How Diablo III's Always-On Internet Requirement Makes It A Better Game

Last week's rough launch of Diablo III neatly illustrated the biggest problem with the game's 'always-on' internet requirement. It was a reminder that consumers have lost a portion of their ownership of the game, that we no longer have complete control even over whether or not our game will start.

That's as true this week as it was last week, but the more I play, the more I've found that there are also some things about Diablo III's always-on world that make it more vital, exciting and engaging.

Last night, I found myself in town doing a loot drop-off. I told my smith to strip a rare magical bow for parts. I didn't need the bow — I'd already given my NPC companion a better one, so there was no reason to keep it around. When I hit the "salvage" button, a dialogue box popped up. Was I really sure I wanted to do this? It could not be undone.

I paused. Yes, I was sure I wanted to do this. There was no future for that bow — unique or no, it was basically junk. But I paused nonetheless, because this decision was permanent in a way that most video game decisions aren't. If I changed my mind, I couldn't just reload an old save and undo it. No takebacks.

That's due to the the particular way that Diablo III operates - you can't save a snapshot of the world and reload it at your pleasure. Whether you're playing by yourself or with friends, you're always connected to the servers, and even when you're in the menus, life goes on around you. It's Blizzard's world; we just live in it.

This has proved irritating to a lot of people, myself included — I mostly want to play Diablo III single-player, so why can't I just do that? Why do I have to connect to the internet to play this game? This isn't how I'm used to playing video games!

I still think that the game would benefit from at least giving players the option to play the game in an entirely offline mode — you choose to make a hero an "offline hero" and you can never take that hero online. I'm no expert in the technical aspects of MMOs and server-based gaming, but it seems like it should be possible to keep single-player gamers and whatever weird gear and hacked loot they can come up with out of the shared servers.

When a game takes away our ability to meta-manipulate, it feels alive in a way that most games do not.

But now that I'm partway through Diablo III's second act, I'm actually glad to be playing online. I don't usually play with others (though thanks largely to Mike's excellent review, I will), but all the same, I'm enjoying the feeling of being in a connected world that doesn't reside on my computer. It makes my actions feel consequential — granted, they're consequential in a small way, but all the same, each thing I do feels permanent. It lends the world an intangible credibility that feels exciting and new.

I've seen plenty of folks online complaining about Diablo III's lack of a traditional save-system. When it's time to stop playing, you just sort of…stop. Your progress, gear and level is saved, but your location defaults back to the last checkpoint. The first few times this happens, it can be a bit galling — Wait, I was near the end of the dungeon! I have to do that again?

But the lack of proper saves also makes the game feel vital and alive. (And remember, Diablo II worked in much the same way). For a more recent touchstone, I'm reminded of nothing so much as Dark Souls, where the game's constant auto-saving makes it impossible to undo mistakes. As a result, each action in Dark Souls feels immensely more vital than in, say, Skyrim.

When I play Skyrim, I'll often quicksave before doing business in town or attempting to craft items — if I make a bad impulse decision or fail a dice-roll, I can always reload and try again. But at its core, this sort of save-game manipulation is a perversion of the game, isn't it? It's treated as common practice — I'd venture a guess that everyone who has played an RPG has at some point reloaded a saved game to undo mistakes (heck, we even advise on how to do it in our How to Play Video Games guide).

When a game takes away our ability to meta-manipulate, it feels alive in a way that most games do not. The compromise for all this vitality, however, is that we have to be willing to give up control over a game's world. (Note: Not the same as requiring us to connect to Blizzard's servers.) If we control the world, if it lives entirely by our rules on our hard drives. If that's the case, it seems we wind up unable to keep ourselves from abusing that power. It's a matter of preference — sometimes, I want to mod and tweak, to exert control over the world on my computer from outside the traditional bounds of the game-world. But other times, I'm finding that I like to give up control and try to succeed on someone else's terms.

