Diablo 3 Post-mortem with Jay Wilson Part 2

Diablo 3 Post-mortem with Jay Wilson Part 2

Our interview with Jay Wilson, Former Gamer Director of Diablo 3, continues today focusing on the Auction House and game controversies. Missed part one? catch it here!

A decade is a long time between games, what was the hardest part about bringing the franchise back?

Probably getting a cohesive vision from the team on what Diablo is. Diablo is as much myth as it is game. Like any myth, some things get blown to epic proportions, and those things change from person to person. What one team member views as essential to the series another may not even remember, or consider to be a liability. Because Diablo is so important, we’d all get very set in those views, and coming to good compromises and agreements could be very challenging.

Working within an existing series is always tricky, but it’s exponentially tougher when it is as beloved as Diablo. You want to be true to the series, without copying verbatim. Some people might prefer verbatim, but that creates stagnation and is the most assured way to kill the creativity of your team, and eventually the interest in the series. Creative people need to be able to flex their imagination and make things their own. Things need to move forward.


The auction house:How did it come to be? When did you change your mind?


I want to start this question off by reminding people that I no longer work for Blizzard, and don’t speak for the company, or the Diablo team in any way.

In my experience, and I’m in no way trying to brag when I say I’ve got a lot of experience on this topic not only due to Diablo but being at Blizzard and seeing the struggles of all our games, if your game is popular and has open trading between players then you are going to have security problems. There is too much money to be made by third parties for them to not do everything in their power to sell to and/or scam your player base. You can try to stop them case by case, and we did, but it’s always a losing battle. You’re always in reaction mode. There’s too much money to be made by too many people. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but by everything I’ve seen it’s true.

The two best ways to stop it are: 1) Don’t have trading, or heavily regulate it. I think this is actually a good choice for a lot of games. When you weigh the downsides of scamming, botting, spamming, etc. on your player base versus depriving the subset that like to trade from doing it, I think it falls in favor of no trading for a lot of games. That’s a hard truth for some, but the real world is filled with lots of unpleasant hard truths. Option 2) Build trading into the economy such that your player base won’t be tempted to third party groups to trade. Some games need trading to meet the vision of the game. Eve Online is a good example, and their Plex system is a great example of a way to remove gold selling third parties by building player to player gold selling into the system in a controlled manner. Unfortunately, without a subscription model, we had to consider other methods since we really wanted D3 to have trading.

The auction house came out of the desire to legitimize third party trading so that players would stay in the game to do their trading rather than go to third party sites, and as a result reduce fraud, scams, spamming, and the profit in hacking the game, making dupes, etc. The problem is, of course, it over-legitimized trading. It made it too easy. I think we all know this by now and the consequences. We worried about these consequences ahead of time, but we thought the benefits would outweigh the downsides, and WoW’s AH seemed like a good proof of concept. Obviously we were mistaken.

When did I change my mind? That’s hard to say. It was clear right away that it was doing harm to the game, but we weren’t sure right away what to do about it. Within a month or two I know I wished we hadn’t done it, but I wasn’t sure it should be shut down. To those discussing it online it seemed clear it needed to be shut down, but it’s harder to make that call when you can see how much your players are using the system. It was extremely popular among players if you gauge by usage, which can make decisions like that difficult to make. If you remove it you know for sure you’ll make a couple of hundred people on your forums happy, and they probably represent a significant portion of your audience, but how many of the hundreds of thousands of people who used the service daily liked it more than the harm it was causing? There were also legal questions about if we even could shut it down given that it was advertised on the box as a major feature.

This is a key element of game design that is hard to understand until faced with the decisions. Sometimes things that hurt the game in one way are justified in others. I could talk about all the design reasons that attribute points are bad, but the thing that blows those arguments away is that they are fun, which is why we added them back, in a way, with the paragon system. Are the choices we made their terrible? No, because there is a lot of fun to be had in the systems we built as well. Fun isn’t an all or nothing metric, and can overwhelm a lot of very logical arguments.

I know when Josh proposed we shut down the AH I supported him 100%, but he deserves the credit for pushing on it and ultimately killing it.

I’ve seen lots of people theorize that the AH was pushed on us by our corporate overlords, or that it was making too much money for us to shut down. Neither of those things are true. I won’t go into more than that because you either believe those statements or you don’t. Anyone who thinks Blizzard is motivated first and foremost by money hasn’t really paid much attention to how they operate, how many games they’ve cancelled that weren’t good enough, how much they support games that don’t have ongoing revenue beyond box sales, how much time they spend on developing their games, how much content and feature set they include in each product. In my opinion, Blizzard has always believed that if you do right by your players and your game, the money follows. That formula has proven right for them for twenty-five years. Why change it?

