Diablo 3 Developer Interview: Reaper of Souls and D3 Lessons Learned


There’s a new interview on PC Gamer with Diablo 3 / Reaper of souls developers. Lead Content Designer DiabloWikiKevin Martens and Level Designer Laura Paolilli field questions cover D3’s rough launch, DiabloWikiLoot 2.0 changes, Reaper of Souls features, the shutdown of the DiabloWikiAuction House, and lessons learned from D3 that led to the many improvements we see in D3v2 and will see many more of in Reaper of Souls.

PC Gamer: What else have you learned since the launch of Diablo III?
Martens: I think the randomness thing. We should have made everything random from the start. So the reason we didn’t have random exterior zones was because we wanted the game to have more of that real RPG feel; that the world was real and had a sense of place. And like the loot problem, until Loot 2.0 was really dialing in, it was hard for us to figure out what to do with the auction house; it was the same with the randomness. Until the other aspects that made the game more RPG and more connected to the world were dialed in… you know, we’ve gotten better at storytelling since Diablo III; the world map that comes with Adventure Mode makes Sanctuary feel a lot more real just because you have a map of it, if nothing else, and that’s a relatively simple solution to the problem. All of that made us comfortable with introducing randomized exterior zones as well.

Paolilli: Yeah, and that’s actually one of my favorite things that we’ve done. With the map you have that sense of place, whereas before I think the environments looked great, but you didn’t really have that sense of how everything is connected. And I think the map and the ability to go anywhere and do anything helps.

Martens: Dynamic Difficulty is another great example of that. We had our old-school linear difficulty that was inherited from the past, where you had to play through normal, nightmare, and so on. Dynamic Difficulty, which we made for Adventure Mode, allowed us to break that dichotomy for the game as well because otherwise we would have had to have a version of a monster for every possible level. So if you played Act II, we would have to have a Level 31, 32, 33… all the way up to 70 version of every monster for it to be fun. The overall Dynamic Difficulty system removed that burden and let us focus on a grander vision for our gameplay.

The randomization is a good point, and it was something I really noticed during the Reaper beta test. You saw it most clearly in Nephalem Rifts, with levels all shuffled up in order, and usually redesigned and resized as well. Some of the outdoor areas were identical, if they were towns or all designed (like Wortham) but many others were very randomized. In Rifts I saw dozens of totally different sizes and layouts for the Dhalgur Oasis, and that was fun for itself, and also as a surprising change after seeing the one same layout so many times previously in Diablo 3.

The question about the Auction House and Loot 2.0 is a good starting point for debate as well, so check out the interview and share your thoughts in comments.

PC Gamer: Not too long ago, Blizzard announced that it was shutting down the auction house. Is it fair to characterize it as a failure at this point?

Martens: It did what it was intended to do in one way, which was to make trading a safe place to happen without trading scams and other ripoffs. However, it had a very bad unintended consequence of making trading the best way to get items in the game. The fact is that the most fun way for the vast majority of people is to kill monsters and take gears from their cold, dead claws. Trading became very easy. The auction house lowered the barrier of entry so much that it became the best way to get items, and ultimately players will do whatever is smartest. They will find the golden path and do what is most efficient.

You should play the game to get gear to kill the monsters. You shouldn’t get gear to kill monsters because you will get bored too quickly. It stole people’s reward curve is essentially what it did; it made it very easy for them to do it. So trading isn’t a bad way to get items, but if it negates playing the game, then we’ve made a huge mistake. And we did, which is why we’re shutting down the auction house.

Kevin’s not here to argue with, but I’d follow up on that if I were doing the interview. The issue with Diablo 3 wasn’t the AH, it was the item system that made it much too hard to find good gear, compounded by the fact that there were so few useful affixes, that the classes wanted almost all the same affixes, that everything proc from crit change, that there weren’t any interesting legendary properties, that there were no bonuses for self finding, that nothing (until crafting) was account bound, etc. (Many/most of those issues are fixed or at least greatly-improved in Reaper of Souls.)

Sure, it all goes hand in hand, but it’s not like D3 had this ideal item system and then the AH somehow ruined that. On the contrary, the AH was what made D3 viable for very many players, since trading was really the only way to accumulate high quality gear, and the AH was a spectacular trading system, if you’re grading success by how easy is a free flow of items. So yeah, blame the Auction House, but that particular tool is being made a scapegoat for larger systemic issues.

