GDC provided a revealing behind-the-scenes glimpse of the gaming industry, where many of the biggest names within the space spoke candidly about their successes and failures. One of the most interesting summits of the week was Shout at the Devil: The Making of Diablo 3, which featured former D3 Game Director Jay Wilson. This summit session praised the game for its accessibility, health system and character design, but also touched on the many issues that kept the title from reaching its true potential.
During the presentation, Wilson went in-depth into why Diablo 3 did not quite live up to player expectations by discussing the auction house, repetitive combat and lackluster item system.
The most glaring of issues was the Auction House, a feature that Wilson said, “we would turn off, if we could.” He suggested that the team had deeply underestimated the playerbase’s use of both auction houses, making them both messy and dominant, and undermining player’s ability to play.
Wilson did, however, defend their decision to implement as they did. He said the team initially thought the player-driven economy would combat scams and provide a useful service. Jay summed up the situation by stating, “we picked the wrong answer, but I stand by us trying to solve a problem that really needs to be solved.” The unfortunate result of this “wrong answer” led to the convenience of amassing a fortune in gold from bartering items, creating a dimming effect on the game’s primary motivation of experiencing the story and killing Diablo.
Jay Wilson also discussed the fact that combat became repetitive by the player’s high level of skill customization. He mentioned that “We had no ‘diverse combat mechanics’ pillar… the player is a Swiss army knife, we don’t know if they’re the scissors or the saw.” If the designer doesn’t know any of the skills a player has, not even dodges or ranged attacks, then he can’t design mechanics around them, limiting him to the few attacks universal to all classes.
When it comes to the flawed item system, Wilson mentioned that Diablo 3 “items were mathy” with players being required to maximize their characters particular core stats. “Being a Barbarian and swinging an axe doesn’t often involve algebra,” said Wilson. Blizzard has attempted to fix this with hundreds of new legendary items in patch 1.04, which are more ‘build changer’ items.
These issues, along with a lack of PvP at launch (and the eventual cancellation of Team Deathmatch), created a firestorm that Blizzard was never really able to fully recover from.
All in all, these retrospectives are always an important part of the process, although the unfortunate thing about a game like Diablo 3 is that even minor mistakes will create long-term ill will, if the community is disgruntled enough. But it is good to hear from the developers mouth the mistakes that were made and what they would do differently. That is evolution in a nutshell. Now lets just hope that they do not have a short memory….