Diablo 3’s Chat Channels, Problems and Solutions

Diablo III’s chat interface, recently revealed in DiabloWikiBeta Patch 13, met with a harsh reception. While most fans were happy that some sort of public chat was going to be included with the game, especially given the repeated official denials of such a feature, that happiness perished quickly when the chat was sighted.

Battle.Net Chat for Diablo 3While the Diablo III chat feature does include useful controls and options, including as the ability to inspect other player’s characters, see their achievements, add them to your Friends List, or create a game with them, those controls aren’t well-documented and don’t leap to the eye. What does show first is the tiny window that can’t be dragged or resized, the plain white text, and the awkward lower-right corner location. The system is actually fairly-robust in function, but it looks terrible at a glance, and lacks most of the formatting options that Internet users have grown to expect over the last decade or two of online chat applications.

The real problem, I think, is what fans want is not at all what Blizzard aimed to provide. The Diablo III chat system is, much like the (unpopular) Starcraft 2 one before it, all about facilitating gameplay. Blizzard designed it to enable players to quickly and easily join games together, and it should work adequately for that. The problem, and the source of most of last weekend’s negative reaction, is that we players were expecting a chat system that would serve as a communication device. Something akin to IRC, with features to support communication. A large display, color-coded text, chat functions, emotes, etc.

As a result we’ve got a clash between what Blizzard aimed to provide, and what their consumers desired. Thus… conflict, confusion, disappointment, and anger.

Refer to the video below for a clear look at the new system in action, and click through for the meat of this article. It covers the history of chat channels in Diablo III and Battle.net chat in general, the sorry state of SC2’s current chat, and concludes with some suggestions and requests for player input on the sorts of feature changes that could improve the current beta-version of Diablo III’s B.net chat.

A Brief History of Diablo 3’s Chat

Battle.Net Chat for Diablo 2
This is adapted from the DiabloWiki DiabloWikiChat Channels article, which goes into more detail and has more visuals.

October 2010: Bashiok confirms that SC2 chat channels are under development and that the tech will be ready for D3’s.

January 2011: Starcraft 2 gets chat channels, 6 months after the game’s launch.

September 2011: Bashiok confirms that Diablo III’s chat channels are in and working.

February 6, 2012: Bashiok says no public chat channels in D3 and explains why public chat is a bad feature we don’t want anyway.

February 8, 2012: After two days of massive fan rage, Bashiok says he was wrong, and that public chat channels were in the game after all and that he’d just somehow not noticed.

February 18, 2012: Chat channels debut with Beta Patch 13, and are immediately disliked by most.

Is Starcraft 2’s “B.net 2.0” Diablo 3’s Future?

Battle.Net 2.0 Chat
Let’s hope not, since most Starcraft 2 players dislike the chat channels and other social features on their version of Battle.net 2.0, (disgruntled SC2 players often call it B.net 0.2.) and many attribute the moribund state of the online SC2 community directly to Bnet’s lacking social tools.

Blizzard did not want to include any chat channels in SC2, and only agreed to add them in after massive fan outcry. Chat was patched into the game in January 2011, seven months after release, and while fans were initially overjoyed to have them, that reaction soon turned to despair and desperation. The system is now largely disused.

For a depressing example of current player sentiment, see this recent 26-page thread about the current state of the Starcraft 2 online community. It dominates the Battle.net SC2 forums, there’s not a single Blue reply in the whole thing, and the hundreds of player replies show great agreement that the current chat system sucks. The OP is a copy of a detailed post on the Team Liquid SC2 site. It makes a strong case but is much too long to copy here. However this comment from another user is quite typical, and it succinctly sums up the general opinion.

Speaking from a person who honestly has no real life friends that are interested in starcraft, I can say the only reason I don’t log in myself anymore is because of the current iteration of battle.net. Its so cold and unwelcoming, and I don’t mean the players. I have almost no way to actually make friends, meet people, or have any kind of discussion. Why in gods name would the chat boxes be so tiny and lame? The online UI, frankly, is just very poor. I cannot for the life of me figure out why you would attempt to fix something that wasn’t broken in the first place.

