example. Their intentions with most announcements is purely marketing and it seems to me that they don’t hesitate to bend the truth in order to make it sound better for the masses. I don’t blame the messengers(CMs) for it but I’m skeptical about any information coming from Blizzard these days.
    Every time I see a new announcement for D3 the first thing I think to myself is, are they being completely transparent and honest here or is there a PR-spin to this announcement? It’s impossible to prove or disprove any information most of the time since only they know what is really going on at the office in Irvine.

    Unfortunately I don’t have blind faith anymore that every Blizzard announcement is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

  21. Weren’t we also getting a screenshot of the week straight from Blizzard by 1999?  Of new stuff (more than one area)?  Am I imagining that?  A picture said 1,000 words and provided awesome discussion points.  Just imagine if they released a screenshot from Act 2 each Friday until launch.  That way of doing things is history.

    • Yes, there’s really no reason that they have kept as much of Act 1 and Act 2 as secret as they have. Well, they have a reason, and I think it’s utter shit and bollocks.

  22. You kids make too big of a deal out of nothing. Don’t you see all this is a product of the fans and their constant requests? Blizzard as a publicly traded company is trying to run a business that happens to make video games. Dealing with us fans is just one aspect of their business. Most of the fans are so focus on the development and the details of the game. Although it is important, Blizz has so many other things to worry about on top of this, and they all affect the ultimate release date of the game. Things that a regular fan does not care about, like logistics, operations, politics, legal, finance, marketing, etc..

    I think it is great that they have allowed fans to interact with the development process and have actually accepted many ideas from the public. However, let blizz do what they do best, develop games that become blockbusters.

    Just remember, it is just a game to us, but to the hundreds of employees at blizz, it is their life at stake. So please, put this into perspective.

  23. We can all go on about this and that but its really just that we are just tired and want to play the new game.  For me, Diablo is all I play/played.  We’re long overdue.  LONG OVERDUE!! Thats at the heart of any nerdrage- real or perceived.  The article which is nicely written as usual simply points out facts and some observations from someone who has the experience/wisdom of that time.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I would probably care less if I were into a game other than Diablo.  Ironically, I was into CoH which is another jay wilson title but that has run its course due to the deteriorating community and lack of updates/sequels.  This is the best Diablo site there is (including blizz) so keep up the good work!

  24. To make it clear: i like this site, its the only fansite I read and that has been true for quite some years now already. I like the articles Flux writes, I like how he reasons and voices his opinions.

    But something has changed in the past few months. Maybe bitterness is the right word.

    BUT, I can also partly understand how he feels ( or how I think he feels :-P)

    Blizzard is a bit like a rockband that loses some of it’s charms when playing in stadiums instead of small halls: arctic monkeys etcetc. I sometimes feel like there are no people at blizz any more that make games cus its their hobby, but do it as a job instead…

  25. omguh see wuh happens when they do it people cry moan ect..

    PEOPLE ARE PAYING ATTENTION TO D3, thats ALL THAT MATTERS TO BLIZZ! Any attention is good in their eyes because both them and I know Blizzard will make an awesome Diablo game. 8)

  26. I know some are jumping on you Flux for maybe sounding negative.  I’ve gotten a bit sick of the negative sounding posts myself.  However this essay didn’t come across that way to me.  It’s well thought out content that stirs conversation. Thanks.  +1

  27. This really is a well written article. If it comes off a little bit anti-Blizzard at present, it’s because that’s how any longtime fan of their games is bound to react given the history cited in the article. No one in this day and age wants less access to anything – the Internet has increased everyone’s access into mutliple aspects of society. People assume that will get more access these days than before or at least break even. Blizzard has their philosophy on how to make games – they’ve got every right to have it and have produced a lot of great games to back up their position. What I think rubs a lot of people the wrong way is that Blizzard acts like only their opinion of their process matters and that anyone who’s critical of it lacks the intelligence or insight to understand that Blizzard’s always right when it comes to how they develop their games. I feel that the community that follows the process has every right to be critical of decisions made by Blizzard throughout the game’s progress. Every bad decision made in the development process shouldn’t be explained away as just being a part of the iterative process. The process itself isn’t license for the developers to make bad decisions without anyone criticizing those decisions. It would just be nice to hear someone at Blizzard take responsibility for bad decisions made during development. None of us are perfect, but all of us like people in general who take responsibility for their actions far more than those who make excuses to explain their mistakes away. People taking less responsibility for their actions are something else that’s changed over time in our society in recent years. Perhaps Blizzard is just another example of an unattractive evolution in our society.

  28. Blizzard is too big for their own good. I been a fan of Blizzard games since almost the beginning and back then when they were small they were much more likeable. Now that success has gone to their head and the egos have grown, they have become their own worst enemy in the eyes of the public . I’m a fan of the old Blizzard crew like Jeff Strain, James Phinney, Mike O’Brien, Eric Flannum, Pat Wyatt and the Blizzard North crew. Those were all top notch people that played a large role in Blizzard’s success. I’m not sure what these replacements are doing besids milking D3 developement…

  29. I had a wall poster in frame with that barb [sewers act 2] on my wall in my room for 12 years, and i had it even before that, even before D2 itself released, I still have it after i moved but it’s not hanging anymore – didn’t match the interior.

  30. BTw i forgot to mention, ArenaNet is a studio that operates pretty much in the way old Blizz did. For that i love them [yeah yeah OT about GW2!]

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