In fact, with the D3v2 economy and item system and the evolution of it in Reaper of Souls, I don’t really see why they need to remove the AH. All the big gems, crafting mats, and the best gear is BoA. The AH would do nothing but facilitate trading Rare items, which are never end game quality gear except maybe in jewelry. (And only there until you get a really good legendary roll.) I think the shutdown of the AH is basically a political/PR tool at this point, as Kevin’s reply stresses.

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  1. “I think the shutdown of the AH is basically a political/PR tool at this point”

    That’s certainly the case to some extent. However, I don’t think the AH is just a scapegoat, it’s negative influence on the game was very real.

    When you pit a random drop system against an effortless one click trading system like the AH you can’t have drop rates that would be good enough to make finding your own loot the more efficient choice. Loot 2.0 wouldn’t have solved this issue by itself, trading simply had to be changed. Now, I’m not saying that BoA is the ideal solution because I don’t think that, but I absolutely agree with the devs that trading had to become more restricted for the item hunt to become more rewarding.

    • Yeah, that’s the real “chicken or the egg” argument, and we’ve had it on the podcast a few times. The AH had to exist because drop rates were terrible, and drop rates were terrible because the AH existed. You couldn’t remove just one or the other, so RoS removes both….

  2. The item system was a problem, but the AH had a major role in pretty much keeping the system stagnant for a very long time. Making it easy to find the gear you wanted essentially patched over the problem – that most of the gear you found sucked.

    The funny thing is, the way items rolled wasn’t really that different in Diablo 2 than it was in D3V. Diablo 2 would often drop a lot of crappy item levels with crappy affixes with crappy rolls. However, those items were dropping in a very different game. When you leveled in D2, your character got more powerful. When you level in D3, it pretty much just allows you to wear better gear. This isn’t so bad unless better gear doesn’t actually drop.

    They pretty much carried over the ‘full randomness’ of gear without taking into account how difficult that makes it for your character to progress. It works out pretty fine at the lower levels, but stalls out very quick, and only gets worse the higher you get. Finding a item that represents just the “average” expected for your current level gets harder and harder as you approach 60. A level 45 character who is running around in items they found at level 30 gets frustrated. The auction house gave them an out. If the AH didn’t exist, the situation would not have lasted NEARLY as long as it did.

    Crafting as an alternative to the AH? Don’t make me laugh. Getting a viable item with crafting would take about 20x and much money and about 100x as much time as it would take to search for a cheap item to fill that slow on the AH.

    I leveled up a lot of characters, and the situation was often the same. Finding gear and crafting was fun at the lower levels, in the mid levels things slowed down very quick, as you got higher, it was pretty much “AH or farm below your level for an excessive amount of time or roll a new character or quit Diablo”.

    Loot 2.0 is how things should have been from the beginning, it sucks that it took them that long to figure that out.

    Would a AH work fine with a loot 2.0 system? Maybe, but I don’t really want to find out. Good riddance.

    • Actually the drops in D3 are not the same as D2. There’s one big difference: in D2, high-level affixes had ranges of stats like +50-100 strength, but in D3v1 almost all of the stats were 1 to x, where x got larger as the affix strength increased. But this meant that to get an item that had +60 strength or more, only 40% of rolls would have it, but in D2 80% of rolls would.

      The fact that they have now gone back to tight affixes ranges in RoS shows how stupid this initial design decision was.

      • I forgot to add: it’s not so bad if you’re only talking about 1 affix, but of course we aren’t. You want to get 4 or 5 good rolls on items, and in D3 with good rolls only happening individually say 40% of the time, vs D2 those same good rolls happening 80% of the time, to get 5 good rolls your odds in D3 are 1 in 98 drops, vs 1 in 3 in D2. Obviously my numbers are far off reality, but the difference in the odds is phenomenal due to the compounding probabilities.

  3. lessons learned? they learned absolutely nothing.

  4. Martens:
    I think the randomness thing. We should have made everything random from the start. So the reason we didn’t have random exterior zones was because we wanted the game to have more of that real RPG feel; that the world was real and had a sense of place. And like the loot problem, until Loot 2.0 was really dialing in, it was hard for us to figure out what to do with the auction house; it was the same with the randomness.

    Martens:
    Dynamic Difficulty is another great example of that. We had our old-school linear difficulty that was inherited from the past, where you had to play through normal, nightmare, and so on.

    Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus, Germanicus, The God:
    Aut disce, aut discede. You learned nothing. If you thought that playing static maps ad infinitum, with exact same monsters at the exact same location each time would be *fun*, you were wrong. If you *learned* that Adventure Mode (present from the start in D2, but no hype around it) is needed – well, it was there already. If you *claim* that randomness is key to success, why then there are semi-random drops now, Mystic to *fix* good items to be better? Randomness in itemization is significantly less now than at launch – as it should be, while map randomness – nonexistant in D3V is appearing in RoS? The God declares you a noob developer, now and forever, bestowing minor curse on you – from now on you’ll learn just on own mistakes, not other peoples wrongs, not other people rights.

    • Adventure Mode was *not* in D2. Putting aside the new bounties and rifts, D2 did not have a mode with all waypoints automatically open and with no quests needing to be completed. In D2 you were required to play the quest in full 3 times to get to the end. Adventure Mode kills that old idea dead. Good riddance.

      • Not called as such, but even frail mortal memory could remember waypoints with access to *all* other waypoints, on all the acts. No quests, once you finish the game. Contradicting The God is futile.

  5. I think they learned the wrong lessons. PC players don’t want to play a single player console version; that’s what the console is for. But at least they learned not to take half-measures anymore; want to strangle d2jsp to death? BIND ALL THE THINGS.

  6. I am very skeptical about loot 2.0, rares still seem overall pretty bad.

    • Rares in Loot 2.0 are meant to be stop-gap items. They are very common, you can gamble them in huge quantities, they are cheap to enchant, etc. But they’re capped at lower values than Sets/Legendaries, which also get special affixes and bonuses.

      Basically Rares are meant to be easy to gear up with when you hit 60 (or 70 in RoS) to make your char “good enough” until you can move into higher quality of gear via legs. This design theory can be argued against, but that’s how they’ve got it set up now.

  7. QUOTE

    I am very skeptical about loot 2.0, rares still seem overall pretty bad.

    If someone has pretty much the best possible gear in loot 1.0, then loot 2.0 is not going to do much of anything for them. However, players who are leveling new characters, or continuing characters they abandoned months or years ago, will find that 2.0 is a HUGE difference.

    2.0 rares are not “bad” by any definition of the word, they don’t roll useless stats, and the roll range is near the max for your item level, not averaging between the max and 1.

  8. “…but it’s not like D3 had this ideal item system and then the AH somehow ruined that.”

    You make a very good point. In all likelihood, trading wouldn’t have been as common in D3 early on if item drops were in the right place at launch.

    Still, Martens makes a good point, too: players will always take the easiest route to get what they want. To paraphrase: “It’s not like D3 players have this magical desire to never take the easy way out, and improving drop rates would somehow change that.”

    Better itemization would have made a difference for those who didn’t like the AH in the beginning, and felt forced to use it because of bad drop rates. However, it wouldn’t make a difference for anyone chomping at the bit to trade; they would have ended up just as burnt out as they are now, and just as quickly after launch.

    Also worth noting: it’s very difficult to evaluate whether drops are too high, too low, or just right when half the player base is getting their items from Diablo Mart. Their gear progression is way, way faster than it is for everyone else playing the game, which skews feedback a ton.

    • Still, Martens makes a good point, too: players will always take the easiest route to get what they want. To paraphrase: “It’s not like D3 players have this magical desire to never take the easy way out, and improving drop rates would somehow change that.”

      The God agrees that this is a good point, but it should have been the paradigm from the start. AH *could* have worked, if it was designed better – as having in mind that “people will want to take easy way out”, and preventing them to abuse it – a number worthy ideas were posted, including divine ones.

      Droprates – why doing so much beta testing, and finishing with completely unbalanced drops? Because of RNG, of course! No reliable calculation can predict how often certain items will spawn with *good*, or even *essential*, affixes with *sufficient* value. The answer was, of course, in semi-random items, or reducing the number of affixes that are essential – that is where D2 differed – while perfect drop could happen, and sometimes did, the difference wasn’t so huge as in D3 – taking perfect quadrifecta weapon without socket as an example.

  9. The point made in this article becomes very obvious in public games since the patch. For one its strange to see sooo many low paragons again, but whats even stranger is seeing all these insanely well geared low paragons. It shows that many people geared up on the AH then played a small amount and got bored and left. I am playing my self found wizard and its been really fun gearing up since the patch but then to hear paragon 1-10s complaining about no upgrades while they roll through torment makes me even more excited for the expansion and the new level cap.

  10. My feeling about the AH, and about trade in ARPGs in general, is that drop rates have to be created with trade in mind. In D3C, the drop rates were horrible, and what did drop was usually killed by bad RNG on rolls; the AH, on the other hand, gave you the ability to search out the exact mods and rolls you wanted, which made found gear basically obsolete. Why spend hours farming for an item that probably won’t roll what you want, on the quantities that you need, when you could go to an AH and buy exactly what you want? This problem, coupled with the lack of interesting legendary effects, was what was really wrong with D3.