Starcraft 2 PTR ChatIt seems that Blizzard learned something from their SC2 experiment, as illustrated by the public chat channels they are including in Diablo III. However, as “tiny and lame” were some of the most common adjectives used to describe the Diablo III chat interface… it’s clear that all is not yet well.

(See this post for an annotated gallery of the chat interfaces for every Blizzard title.)

Suggestions for Diablo III Chat Improvements

As I said in the intro, I think the problem is a divergence of goals. Fans want a chat interface and channel system that’s useful for communication and socializing, which is why almost all of the complaints about the current system is how hard it is to use. The window is tiny, the text is plain white, there aren’t formatting options, the window can’t be resized or repositioned, etc. Additionally, the sins of the SC2 chat system are assumed to carry over to D3’s, so fans are assuming there will be no support for guilds, no private channel permanence or mod tools, etc.

It’s not surprising that fans feel that way, since Blizzard didn’t design the system to support communication and socializing. They spent their time and effort enabling features such as quick game creation, Friends List integration, account/character/achievements inspection, etc. The chat system has a lot of powerful features, but it’s not user friendly and it looks like a cell phone text message interface from about 2003. It appears that Blizzard designed it for quick chat and short messages, rather than considering that some players would want to spend hours in the chat, just shooting the breeze and making new friends to game with.

Thus many, many fans are complaining that it’s not more like Diablo II’s chat interface, and I’ve seen dozens of fans wondering why it couldn’t have been more like Warcraft III’s chat system, which many feel was the pinnacle of Battle.net chat interfaces.

That’s an easy question to answer…. because Blizzard didn’t design the SC2 or D3 chat systems to be like War3’s. That one was old school style and meant for conversations and socializing. For reasons unknown, Blizzard clearly does not want us spending time chatting over Battle.net. They want chat to exist only as a way to create new games and get back to playing, and they’re designing their chat systems to support that, and little else. Hence all the matchmaking systems in SC2, which they assured us (pre-release) would be so good that no one would want or need a chat system.

Diablo 3 Chat Fan Made ExampleDiablo III doesn’t go as far in that direction as SC2 did, but when you look at the lack of an option to create and name public games, the anonymous Auction House, the automated game joining systems, their plans for random-player matchups and hidden PvP ratings for the Arena, etc, it’s pretty clear that the chat channels are not an aberration. It’s all part of Blizzard’s redesign and redirection of Battle.net. The only problem is that many (most?) fans don’t seem to want what Blizzard is trying to give us. Hence all the issues with the SC2 B.net experience, and this current D3 chat channel imbroglio.

Another issue that might be worth debating… was Bashiok correct in his quickly retracted explanation as to why public chat channels are no good?

As far as having open public channels, there’s far more negative to them than positive and we maintain a stance that creating an open chat environment without a social structure behind it is an invitation for moderation and support disasters. Most people that want chat channels though are referring to guild channels, or otherwise channels they themselves can operate and choose to invite others to, and we see those as completely valid forms of chat (there’s a social structure backing the channel). As I said, back in September, it’s unlikely to be anything we attain for ship, but the social group-type chat features are still very much a desire for the future.

I’ve seen a lot of public chat, on B.net and elsewhere, and honestly, most of what Bashiok said was 100% correct. Unmoderated chat channels are generally a wretched hives of scum and villainy, with enough profanity, racism, sexism, homophobia, and generally idiotic flaming that you often feel a need to wash out your brain with bleach after more than a few minute’s exposure.

You may disagree. Whether you do or not, should we accept unmoderated chat on Diablo III? Why can’t Blizzard have some of their hundreds of CS staff spend an hour a day skimming chat and banning spam bots and other deserving parties? This isn’t Diablo II, where people can just hack up another CD-key in 30 seconds. As Eliminator (IIRC) argued on last week’s Diablo Podcast, those CS guys would pay for themselves in no time, if everyone they banned had to buy another copy of the game to get back into the chat.

However you feel about the benefits or drawbacks of public chat channels, I think almost all of us can agree that the current look of the Diablo III chat channels leaves a lot to be desired. Assuming Blizzard is open to making changes and improvements to the Diablo III chat interface (this is NOT a safe assumption, given the untouched SC2 chat system, despite over a year of constant fan entreaties for improvements) what would fix it? Or at least make it better?

