First, I would like to take credit for peterb’s little epiphany about Internet distribution in our last episode. I found the Blizzard download store while poking around for Diablo 2. Generally I try to avoid Blizzard because they make The Game I am Not Allowed to Play(tm). After watching the completely incredible demo video for Diablo 3, I was intrigued by the idea of a polished dungeon crawler. But one thing still stood in the way: I generally don’t like to play games on my computer. It’s not worth the hassle.
I figured I would give Blizzard a chance because Blizzard is not just any PC gaming company. They have a long track record of producing incredibly polished games that are also well supported in the long term. Sure, they make an infinite stream of money with World Of Warcraft but the original Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo series are all still supported and all enjoy a reasonable level of sales even 15 to almost 20 years after their release. I think this is unusual.
Blizzard’s new download store is also unusual in the industry because the downloads do not have any aggressive DRM on them. Unlike Steam, I can download the binary and then play it wherever the hell I want without the spirit of Gabe Newell watching over me.
Blizzard also has a reputation for using art direction to make their games look good instead of trying to rely on high end technology. The result of this is that they tend to be extremely conservative in the hardware that they require for their games to run. Even their newest games usually have relatively mild hardware requirements. I think WoW would even run on my crappy Macbook with no real graphics card, for example.
Finally, Blizzard is unusual in that they release all their stuff on the both the Mac and Windows platforms at the same time. They should get some kind of “long suffering developer lifetime achievement award” for sticking with Apple for as long as they have. It can’t be easy.
I was willing to give Blizzard a chance with this game because they have met what would be my minimal requirements for proving that a gaming company doesn’t think I’m a drooling moron:
1. The game is easy to purchase.
2. The game does not have any stupid copy protection that will fail in some stupid way.
3. The game will run on my hardware and my operating system.
4. The game is well produced and polished, not some piece of shit that needs 15 patches before it is any good.
Even with all this going for them, the whole enterprise still almost failed. I found out the morning after I downloaded the Diablo 2 installer but before I could play the game that the new Apple operating system had broken the game on some machines with some hardware. It looked for a moment like I was doomed. But then a miracle happened. The change in the operating system apparently did not affect my graphics card, so rather than crash immediately, the game allowed me to run around the countryside smashing enemies to bits with a click of my mouse.
I happily click-click-click-click-click-click-click-clicked by way through a few areas. Satisfied with my achievement, I then closed the game for the night.
All of this brings up two final questions in my mind. First, as Pete asked in his piece: if Blizzard can do this, what exactly is the rest of the industry doing while they gaze at their navels and drool over new shader programs? Second, if even a company as good as Blizzard can nearly get screwed by any minor OS update, what real hope is there for the general purpose computer as a gaming appliance? I would be sad to have to give up this particular game at this particular time. But I will drop it in a heartbeat if the game makes me do any work to play it.
I guess might go get Starcraft and maybe Warcraft III as well.