Diablo III: Reaper of Souls – The cost of fixing mistakes

Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls, by Blizzard Entertainment, is the expansion to the isometric view hack & slash game Diablo 3. Diablo 3 will be shortened to D3 and the expansion, Reaper of Souls, to RoS in the rest of the article.

The game
In the Diablo franchise, the aim is two-fold: reach and defeat the end-boss of the game and amass the coolest-looking, most buffing pieces of armor, equipment and weapons as possible. In other words, Kills and Loot. One brings the other in a tightly-knit circle of massacre, where monsters drop gear that allows the player to kill harder monsters who drop more gear that allows the player to kill harder monsters etc. Even after the end-boss is defeated, the quest for the best available gear does not end, as the game can be re-run endlessly in order to “farm” the best pieces of gear. This is an important point because it means that ultimately, going through the same content again and again is expected.

The design issues

When D3 first came out, a lot of players were upset with the false economy that was created due to the Auction House system, in which players could spend in-game or real-life money to purchase items. Some were particularly successful in doing so. However, the system almost made it mandatory to purchase items from the AH (often for derisory prices due to competition), as the random drop rate made it really hard to get good gear in order to progress through the next levels of the game.

Which leads to the next issue: in order to progress through the various difficulty levels of the original D3 game, players needed to complete the game and kill Diablo in Normal difficulty before moving on to Hard, Very Hard, Insane, etc. As was mentioned above, going through the content again and again is expected: but in this case, it was forced upon the players in a way that meant many veterans and hardcore players had to endure going through a game that was not challenging 3-4 times before they reached a level of difficulty that was challenging for them.

Reaper of Souls difficulty menu

Game too easy? Open menu, make it harder, back into the fray!

The design approaches

Following customer feedback on D3, Blizzard rectified their – openly admitted – mistakes in RoS by

a) Removing the Auction House and any real-life money transactions from the game. Loot in RoS can now only be obtained through character trading in-game, or loot drops from monsters.

b) Changing the randomised loot drops to a “smart” loot system that more often than not rewards characters with class relevant, if not useful, item upgrades.

c) Allowing players to play at harder difficulties straight off the bat and change dynamically mid-game, and introducing an “Aventure” mode once the game has been fully cleared in order to drive players back into D3’s world and hunt monsters without feeling that they are just aimlessly repeating content.

The UX of it all

It cost Blizzard a lot of negative press and customer sentiment by fixing their design choices through the RoS expansion, mainly because RoS came with an additional price tag, which threw off a lot of players. Unfortunately, what players did not realise was that the “fixes” (the changes discussed above) were introduced to D3’s content regardless of whether the user owned the RoS expansion or not through a patch, which was released for free a month prior to the expansion to all owners of D3.

Nevertheless, it meant that players that had been thrown off from D3’s original difficulty system or the Auction House can now purchase and play the game with the re-worked patch, as Blizzard would have wanted it from the start. These drastic changes in a game’s mechanics show how far user’s feedback can go in changing a developer’s product, to the point where they will publicly admit to have been mistaken and take a step back to fix their initial choices.

My opinion as a player

I personally was never affected by the Auction House system, but I particularly disliked having the play the game from start to end multiple times just to reach difficulty levels that were appropriate to challenge me. The loot system being changed to the “smart” system only made the experience better, so while I have to say that D3 was genuinely disappointing (system-wise, I was not bothered by the fact that you have to play online even when playing on single-player), RoS completely saved the game and franchise in my eyes. I am pleased, as a player and customer, to see a mogul such as Blizzard making mistakes, admitting them, and backtracking to fix them.


Cover image © tobylewin.deviantart.com


2 thoughts on “Diablo III: Reaper of Souls – The cost of fixing mistakes

  1. Well, I have been playing D3 since day one back in may 2012. The game has come a long way since then.. Blizzard is pretty good with the whole “if it is worth doing, it is worth doing right”. Still, a lot of people feel they released D3 too soon.

    I suppose I would have to agree with that, especially considering what they have been able to come up with in the last 2 years. Seems to me though that if they DID release the game too soon, OK – but they have been doing things right ever since, or at least they have been moving in the right direction since launch, to be fair.

    Nowadays I am just waiting for the next patch and I am logging on with my 4 wiz setup now and then just for a run or two. It is easy to burn out by doing the same thing too much, so I am as mentioned just logging on now and then these days. Then again, every time there is a major patch it is usually game time 🙂

  2. Pingback: Game Difficulty Research – Development Blog

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