UPDATE: Chat will be in. Good job everybody! I guess this also gives Blizzard the ability to say “see, we listen.” And in this case, they chose something very potent to listen to their fans on. I’m just glad Bashiok just happened to be wrong, and nothing else. I guess that also means that you can disregard the rest of this article!
Oh, and yeah, we’re getting another beta patch “in the coming weeks,” so we get to test it. Good news? I’d say “sort of.” We are currently unsure as to whether or not the patch will include skills and runestones.
Yeah. So that happened. Public chat channels will be in Diablo III, barring any catastrophe that requires we remove them, because they’re already implemented. In fact they’ll be in an upcoming beta patch so you’ll get to see and play around with them yourselves.
I’m not sure I can offer any explanation as to the incorrectness of my statements, except that I believed them to be correct when I made them. I apologize, and I’ll strive to not be stupid and wrong in the future.
More info on the chat feature, and others, to come in the weeks ahead.
Click more for the previous article.
Since its announcement, Diablo 3‘s history has been marred by controversy. From the art style to its game mechanics, consensus within the fan community has been absent. This is to be expected, as the sequel comes from the critically acclaimed Diablo 2, that has stolen days, months and years for many. However, for the first time, it seems that the fanbase is nearly united on one issue: chat channels.
For those that are unfamiliar with the debate, we reported about this a few days ago, and I would encourage you to read up on the Battle.net Forums on what has become not one, not two, but a three-part thread discussion about Blizzard’s omission of the chat channel feature. Similar discussions have cropped up on our board that cover many chat channel banes and boons.
In this article, however, I attempt to maintain an objective stance on the issue while analyzing one of the prominent arguments – I accept that I cannot eliminate my personal bias, though. If you would otherwise like to be saved from a “too long, didn’t read” article, this is your fair warning.* Now that Bashiok has provided us with the update, this is rendered rather moot, but feel free to read anyways.
Blizzard’s Chat Channel History
Chat channels were not always a thing of the past for Diablo 3. Their omission of the feature, it seems, was actually a relatively recent development within the past 5 years. Back in July of 2011, I had attended a press event for Blizzard. One of the main topics of discussion at the event was the recent reveal of the Battle.net UI for Diablo 3.
As of September of last year, Bashiok had stated that they were “in and working.” And so they were. According to Blizzard and Co. it was due to the following:
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.
We have oft heard that the reason behind their decisions are the weighing of pros and cons. But is everything as it seems? Bashiok makes a fair attempt at explaining their stance, though it is clearly not all-encompassing and it provides very little substance to the message he is trying to get across. When there is a lack of transparency or information, speculation and theories begin to take hold. So we ask ourselves, why would Blizzard content themselves with omitting one of the most crucial tools for community development?
A Community Theory
Tinfoil hats on?
The most popular theory revolves around the Real Money Auction House, more commonly known as the RMAH. Blizzard is a corporation, and as such, they need to make money to continue existing. This is just a hard fact. But it means that their games must maintain revenue streams that increase profits (or maintain them) rather than cannibalize or reduce them. Currently, the biggest and only known source for Diablo 3’s continued stream of revenue is the RMAH. To the company, Diablo 3 would be considered a failure if it cannibalized as little as 5% of World of Warcraft subscriptions. This puts a lot of pressure on the success of the RMAH, as it must provide revenue that is equal to or more than the net loss of revenue from cannibalization. The implication is that Diablo 3 must provide incentive for the use of the feature from day 1 of release.
So why is this important?
The RMAH currently has a total of 3 fees if you are to be cashing out with Paypal or other providers. The first is for posting an item, the second is from selling the item, and the third is the cash-out fee through Paypal. This, in short, is how Blizzard will be making its steady income. We might also say that this is where Blizzard will justify making expansions and new content for the game, as they need the money as the foundation for continued work.
If we are to accept the previous postulate as true, we can then identify Blizzard’s incentive to limit player trading. Peer trading effectively eliminates the middle man – Blizzard. Since gold will have a real-world value attached to it, if we decide to trade to a fellow player within a general chat channel we avoid all fees and maintain the entire sum of gold made from the item you sold. Thus, Blizzard has incentive to limit forms of play trading and by extension, communication. To limit games to players of four, omit general chat, and omit a player-made game lobby, they can promote the use of the RMAH subliminally.
It is true that Blizzard would never eliminate player trading, as such a decision would put a nail in Diablo 3’s coffin with vindictive force. However, it is with the limitation of the avenues of communication that a correlation can be seen. And ultimately, a healthy game community is the expense for the monetary agenda. The two aspects are at odds with each other: without community, the RMAH has failed. With community: the RMAH can never reach its full potential.
In the end, a balance of chat limitations result from the monetary aggression sprouting from the corpse of Diablo 2.
Could this be the real answer?
Probably not in its entirely, but the correlation and repercussions have real implications regardless of the reason. The health and integrity of the community suffers from the decision, and their voices have resonated through Diablo 3’s communities across the net. What I do know is that the lack of channels for communication strangles the ability to make friends and, god forbid, share items with others you may have come across needing your help. While it may be the exception to the rule, I’ve met plenty of players over a decade of time through chat channels that were willing to extend a helpful hand or give things away for free.
For whatever the full reason Blizzard has conjured to justify their decision, I can’t say its a good one. I don’t normally condemn a decision point blank, but the decision to omit chat channels is bad outright.
Community is a quintessential aspect for a game’s longevity. This is not to diminish the importance of the single player, but it is to illuminate the potential cost to a game that thrives on co-operation and player interaction for financial success. Blizzard needs people to use the RMAH. But what Blizzard has failed to recognize is that incentive to “have the best gear” that the RMAH will be providing is diminished without the presence and exposure to your community.
I have seen the following phrase used to express their feelings: “I want my character to be wearing my gear and standing in a row.” In short, people want to show off. Moreover, people want a community that can recognize and care about the effort they’ve put into their characters (though with Bobby Bucks, that’s a bit marginalized now, right…?). And as shallow and incessant as that may seem, it is also a reality. It is a reality so potent that fans are willing to write 52 pages worth of comments.
But community itself has value that extends beyond the voracity and well-dressed presentations of one’s e-peen. People have found life-long friends, soulmates, and even their husbands and wives through the gaming medium. Relationships are formed and broken, creating memories that we may never forget (and sometimes much to our chagrin). Games provide an avenue of socializing that brings people with like-interests together. While we often enter games with those that seem to have crept from the foulest bowels of the internet, the few we meet that make a difference in your life is a potent catalyst for a player’s interest in the game. It is for this reason (and others) that the community believes that Blizzard has forgotten what it means to have a co-operative community-based game.
The omission of general and private chat out of the gate will resonate throughout the game’s future. The majority of the community will only use the tools that are given to them, and if they are limited by 4-person games and real-life friends, it will have an inherent relationship to the long-term success of the game. While a core community will seek out IRC channels and forums, a vast amount of people absent. The real test will be whether or not the community will settle in for the wait – if/when they are added.
So this brings us full circle. Has Blizzard lost touch with their community? Could it be possible that the community itself will kill Blizzard’s golden goose?
*I know I’m not covering every argument out there, but extrapolating from one of the most compelling ones.