Blizzard may present fans with a devil of a choice in Diablo III

Blizzard has long been held up as an exceptional video game developer. For decades now, through the strength of ground-breaking franchises like Warcraft and Starcraft, they’ve managed to earn the love and loyalty of fans around the world. That love may be in jeopardy in the wake of recent news about Diablo III, the latest in what’s generally accepted as the best-dungeon crawler series. Various places around the Web are reporting Blizzard’s plans to implement two potentially controversial features for gamers into their upcoming sequel.

The first of these is an in-game auction house that allows players to sell off various pieces of equipment and loot to other players. This by itself wouldn’t be anything new. The controversy stems from the fact that the auction house also has an option to use real money instead of in-game currency. Allowing players to simply buy their way to success is a very touchy subject among gamers, many of whom feel that players should have to earn their way to power in games. Some think that purchasable items cheapen the achievement of those who have earned their gear “fairly” through slogging through dungeons defeating monsters as opposed to simply spending a few moments swiping a credit card. However, Blizzard has learned through experience in their wildly successful game World of Warcraft, there is a huge market for in-game transactions using real money. Many players have far more money than time and are quite willing to pay a few (or even many) bucks to avoid spending hours “grinding,” repetitively performing actions, trying to find a better weapon or armor. This created an underground economy where players were driven to make unregulated transactions outside of the game to purchase in-game equipment. Blizzard has decided to take over and police that market and, of course, tax it a little. If this feature is successful, it will be interesting to see how long it is until if it finds its way into WoW which has an established subscriber list of well over 10 million players worldwide. With a base that large and hundreds of millions of auction transactions a day, it has to be a tempting thought to those in charge of Blizzard.

The second bit of news is that D-III will requires a constant connection to the Internet in order to be able to play the game. Blizzard claims this is necessary to implement many of the features they wish to include in the game, such as voice chat, achievements, character storage and others. While Blizzard’s this is only to improve the game, some people are crying foul and saying this is just for security or digital rights management. If true, this would almost certainly raise a large uproar in the gaming community. Any kind of DRM is a fierce source of debate amongst gamers. Some claim it’s essential for developers to protect their investment in this era of global piracy. While others believe that determined pirates will always find a way to circumvent any security measure and thus it’s only the honest consumers that are hampered by restrictive DRM. Just the rumor alone has gamers up in arms already. This isn’t the first time this sort of security feature has been tried. Ubisoft has tried the same thing with many of their titles, starting with Assassin’s Creed 2, and they were widely panned for it. Despite the fact that pirated versions of those games also appeared, Ubisoft has claimed its DRM a success.

As always, Blizzard remains tight-lipped about their unreleased products. It will be interesting to see if these announced features do end up in the finished product, and if so, if gamers’ moral objections can allow them to resist the allure of a game many of them have been anticipating for over a decade now.

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