The community: from the start D3 had one stupid “controversy” (too many pretty colors)after another. Is pleasing an online community a Sisyphean task? – that may be a loaded one. Perhaps how is it interacting with such a mix of vitriol and passion.

I’m not sure I’d say the controversies were stupid. Players had legitimate concerns and complaints. That’s fine. They need to be expressed so discussion can happen about what the game should be. Changes were made as a result of the discussion about the game’s appearance, for example, they just weren’t changes that removed or dampened all color.

The problem is more about how we’ve evolved to have these discussions. Things get too focused on being right at all costs, walking into discussions angry and disrespectful, winning arguments at all costs, name-calling, or the idea that game devs should have no creative input, are working for their customer base exclusively, and so need to do verbatim what players tell them, which is rarely clear from the dev’s standpoint.

We live in an interesting time. One in which I’d say we have two realities. We have the real world reality, and we have Internet. They certainly influence one another, but everything gets amplified on the internet. It’s a place where those with the loudest opinion can overwhelm larger groups who are quieter, or absentee. If you only have exposure to the internet reality then you are going to have a skewed, usually more negative view of things, but my view was also partially of the real worldreality. ThereIn reality we got a lot of different looking, generally more positive or constructive, feedback.

Most importantly, Diablo 3 always had extremely high concurrency numbers, so if we ever doubted whether the game was popular or liked all we had to do was pull up the current numbers of how many players were online, no matter what time it was, and we could feel a lot better. If the game didn’t have substance those players wouldn’t have stuck around. Yes, long-term consistent sales were another factor, as were long-term reception, but the best metric is always that people are playing your game.

The truth is most of the time it was great interacting with the community. They were passionate, supportive, and wanted us to succeed. Our success meant a great game for them to play. People sent us letters, cookies, pictures, etc. Before and after ship I never had a single person be mean to my face. Most now apologize for how they perceived I was treated, which is nice, but the truth is my experience has been that the vast majority of people were great to me, even if they disagreed with me. It’s only a small few that weren’t civil, they were just very vocal and at times nasty.

Is it possible to please an online community? Depends on your definition of pleasing them I guess. Someone is always going to have a problem with something, and that’s okay. There are people who will never be happy with Diablo 3 for one reason or another. I’ve certainly had that happen with things I love, so I understand the feeling, and it never bothered me when people felt that way. Would I like to make them happy? Of course. I would’d have loved to give every person the exact Diablo 3 they wanted, but it was beyond my power.

The only thing that bothered me was that we’ve tolerated an extreme level of interaction. Extremely hostile, violent, threatening language got normalized on the internet, and we’re seeing the consequences of that now. I’d urge players to not let the most extreme people own the conversation, or the conversation will cease to happen. Devs often get told to “suck it up, buttercup, you wanted this”, but the truth is no one wants abuse, or to be scared for their safety or the safety of their family (as I was for a time). It’s not acceptable, and talent doesn’t have to tolerate it. They can go do something else, and then we lose our best game devs as a result. At some point, mistakes have become unacceptable to a contingent of the audience that has a very loud voice. And what people don’t make mistakes?

No, the above is not the primary reason I left the game industry, but it was a factor.

You mentioned how your job often had you often saying “no” to ideas, What was the hardest thing you had to turn down?

Reflects Damage.

Usually ideas about bosses. People had big dreams about the crazy things we could do with bosses, but when you have a game where players are as customizable as they are in Diablo lots of ideas don’t work. For example, if you want the ground to collapse beneath the player such that they have to jump to a nearby patch of stable ground, well that works great for a Barbarian with Leap, or Wizard with teleport, but what about the other classes? What about the Barbs who didn’t take Leap? As a result, enemies often had to accommodate everything that was possible for the players to be, which limited the diversity of what they could do.

I look at player abilities and monster abilities as linked systems. You give monsters crazy abilities, and then you make sure the player has the tools to deal with those abilities and vice versa. When you don’t know what’s going to be in the player’s tool belt you can’t throw problems at them that require specific, exclusive tools.

Jay continues the interview and reveals the thought process behind the characters, and fame in part 3.



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    14 thoughts on “Diablo 3 Post-mortem with Jay Wilson Part 2

    1. I stopped reading this as soon as I came to the question that includes a label such as “stupid controversy”. The interviewer basically labelled at least hundreds of thousands of Diablo players “stupid” if petitions were any sign. If you don’t know how to do your job, just don’t do it. Even if you don’t get money for it.