Diablo 3 Chat Fan Made ExampleAssuming they are open to making changes, what do you want to see fixed? I’ve read numerous fan suggestions, and even seen some mockups of an improved Diablo III chat interface. You see one to the right, and while it’s an overcrowded aesthetic atrocity, it does show the kind of thing fans seem to want. A much larger chat window, easy visibility for the names of the posters, colors in the text, a D2 style visual display of everyone’s character, and more.

Exactly where and how all of those elements would be displayed is open to debate, but at the very least it seems like the Diablo III chat window should be much larger, resizeable, and draggable. It’s ironic that a company that takes so long to do everything in game dev, while they iterate, reiterate, and sometimes de-iterate back to square one, would release such a rough-looking, aesthetically-displeasing chat window, even during the beta test.

What do you guys think? What do you want to see changed in the Diablo III chat interface? And do you think there’s any point in even asking, given how the unpopular SC2 chat has remained virtually unchanged since its introduction over a year ago?

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26 thoughts on “Diablo 3’s Chat Channels, Problems and Solutions

  1. I know this is not diablo 2 but I want to see the diablo 2 chat room for d3, improved so there will be less or no bots. Is that possible?

    • so what ? i think the concerns are reasonable , and i dont think that improvements are hard to achieve , but for some reason Blizzard is particulary stubborn about that topic. and if not for criticism and like this we would probably not have chat channels at all , just like sc2 at launch.

      • So – I’m going to put it out there that the vast majority of people who play SC2 don’t care about the chat channels – and that this will be the case with D3 also. This is not because they are not fully featured – but because people spend their time actually playing…

        If you really want to have a fully featured IRC-a-like chat client when you’re playing, run the game in windowed mode and mIRC alongside it. Why expect Blizzard to re-invent the wheel, I’d rather they spent the development time on actual gameplay improvements, like tweaking the skill system.

        • “I’d rather they spent the development time on actual gameplay improvements, like tweaking the skill system.”
          Ha! Fat chance!
          “So – I’m going to put it out there that the vast majority of people who play SC2 don’t care about the chat channels – and that this will be the case with D3 also. This is not because they are not fully featured – but because people spend their time actually playing…”
          Try saying that to anyone who is organising a SC2 tournament. Which, you know… is like the heart of that game.

          • Agree about the lack of tournament support – but I don’t think the best solution to this is a fully featured chat system.

          • @Xeodus: Well, having a chat channel with all tournament participants so you can swiftly start matches would be a good start. But that’s been discussed before on TL, so lets leave it at this.

        • What you are not accounting for is that in SC2, there are no items, no real need for players to interact. In the diablo series there is an economy, the ability to interface, display items, and negotiate (human to human) is integral to the success of an item driven game. With this in hand, one could argue that the ability to chat with other players, on a grand scale, is one of the most important features the game must have. 

          • “What you are not accounting for is that in SC2, there are no items, no real need for players to interact.”
            Except for organising games in team/guild enviroment, discussing the meta game, organising some custom map matches, interacting between each other in group matches or just talking about nothing.  Yeah, no need whatsoever. 🙄
            Since when including a proper chat is a topic of great discussion? I mean it is obvious that having a decent chat is standard. Not to mention, you delay the realse of game to put in MORE FEATURES, not less. As mentioned before – adding Chat isn’t adding act 5 or another 2 classes. 😐

          • Although not a perfect system – the Auction House does deal pretty well with the demands for chat so people can trade items.

        • i also think that your argumentation is circular , there is not much chatting right. but thas BECAUSE the chatchannels are shitty , and there is so much room for improvements especially in combination with game invites / tournaments. besides ; those demands are hardly “reinventing” anything , its all there why is Sc2 and D3 unable to do what Wc3 allready does in addition to the features that are in Sc2 / D3 ?
          besides i doubt that the game design team has much to do with chat channels , thats abit of Ui design and mostly programming …

        • “So – I’m going to put it out there that the vast majority of people who play SC2 don’t care about the chat channels – and that this will be the case with D3 also.”
          Ok, but the vast majority of people who played D2 never went past normal difficulty. So therefore Blizzard should not have developed Inferno? It isn’t a good excuse to skimp on development if it’s integral to your core audience. You can’t just design a game through metrics alone or else you wind up with zero depth.

