On the surface, Diablo II is a straightforward game. Kill monster, get loot, kill more monsters. Repeat until mouse breaks, then buy a new mouse, and repeat some more.
This seemingly simple game has sold over 5 million copies, and is still being played years after its release. Why?
The reason is that there?s a lot of depth to Diablo II?s simplicity. While the game itself doesn?t change, it gives players a lot of room for experimentation. There is a huge variety of items to find, and the use of runes and gems makes for even greater possibilities. Even if you play through with the same character, no two games are the same, as the nature of the items you find changes greatly from one game to the next.
The seven characters, and the many different ways you can build their skills as you advance, is another area that can take years to explore.
Free online play through Battle.net is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why Diablo II is still going strongly today.
Diablo II seems like a simple game, but then, if it?s so simple, why haven?t we seen a massive influx of Diablo II clones onto the market? With 5 million sales, and the kind of longevity few games can dream of, it would seem like a good product to imitate.
One reason is that many developers have concentrated on trying to copy a similar game that came out the year before Diablo II, Everquest. None of the Everquest clones has been as successful as that game, and many have sunk without trace. But the potential riches of half a million people playing a monthly fee to play your game are far higher even than matching the excellent record of Diablo II. No one has been making Diablo II clones because they?ve all been too busy making Everquest clones.
Diablo II and Everquest are similar games. Both action-based fantasy RPGs, both based around the ?level treadmill? of advancement, and the acquisition of items. Diablo II is free to play online, while Everquest charges a monthly fee. It?s only natural that anyone looking to get into the CRPG scene would look to emulate Everquest of Diablo II.
That?s been good news for us. We have Diablo II, with its simple purity, while the MMORPG arena is littered with poorly-inspired ?me too? attempts to emulate Everquest.
Another reason why so few attempts have been made to emulate Diablo II, is that the game has a great deal of content. You don?t necessarily notice it as you play, since it is quite seamless. But someone had to sit down and work out the stats for every item there, even the ones you never use. All those items then had to be tested out, to make sure one type of item wasn?t being favoured over the others, and to ensure there were equipment options for all types of characters as they advanced through the levels. An invisible, thankless task, but a necessary one. It?s a task most develops have neither the time nor implication to undertake, which is another reason why we are all still here playing Diablo II. Blizzard took the time to do it right.
MMORPGs as a segment are pretty much in stagnation right now, at least in the US. To expand out of their rut (some would call it a niche), they need to change their gameplay focus. While much is written about the evils of the treadmill, Diablo II has hardly suffered from having one.
What MMORPGs can learn form Diablo II is speed, and size. Now I?m not suggesting that you should never be able to interact with more than half a dozen people in Everquest. However, neither should you spend most of your time standing in a queue waiting for something interesting to happen to someone else. Diablo II has little to no down time, this is something that MMORPGs should be trying to emulate.
City of Heroes has won a lot of praise for its system, whereby group missions cannot be interrupted by another group. Your objective area and associated enemies are generated and held for you. This does not impact anyone else?s play, as their own missions are likewise protected, and several teams can work the same area without ever tripping over each other. This system can be seen as an analogue to Diablo II’s easy spawning of new games. No one would still be playing if only one group per server could access Pindleskin at a time, and he then respawned 24 hours later!
It?s quite acceptable for games to duplicate areas of themselves to facilitate fast gameplay. Diablo II has shown it can be done successfully. It?s a very simple system, easy and fast to use, so a lot of people choose to use it. Again and again and again. Repetition, often taken to be the bane of any game, doesn?t seem to matter with Diablo II. For the power levelers, there is no waiting, just endless leveling activity. For casual players, there is no waiting, and no being muscled aside by the power levelers just as you get to the end of your mission. You don?t see them, they don?t see you, and everyone is happier.
Rather than force some kind of massive ideology on players, I think designers of MMORPGs need to look a bit more at how players actually like to play their games. No one wants to read 50 or more pages to understand how they should play the game—that should be self-evident. The limit of people prepared to sit through leveling activities deliberately lengthened and often frustrated by the game environment has been reached. Time to try for a new audience. There?s a far greater audience out there for games based around simplicity.
The Ninth Circle was written from 2002-2006, by David Kay, and with 58 installments it was the longest running column in Diabloii.net’s history. The Ninth Circle covered computer gaming, RPGs, fantasy novels, the gamer’s life, and other related issues. Opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Diii.net.