      • Then you lost some interesting insight about the game and its developement. But if you’re proud of being so pricky its fine, of course.

        • I now know how Jay’s mind work and what info he can give. This whole “Jay Wilson returns” situation started with me anyways and I bet no one was worrying about him until that time. So I’m 100% positive I didn’t miss anything. In fact some of you guys missed a bit because I extracted some info from him that was never known before.

          This Q&A sounded like “let’s give Jay a chance to redeem himself”.

          If you want some new info, I can start with Blizzard North build and the conflicted decision on random levels meeting in Irvine and how it went. Then I would continue with how Jay found some big aspects of the D3 such failures and admitted that his Blizz friends warned him, his follower count decreased and he removed those tweets later and stopped answering anything about D3 until this carebear Q&A.

          But I bet people like you wouldn’t want to hear those kind of things.

      • but it was totally silly. blown out of proportion and all the comparisons to D2, a game that has every color of the rainbow in it.

    2. The closure of the Auction House analysis was incredibly flawed.

      “It was extremely popular among players if you gauge by usage, which can make decisions like that difficult to make.”

      It wasn’t popular because everyone was infatuated playing Auction House Simulator versus killing monsters. It was ‘popular’ because in-game progression was tied to the purchase of items, a fundamentally UNPOPULAR game design. Get it through your head Jay. If itemization wasn’t the atrocity that still exists today the AH may have been a nice ‘safe’ method to buying and selling items.

    3. Great interview! Keep it coming!

      It’s funny, because I read all the reasons they built everything the way they did – including the AH – and I agreed with everything at the time. It was only when the game came out that I (and apparently they) realized that there were big problems. I’m glad to hear they picked up on that it was an issue right away, because there wasn’t much communication to that end. D3 has gotten so much better over time, but you can’t discount the solid groundwork Jay did.

    4. This isn’t an interview.

      It’s a series of questions answered in a vacuum. There’s no back-and-forth or follow-up questions.

      As such you get canned, safe answers that don’t provide much insight into the making of D3.

      For example, everything mentioned about the AH is a waste of text, as it fails to mention how terrible the loot system was that drove everyone to the AH in the first place. If this was an interview then Xanth could follow up with that, but it’s a boring set of responses to a set of questions so we won’t get that.

      • Yes but Jay can’t speak as a Blizzard employee so this is from his one perspective. He is also speaking for himself and not on behalf of the whole Diablo 3 development team.

      • Anytime you interview over email, you lose some of that back and forth, ebb and flow of conversation. That being said the goal was not to interrogate or drill down into every minutia of the game. Jay doesn’t(nor do I) have time for that. The whole text of the interview spans 19 pages hence why I broke it into five parts, which in hindsight may come across disjointed but publishing a 15 thousand word article would also be too much.

        • Yeah sorry if I came across as bitter. Wasn’t my intention. Definitely a lot of info but most of it seems rehashed stuff Jay or others have mentioned before. I also really don’t like his AH answer, which is very similar to what Wyatt has said about its demise. It’s the crappy loot system Blizzard, just say it.

    5. Jay seems to portray some of his views and decisions as “the correct way” of doing things the way he did. I think this is in many ways because he had some like-minded people within Blizzard that jumped onto his ideological bandwagon when he was making decisions, and thus made him think “I made the right decision on topic X!”. When people jump onto your side this doesn’t mean that you are “right”. People often join sides or agree with others because they subconsciously want to be “on the winners side”, and since Jay was the Game Director, it’s overwhelmingly obvious that certain people at Blizzard were agreeing with Jay or joining his views for other reasons that actually believing he was right on a certain topic. We as humans are prone to fail in these ways when it comes to make individual, conscious and unbiased decisions. It’s almost impossible to be unbiased in one way or another.

      I think Blizzard had the wrong visions at the wrong time, done by the wrong people which in turn have made catastrophic decisions. Those people kept encouraging each other and thus directing each other into the “destruction” of the Franchise as the world knew it. They will always believe they made the right decisions and that they created the best possible Diablo game to date by evolving and “improving” it.

      I personally am not interested in words voiced by Jay Willson anymore. Whatever he has to say is not valuable knowledge within the “Diablo context” for me. The biggest damage Diablo 3 did to the franchise, is the fact that it will be remembered as the highest-selling iteration of the series until that record is broken by a future Diablo game. This will cause people to associate this “highest-selling” attribute with “Excellent Game”. Reporters and writers will keep reading biased sources boasting that the game was a “huge financial success”, and they will simply re-write the same BS in their articles. This will cause the truth, that D3 was and is very poorly designed and executed game, be forgotten in the long run. Make the world believe that the earth is at the center of the universe, and write enough articles which are accessible to the general public, and society will eventually believe that the Earth is at the center of the universe, because everyone else believes it too.

