Mike Morhaime Laments Diablo’s III Launch

In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Mike Morhaime talked about the WoW Panda Pack launch, and reflected on Diablo III’s opening days as well.

Q: With Diablo III there were some issues with balance, with PvP being delayed, with the auction house – would you redo that launch if you could?
Mike Morhaime: Oh, there are definitely things we would do differently. It would be so helpful in advance to know how many people are going to want to play a game. Because we could plan things out a lot better: we can make sure we have enough capacity, we can buy the hardware that we need. The Diablo III launch exceeded out forecasts by an order of magnitude; we were very far off. We outsold our full-year forecast in the matter of a week.

I have to give our team some credit because they scrambled really quickly and they were able to increase capacity everywhere within a couple of weeks. But the first couple of weeks were a little bit painful and so I would love to do that over again.

Q: The interesting thing about Diablo III was you had announced a specific ship date very far in advance, which is completely unlike any other launch you’ve done. And earlier in the year you tore the guts out of the stats system. As an RPG designer I realise how difficult that is. Did that all make it harder to get the Diablo III launch out?
Mike Morhaime: I felt like we gave ourselves enough time in terms of the things we could test and the things that were feasible to test. We can’t know how many people are going to come out and want to play. We ran an open beta where we let anyone in the world in who wanted to play the game for free for a weekend. But a lot of people were waiting for the release of the game so we really didn’t have the indication that our forecasts would be off by so much.

Pity Morhaime wasn’t willing to answer those questions; two good ones about game content and development issues, and Morhaime’s reply to both questions was basically a humble brag. Not that you’d expect much public introspection from Blizzard’s CEO, I guess.

An interesting follow up that he might have entertained… why were their pre-game sales estimates so inadequate? And why didn’t they decide to err on the side of caution with extra capacity just in case? It’s not as if Diablo 2 and WoW didn’t have the exact same “too much demand” problem upon launch, and it’s something that’s hammered countless other MMORPG type games over the years.

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23 thoughts on “Mike Morhaime Laments Diablo’s III Launch

    • This guy is the last person you want to talk to, he is on Bobby K’s tight leash.

      On top of that he is one of the guys who ruined this game more so than J Wilsowned.

      • NO ONE spits on Mike without my wrath !!!

        The man is a God to me AND he plays the bass in a rock metal band.

        So shut up or I’ll come after you hating troll !

        • wooooooooooooooo… the wrath of the fanboy… the fury of the Thrall… how scary!

          Man, if you consider a man (a very sly and mischievous man) to be your god, you’re absolutely lost to reason and reality. No wonder that your comments are just ludicrous.

          captcha: I’m yours (lol, how about taht!?)

  1. Regarding ‘why not err on the side of extra capacity’:

    I’d guess Blizzard would agree with you. They probably guessed there would be N players in the first week and ensured they had enough capacity for N+10% or N+20%. The problem was, apparently, that they got 10N users instead.

    Server hardware is expensive to buy and maintain, so it is unlikely they would have purchased and installed 10x more server boxes than they thought they needed. It would be less risky if you knew you would need them for something else soon. But I’m guessing they already have excess hardware from people rolling off WoW. Not sure Pandas are going to stop that much.

    • The thing is, players are forgiving when you present them new shineys after a good waiting time. They’ll eventually forget that they had to wait for three hours in order to login during launch night or be replaced by new players, that never had the problem because they weren’t there at the time.

      On the other hand, the reputation of a company and its management blowing out expensive tech budgets for just-in-case hardware, that might no longer be neccessary a few weeks after things have settled down post-launch, would forever stigmatize them in the eyes of their share-holders’.

      You could probably guess who gets higher priority from the decision-makes: forgiving customers or disgressing share-holders?

    • We debated this topic regularly during the Error 37 days after the launch. I have no stats, but it seems likely that a far higher % of Diablo 3 owners were online during the first days than at any time since then. So yes, it’s probably a waste of money for Blizzard to buy (lease?) a bunch of extra servers just to handle the first weeks of highest concurrency.

      On the other hand, how much did B.net’s technical failures cost them in bad publicity and jokes about Error 37? Especially given that many haters were already sharpening their axes over the online-only DRM, and looking for any excuse to write very angry things about Diablo 3?

      Smart companies put in huge resources and expense to make sure their launches and big events go smoothly, even if they lose some money on the effort, since they want good publicity, happy customers who will repeat shop, etc. Clearly that sort of theory wasn’t a top objective for Activision/Blizzard with D3’s launch, and while they made a fortune with the mega sales of D3, what damage did they do the brand, long term? Unquantifiable?

      • No damage at all. Launch problems are almost entirely forgettable in the medium to long term, especially on games like D3 which are designed with long-term support in mind. And really, “customers vs. shareholders” editorialising is juvenile. Leave it to the ten year olds.

        • I agree that the launch problems did not cause any damage. I was one of those who planned on playing the minute servers were live and spent an hour just trying to get into my first game.