  2. Great post.   Sc2 actually chats are a mess, I hope with all my heart that does not repeat the same story in diablo 3, although until now …. if not arranged that crap, I doubt it’s different now.

  3. I’m not in beta, but to be honest I thought the little chat interface in Elly’s video looked pretty nice.  Lots of  tools that can used.  Maybe it’s something I have to use to despise?

    • “Maybe it’s something I have to use to despise?”
      I actually find the chat to be totally sufficient for my uses. The only ONE thing I would change is color coding names. Once the chats were moving along it was a bit tough visually to delineate posts and posters, mine and theirs – all just mashing together. But I don’t despise it. It’s so full-featured aside from the color that it will make finding games together really easy.

  4. The new interface does carry the sins of Starcraft 2 chat channels. It’s partly why I’ve quit playing Starcraft 2 some time ago. Variety of custom games and honest hours of chat are what keep me going back to Battle.net 1.0 (be it D2, SC1, or WC3) and not the repetitive farming, melee maps, and endless DOTA (as fun at those three can be.)

    I’m afraid that productive flare of mystery and creativity that was the Battle.net 1.0 community is being carefully molded into something against it’s own will: a robot if you will. Cold, calculating, and refined.. a former shell of itself and a product of someone else, not their own.

    I prefer the last screenshot with a large chat channel to the left and news on-top. Lovely achievements to gloat over in the bottom right and my avatar standing valiantly as ever just above. For the first time in a long time I went “Wow!” That quickly faded when I realized it was fan-made. My heart sank even further when Blizzard has no intention to take constructive criticism, even in something they called a “Beta.”

    Perhaps we have different opinions on workflow, but over the years I’ve determined the below:
    1) Determine the business risk/problem/need
    2) Define the requirement/objective/outcome/deliverable
    3) Capture and record how procedures work now
    4) Formalise this as documented repeatable procedures
    5) Get stakeholders to agree that’s how it works
    6) Design and develop a new version
    i. Ask those who do it how they would improve it to meet the desired business outcome
    ii. Use theory as guidance (e.g. ITIL) and ask “experts” how they would improve it
    iii. Decide improvements that are SMART: Specific Measurable Attainable Relevant Timebound
    iv. Check with architects that the planned changes fit with the overall framework / architecture / design for services, processes and technology
    v. Write a new procedure to include the improvements.
    vi. Make required technology changes needed to support it
    vii. Perform a walkthrough or live trial with users. An assessment is made of progress and reported to management.
    viii. If and only if there are efficiency or effectiveness problems that could be fixed with better technology, make technology improvements
    ix. Repeat as necessary
    7) Once accepted, implement: testing, training, release…

    Many of these Blizzard just simply phases out and ignores. As not just a consumer, but a professional in IT themselves, I strongly urge Blizzard to take another look at their workflow.

  5. My SC2 addicted friends all use there steam accounts to chat instead of the chat features in SC2.

    I’m sure Blizz would not be happy if this became the thing to do for D3 players. 

  6. Thing that i notice most, from the video, is why other people should be able to see my playtime on my characters when inspecting an account, I really dislike this. (Yes I don’t want to get flamed for being a nolifer, just because i have thousands of hours time spent playing D3 ^^)
    As for the rest of the chat stuff I don’t really care, only used the trade chat every now and then in D2, and most of my trades was done on the dii.net forum anyway. Also the AH will remove a lot of the use for a trade chat anyway.

  7. Hey cool, you used my mockup at the end 😀
    I made newer/better versions, but you’d have to find them on your evil arch-enemy fan site :/

  8. no bots??? dude the channel bot was my favorite thing about d2! me and my friends had hours of fun adding quotes and doing trivia while waiting in between duel games and cs runs. i miss d2s private channels SO MUCH. d3 is a disgusting joke compared to d2 so far:/ as for spam bots trying to msg u stuff you should be able to report them and have them actually banned. too bad reporting in most games means absolutely nothing.

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