Is Diablo Dead?

    Time for a thought exercise: ask yourself for a moment why you are looking at this site. If it’s just to catch the latest issue of Garwulf’s Corner, you’re not the only one.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten letters that start like this: “I don’t play Diablo II anymore, and the only reason I still look at the site is because of your column.” It seems that I get more with every installment of Garwulf’s Corner that I write.

    I have to admit, it has been almost half a year since I played Diablo II. I’ve been busy with other things, of course, but I do play the occasional game. And Diablo II isn’t it.

    (Don’t hurt me, editor! I promise I’ll be good!)

    Glancing through this website, I see a number of articles about the bugs in the game, and how the expansion back could be fixed. Considering the letters I keep getting and the apparent change of focus on the site, I am forced to ask: is Diablo dead?

    I hate to say it, but while I don’t believe it is dead, I think it is dying. And it isn’t a natural death.

    Actually, it’s more like the game has an imp sitting on its back, hacking away with a battleaxe. And not even my barbarian’s breath can do anything about it.

    When the topic of this installment was announced, something strange happened: for the first time ever, I got more reader mail about the upcoming topic than I did about the column it was announced in. Most of the letters said that Diablo was either dead or dying. And, without exception, every email laid the blame on the hackers or Blizzard.

    Personally, I see it as a great tragedy. Every computer game has its run. Despite umpteen hacks on Battle.net, Diablo I had a dedicated player community for four years, and it only petered out because Diablo II was released. Warcraft II and Starcraft are still going strong. But now, Diablo II is on its way out, after a mere two years.

    By all rights, Diablo II should have lasted half a decade. It took the things that made the first game work, and improved upon them. There were still random maps, interesting creatures, and lots of neat magical items to search for. The scope of the game was dramatically increased, and Blizzard actually set aside an area where legit players could slaughter monsters in peace without worrying about hacks, while those who wanted to use trainers had a place to play where they wouldn’t do any harm to the serious players.

    If that wasn’t a recipe for success, I don’t know what is.

    And then came the hackers, who just seem to love crapping on other people’s parades.

    Granted, it is possible that they just saw breaking open the Realms as a challenge, and couldn’t resist. It’s reminiscent of Jurassic Park, but still quite possible. Lots of people spend more time trying to find out if they can do something than wondering whether they should. I hope those hackers get eaten by a Velociraptor.

    Regardless, the hackers came in, and the trainers and hacks started flying. Now, magic items are meaningless, the economy is broken, and people are coming online to find that their characters have been robbed. About the only thing keeping it from being a decapitating blow to the game is that as the price drops, more new players will come in.

    The hacks have pushed Blizzard onto the defensive, which only makes matters worse. The company creates a patch against a hack, but by the time they’ve sorted it all out, two new ones are floating around. And as the company plays catch-up, the game becomes more and more unbalanced. So long as Blizzard is reacting, rather than acting, there’s no victory in sight.

    The game can be saved, but only by drastic action. It is no longer enough for Blizzard to release another patch; the company has to actively go after the hackers. If they were to put a hack detector on the realms, and then permanently terminate the accounts of anybody who used one, it might just be enough to reclaim the game for the people who actually want to play it. At the very least, it would put the hackers onto the defensive.

    A draconian measure, I know, but I am rather fond of the game, and I hate to see anything promising slain before its time.

    Next installment: Emails from the Edge V, in which the author, who is still going to refer to himself in the third person, dammit, answers his reader mail.

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