    In general, though, I’d say that if trade is going to be a major part of the game, then drop rates need to be pretty high in order to compensate for it. Path of Exile has that same problem now: there are lots of high-end systems in that game to make trade not the best options, such as Crafting and Maps, but drop rates are so bad, and RNG so powerful, that most of the utility from these systems is drained out by trade. For example, last time I went on the PoE forums, about two months ago, someone posted a thread where he used a few Vault of Atziris, an end-game-level map with extremely high MF and tons of chests to open, and got basically nothing to show from it. The conclusion he drew from it was that using the map was too luck-based and was not worth it, and that it was better to sell the map as high-level currency than to actually use it.

    That example basically highlights my feelings about trade vs. drops: if free trade is going to be in the game, then the drop chance had better be pretty good. Otherwise, people will stop playing the ‘lottery machine,’ and start trading for everything, which as the devs said above, ruins the game and takes away all the incentive to play it.

  11. Agree Disciple. People have been asking for a self found league in PoE for ages now. Even if it was a separate paid league. But the devs have been absolutely, annoyingly against it. I believe because their Microtransaction items are cosmetic and they don’t want people to play “on their own”. But self found league does not necessarily mean on your own. You can just have personalised loot. Grouping is also just a zerg fest, no skill required. Kinda annoying. Having said that PoE has been one of my favourite games over the last 5-10 years. Can’t wait for the expansion tomorrow!!!!!!

  12. I see you’ve came around. Really though, the AH is just a means to an end, it’s only a problem if it’s the only means. This game still does need more targeted farming though, especially since builds are often locked behind specific items now.

  13. QUOTE

    Agree Disciple. People have been asking for a self found league in PoE for ages now. Even if it was a separate paid league. But the devs have been absolutely, annoyingly against it. I believe because their Microtransaction items are cosmetic and they don't want people to play "on their own". But self found league does not necessarily mean on your own. You can just have personalised loot. Grouping is also just a zerg fest, no skill required. Kinda annoying. Having said that PoE has been one of my favourite games over the last 5-10 years. Can't wait for the expansion tomorrow!!!!!!

    But Path of Exile’s beta was released in March of 2013… and development was only just announced in 2010. How has it been your favorite game for 5-10 years….?

  14. Have to agree. The AH wasn’t the problem, it was the combination of gold as currency rather than bartering, and terrible odds for finding good gear. In d2 you could find powerful uniques below hell act 5, and additionally, there was always the chance of a strong unique. The ranges on a unique weren’t too big, and the affixes were set, so the worst Titan’s Revenge was still a good weapon. It wouldn’t be as good as a perfect ethereal Titans, but at least it was good.

    In d3v1, you end up inundated with mediocre rares and garbage legendaries, because the legendary didn’t roll good affixes. You sell the mediocre rares for small rewards until you save up a few million gold, then you buy an upgrade. If you get super lucky, you find a good legendary that’s probably not for your class/build, so you sell it for a big profit. In the end, you’re always buying upgrades. Add on the RMAH option, and there’s little reward for actually playing. The AH game just isn’t as fun as the looting game.

    The AH would have worked out okay with a better item system, but the game is still better without it. I do think the loss of trading is disappointing, but spamming trade chat in d2 wasn’t fun at all. If they compensate us with higher drop rates for the loss of trading, I’m fine with that.

  15. As much fun as it is to keep lambasting his poor wording, I think what he meant was that PoE is one of his favorite games that came out within the last 5-10 years. Frankly, I disagree with him: D3 and PoE are both flawed games, and I personally feel that PoE is more flawed than D3, simply because I have fun playing D3 and I don’t when playing PoE. However, fun is highly subjective, and I am happy that he enjoys it even if I don’t.

    On the other hand, he really did word his sentence pretty badly. At which point I would be compelled to agree with HardRock below, with the additional possibility that he’s a time-traveling hipster that liked PoE before it existed. Frankly, that would make me very happy: it would mean that at some point in the not-so-distant-future we developed time travel. Even if I never get to do it, I’d be ecstatic if someone got to live the dream of hunting down the Nazi high command with laser guns and photon cannons.

    …forgive me. My mind wanders to odd places when I’m really tired.

    • “I think what he meant was that PoE is one of his favorite games that came out within the last 5-10 years.”

      To be clear, I was fairly certain he meant that, but the other possibilities were just too funny to pass up. 🙂

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