          However, their handling of the D3 product itself has caused major damage. My friends and I have bought every Blizzard game since Warcraft 2. They even disliked MMOs but bought and paid for WoW for nearly a year. Pretty much all of them have stated at one time or another to me that they won’t buy future Blizzard products for awhile. Blizzard has broken a trust with their customers that took decades to earn, and now they have to re-earn it.

      • well i know at least a dozen ppl who will definitely never pre-order another blizzard title

        i avoided D3 like the plague after i saw the screwed up beta (still is a beta IMHO), but ya im sure they’ve lost quite a few ppl over this fiasco

        unfortunately yes, history shows that most consumers have the memory/attention span of a gnat, thus why these companies treat them like shit =/ (same problems in politics)

  2. This is easy. Of course they knew how many people will buy the game (well, not exact figures, of course), but they also knew that quite a lot of them will stop playing in the near future. Remember statystics in D2 that the biggest number of players just went thorough Normal and never tried it again? So why bother buying and putting together new equipment and servers, etc since a good number of people won’t be needing it in a couple of months?

  3. I’m surprised JW wasn’t in on the capacity discussion.

    He would have definitely made sure they had at least double what they started with.

  4. who can anticipate anything? it is not humanly possible to think of every situation. and considering things, I have to agree, they scrambled at compensating big time.

    or maybe i work in the software industry and understand yep, shit happens.

    look at ebay, the other week they have an api issue, which blocked all 3rd party sites with time out errors. so you couldnt list.

    You expect ups with downs.

  5. I work for a large corporation, and those answers sound just like the bullshit that spews out the bigwigs mouths when they come to town. “Ask any question you want, we can answer it”, and when you do, all you get is a run around causing you more confusion than you started with. And when somebody does ask something pointed, oh shit, its time to bring out the bad attitude police. I believe there is more in a rorschach test picture than what he said, or its equivalent.

  6. It was a few weeks of stability issues. People will eventually stop going back to it like it was that big a deal. Like me after week 3. I mean come on did you expect the servers to stay bad? Rubber banding aside.

  7. “WOW Panda Pack” launch.

    Oh God, Flux when will you grow up man…

    I have the impression D players are forever stuck in their teenage years.

    • panda pack and kung fu panda are the two names I’ve heard it referred to as by all sorts of people. Neither strike me as particularly immature names, certainly nothing to get ones knickers in a twist over. Knowing flux you’re lucky he didn’t refer to it as hello kitty sparkle twinkle cup cake.

      As to the topic of servers I don’t think it would have done Blizzard any long term harm. At the time it without doubt inconvenienced many people but to what degree fades in the memory as time passes. In short order peoples’ attention moved onto other things anyway.

      Guild Wars 2 had similar problems and ArenaNet actually stopped selling it for 2 weeks so those who had the game could play whilst they added more servers.

      I don’t know whether Blizzard will do it differently next time either. There were queues for Panda p….sorry, MoP on the first night but that soon settled down and going all the way back to vanilla wow that was a bit of a dog’s dinner too.

      I was one of the lucky few at D3 launch, hardly any problems. Lucky me eh.

      • The GW2 team was extremely, extremely quick, and VERY vocal. They had 3 people on twitter 24/7 literally not getting sleep just to post a new tweet every 20 minutes on what was going on. When the Trading Post had errors, both facebook and twitter were updated multiple times per hour. They didn’t post a blog update, or have their equivalent of a “blue post” once every day. It was like the community was directly involved with the devs.

        I think, in the error 37 days (amidst the slew of other errors), had the team been much more vocal other than “severs are over capacity, keep trying to log in,” at least they could have restored some faith. They could have been more agile, and humbled themselves by explaining “we weren’t prepared, and we hyped a launch that wasn;t in line with what actually happened” instead of “we didn’t guess right, but we sold a sh*tton of copies.”

    • But it *is* a panda pack. It’s an expansion pack that’s being sold entirely by the introduction of pandas as a playable race, with settings in a China-like land. Panda is even in the acronym. Also, the acronym is lame. Anyone want to argue that “panda pack” sounds worse than “wow mop?”

      If the next wow expansion is marketed entirely around it adding undead, or elves or whatever (those are in the game already, but just for the example) I’m sure I and many others would call it the undead pack, or elf pack. The fact that “panda pack” rolls off the tongue so nicely, with the alliteration, is a factor as well.

      I hope the D3 expansion has some central unifying theme, something we could sum up in a pithy phrase. I don’t expect that; we’ll just get more story and another act and another class, and besides, “D3X” will be so easy a phrase to use. But say the whole story was some sort of demonic plague striking the world and transforming everyone into demons. “Plague pack” has a nice ring to it…

  8. “We ran an open beta…” *snip* “…so we really didn’t have the indication that our forecasts would be off by so much.

    Really? Well that’s what you get when you ran open beta for a SINGLE WEEKEND. I was lucky I found out about it in time, and that’s only because I OCD refreshed IncGamers!

  9. “…Because we could plan things out a lot better: we can make sure we have enough capacity, we can buy the hardware that we need…”

    Or, and bear with me because this is going to sound crazy, THEY COULD HAVE CHOSEN NOT TO IMPLEMENT ALWAYS-ONLINE DRM.

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