Last Tuesday, Senior Producer Alex Mayberry told PCGamer that there will be no offline or offline single-player mode for Diablo III. If a player wishes to play, alone or not, they still have to login to the battle.net servers.
Mayberry went into detail on some of the reasoning for the exclusion: “It’s a trend we’ve been moving towards. Obviously StarCraft 2 did it, WoW authenticates also. It’s kind of the way things are these days. The world of gaming is not the same as it was when Diablo 2 came out.”
Executive Vice President of Game Design Rob Pardo also commented on the issue when asked about why they didn’t create an offline single-player campaign entirely separate from the online play.
“We thought about this quite a bit. One of the things that we felt was really [important] was that if you did play offline, if we allowed for that experience, you’d start a character, you’d get him all the way to level 20 or level 30 or level 40 or what have you, and then at that point you might decide to want to venture onto Battle.net. But you’d have to start a character from scratch, because there’d be no way for us to guarantee no cheats were involved, if we let you play on the client and then take the character online.”
One of the reasons cited for this move was piracy — although not directly named as the primary reason — but another reason was the inclusion of a real-cash market for items.
Included in the game is an auction house where a player can, for a nominal flat fee, list an item for purchase with real money. If the item sells, another nominal flat fee is taken from the earnings. After this, you may cash out to use your money on physical goods unrelated to Diablo III or Blizzard, or you may keep your earnings in-game to use on further auctions. Each region will have its own cash auction house to avoid currency exchange issues, and there will also be an auction house which uses in-game gold.
“What we’ve found is that no one’s actually done this before, so it has been a long road getting to where we are today, where we can actually announce we’re doing this,” Pardo explained. “There are some people out there that don’t have the ability to put a time investment into the game, so they do want to use real-world money to kind of advance their character. And the other side of it is that there are people who have a lot of time and don’t benefit from it, because they’ll be able to generate items, and get better items or cash it out.”
Analysis: I’m not going to mince words here — the exclusion of an offline mode is fucking asinine. Their reasoning holds little substance at best. I will fully admit they are correct that it is impossible to allow the transfer of offline characters to online gameplay; it’s impossible to verify without being connected to an authentication server while the character is being leveled. However, this does not mean offline should be ditched entirely! I don’t care if I can’t transfer my character; I still want to be able to play the game offline, and I don’t appreciate Blizzard making that decision for me.
They are likely pulling from their past experiences with Diablo II and StarCraft II: The former allowed the transfer of characters from offline modes to non-ladder servers, while the latter requires login to play even the single-player campaign. The non-ladder servers of Diablo II were run amok by hacked items and characters. As such, Blizzard likely did not want to repeat this mistake, and they took note that the backlash from excluding LAN and offline single-player in StarCraft II was minimal after a while. Everyone bought the damn game regardless, including myself. I highly miss LAN, and its exclusion really rubbed me wrong. I attend a local LAN party often, but the Internet connectivity is terrible once 100+ PC gamers are crowded into the place. It makes playing StarCraft II with each other impossible, so most of the time people revert to StarCraft: Brood War. That’s a sign of inferiority to its predecessor — not something that most developers aim for.
It is also preposterous that they cite World of Warcraft as another example of a game that requires online authentication. It’s an MMO! There can’t be offline single-player for it or else it would no longer be an MMO! The real reason that Blizzard made this move was to prevent piracy, no matter what they tell us to our faces. StarCraft and Diablo II faced huge problems with piracy; and although single-use, account-binding keys could mitigate piracy in regards to online play, offline play would still have the same issue. Even though Blizzard makes the majority of their money from the online aspects of the game, they still do not want anyone to pirate their game, period. It’s a slap in the face of gamer rights, and it’s going to continue happening again and again.
The real-world cash shop, on the other hand, is exciting. They cited it as another reason for the offline play being nixed, but if you simply don’t allow the transfer of offline-to-online, there’s no reason that offline should affect this market. It will be interesting to see if this cash auction house succeeds without destroying the economy. It will certainly reduce the amount of account banning they do because of real-world currency exchanges. I’m willing to bet that this feature will be added to World of Warcraft once it’s been proven as a success in Diablo III. They likely do not wish to take chances with their sacred cash-cow by experimenting with a market like this, so they’re using Diablo III as a chance to test the waters.