      • “it’s overwhelmingly obvious that certain people at Blizzard were agreeing with Jay or joining his views for other reasons that actually believing he was right on a certain topic.”

        Amazing how you know all of that without knowing any of the people personally – just by analyzing a part of an interview.

        You also miss some very important points in your rant about how ‘society doesn’t know the truth about Diablo’.
        a) Anyone can buy Diablo to check themselves if they enjoy the game or not. You don’t have to ‘believe’ in anything, you can actually test it.
        b) That ‘financial success’/’highest selling game’ that you scorn at achieved that because so many people bought and liked it. Sure, D3’s initial sales were amazing and you could argue that those people didn’t know what they bought. But the game didn’t end up on the list of the 10 best selling video games of all times from initial sales. People kept buying the game in the millions – because others like it and word of mouth for the game is great.
        That doesn’t mean you have to enjoy it – nor that you have to admit that other people might be able to like or enjoy it. But coming up with some conspiracy theory how the whole world gets brainwashed is a bit extreme …

        • I said that from a perspective of looking at all of society and their patterns in general. We people are prone to ride “Bandwagons” and make choices based on how popular it might be with others. So with this in mind, I said “certain people at Blizzard were agreeing with Jay…” because Blizzard people, just like the general public, aren’t immune to “riding bandwagons” and thus are prone to make biased decisions.

          People often align with an opinion or ideology, that appears to be popular among a group of people. People often are afraid to be “outsiders” when it comes to make decisions within a group.

          So yeah, that’s all I am saying, and that is obviously not Blizzard specific, but rather human specific.

          My remarks are very broad in terms of “theory”, and not aimed at anyone in particular.

          As for sales, everyone knows that Diablo 3 had huge sale-numbers with “Vanilla Diablo 3” because of the tremendous success of D1 and especially D2:LOD. It is a unmistakable fact, that D3 sold initially foremost because of D2:LOD. There is absolutely no point for us to argue about this fact.

          There was a huge fan-outcry about the direction of Diablo 3 before it launched and after it launched alike. The amount of people that bought D3 and stopped playing was crazy, but Blizzard will never admit this publicly. I recall a friend list of 30+ people, and everyone was “offline” for several months, and even years in some cases.

          RoS has brought back a lot of people because of sneaky PR and slogans like “Loot 2.0”, which again made a lot of people think they overhauled the loot mechanics and affixes on gear to be again like we knew it from D2. But this wasn’t the case at all. All that changed was that they increased the drop rate for legendary items by 5000%, then added “Legendary Affixes” onto certain Legendary items (and thus rendering all other Legendary items without Legendary Affixes worthless. To make matters worse, they added huge damage multiplier’s to Sets rendering even some Legendary items with Legendary Affixes again worthless.

          The biggest demographic in D3 is “The Casual” and these people have a good time I guess. These people have either never played D1 or D2, or they played for a few minutes and went on to other things (hence being Casuals). These newcomers, that know nothing about the franchise or the previous games, have started demanding ARPG-Contraproducitve features. Blizzard is in a very difficult spot. They have dumbed down the most recent Diablo game (D3) by such a huge amount, in order to appeal to casuals and noobs, that they arguably have destroyed the franchise for this decade.

          In Short, there is a HUGE demographic of people that voice positive feedback about D3. Those people are for the majority people that didn’t play D1 or D2. The ironic part is, that I believe the majority of those casual D3 proponents, are playing the game very rarely or in very short bursts (Hence being casuals). A lot of people with a D3 license that troll the forums and talk highly of D3, awkwardly do not have D3 profiles, and if they do, they have 5-10 hours of playtime on them. I believe those folks are mostly WOW players that got D3 for free with the annual WOW pass in 2012. WOW subscriber numbers were in free fall in that year and Blizzard decided to give D3 for free, if they re-subscribe for a whole year to WOW. This actually made me wonder, if they count these “sales” as well in their statistics when they boast about “Huge D3 Sale Records”.

          If you give a game for free to certain gamers from another franchise, if they subscribe for a whole year to some game (WOW in this case). Would you include these “free-give-away’s” in real “Sales Statistics” for Diablo 3? I really wonder if they did, and I am almost sure they did include these give-aways as “sales” in the claimed “Sale Records”

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