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Blizzard takes heat for Diablo III's always-online restrictions

Always-online digital rights management (DRM) is a hot-button topic. This blog's more vocal readers have reliably decried this controversial tactic – which sees publishers' attempting to protect their games by forcing players to maintain a constant Internet connection – at every opportunity.

But while always-online DRM has caused companies like Ubisoft and Capcom to earn the wrath of the PC gaming community, it hasn't stopped others from experimenting with it in their wares. The latest publisher to square off against the PC gaming community on this front is Blizzard.

Last month players learned that the American game maker's highly anticipated action role-playing game Diablo III would require an Internet connection at all times, even for those who intend to play by themselves.

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Predictably, some gamers immediately went on the offensive, forcing a couple of senior Blizzard staffers to do damage control by stating in an interview with MTV Multiplayer that they didn't consider the game's always-online requirement a form of DRM, but instead a means of enhancing play. A constant connection would allow them to store players' characters on the company's servers, let players switch between solo and multiplayer adventuring at the drop of a hat, and reduce the likelihood of cheating hacks, they said.

Their defense made some sense. However, now that people have had hands-on experience with the recently distributed beta, we're beginning to hear outrage concerning the limitations, restrictions, and frustrations that arise from the game's always-online system.

United Kingdom-based blog Rock, Paper, Shotgun posted a thorough description of the problems they encountered. Some key issues include loss of campaign progress should you happen to lose connection or remain idle too long, an inability to pause the game, and a "cool-down" period required before logging off – all serious dilemmas for those of us who can't always devote ourselves to extended, uninterrupted play sessions (read: pretty much anyone with a family).

And never mind that this kind of design simply makes no sense for a single player adventure. While Blizzard may be trumpeting the game's multiplayer component, I suspect many people – perhaps even the majority – will opt to play Diablo III solo, at least their first time through.

Other problems cited include some standard – but still legitimate – always-online complaints, chief among them an inability to play while traveling. Past Diablo games have helped me while away countless hours on airplanes, but that won't be possible with Diablo III.

The article's list of aggravations is qualified with an admission that the game is still in beta, and that much could – and, hopefully, would – change prior to its public release. Still, it's a damning list of charges that could well prove reason enough for even some of the franchise's most devout fans to reconsider picking up a copy.

The good news? If Blizzard is true to its word and does indeed think of a required Internet connection as a means of enhancing play rather than preventing piracy, then there is a chance that thoughtful critiques like the one posted on Rock, Paper, Shotgun will make the company reconsider its advantages and disadvantages. It's not too late to offer irate fans a peace pipe in the form an optional offline mode.

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About the Author
Game and Gadget Reporter

Chad Sapieha has been writing about video games and consumer gadgets for the Globe and Mail since 2003. His work has been published in magazines, newspapers, and Web sites across North America, and he has appeared as an expert on television and radio newscasts. More

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