"But!" you may be saying, frantically gesticulating in the air, "This doesn't excuse Blizzard from forcing us to play Diablo III online! You don't have to play Dark Souls online, after all!" And that's absolutely true — Diablo III could do all of this stuff, the constant auto-saving and the persistent world, in offline mode.

"And!" you continue, struggling to find the words to express your outrage, "You just said last week that the always-online thing is a big problem!" Yeah, I did, and I still think that. The internet requirement seems like unnecessary overkill, and I believe Blizzard should add a walled-off offline mode to the game for those who want it.

Then again, if Blizzard did add an offline mode, I'm not sure I would use it, even as I would welcome its presence. Something about the fact that I don't have control over the world, and never will, makes it feel less "of my computer" and closer to "real." There's something uniquely exciting that happens when you play a game on someone else's servers.

I'm sure this is old hat to MMO players, but as a mostly single-player guy, it feels fresh to me. I get the sense that Diablo III will push single-players like me to really experience server-based gaming for the first time, and that a lot of us may find that we have a taste for it.

It's Blizzard's world; we just live in it. But visiting another world can be pretty exciting.


    The small and over-thought positives here are buried under the weight of the negatives - especially for Aus gamers. Honestly some of the high-brow journalistic rhetoric thrown about above is just laughable.

      I disagree with you red, i think this artical has hit it on the head, i love the always online aspect, yeah sure ive had some connection issues, ive lost a level 22 hardcore character due to a lag spike, however this make me appreciate the game on another level.
      i dislike that in fallout/elder scrolls im able to F5 my way through the whole game and never feel like my actions have any consequenses, this aspect of your choice is final makes it all the better IMO

        You're an idiot if you truly believe dying due to lag spikes is reason to appreciate a pointless system. I've recently been hacked and lost all my items to which they only barely responded despite giving them the name of a suspicious added friend on my account, and me never having used my login details anywhere else. I've also never had this issue with a service like Steam. They should get their shit together before enforcing dumb rules about transferring characters online/offline. What's more, they're punishing me by restricting my access to the RealMoneyAuctionHouse and making me get an authenticator for future help from them. I'm being punished for them dropping the ball! I can't believe I paid for this shit.

          It makes me appreciate the game more in the respect that just like in real life you never know when your time is up, gotta live it to the fullest, and unlike the whinney facebook/twitter generation i love this.
          have a cry mate, my Wow account has been hacked 3 times, i use both an authenticator and reset my password every month using 12 characters in random.

          Its a fact of life stop crying about your lost and non existant items and get over it, shit happens.

            .... Your saying that you enjoy the Internet connection games because of the added danger and risk of not been able to undo a mistake.
            By Atheismo that's a silly thing to say, If you don't like saving .... DON'T play Skyrim without saving except for at the end of a gaming session (no exceptions) viola you can now simulate your "risk" any time with all the bothersome hassles of exclusively online games.
            The only reason for a game to go online is multi-player.
            But who do you end up playing with... oh that's right your friends... huh, golly wasn't their this LAN thing that would suite your multi-player gaming desires 8/10.
            The Changing world is a gimmick and can be replicated via expansions and/or DLC.
            In conclusion online gaming is for the multiplayer experience with people at a distance... nothing more.

    Your logic is flawed: Having the option of an always-on connection would make Diablo 3 unique and wonderful. Not having an offline option is a bit ridiculous. I think a lot of players would be willing to sacrifice auction houses and coop for the ability to not be cut out of their game for 7 hours of server maintenance.

      I would be willing to put up with it , if it did not DC me every 8 mins unless i cinstantly type in the general chat!

    Wait, this is dumb. Having permanent decisions is (in some cases) a good idea. Just do mega autosaves like Dark/Demons Souls do. They work fine without an always online connection.

    And being thrown back to the start of a checkpoint doesn't make the world feel alive, it makes it feel more random because the map changes every time you reload the game. If anything, losing progress detracts from the experience.

    Right now, I'm at Uni, and the internet is being crappy. I could be playing Diablo III on my laptop, but because it requires fast internet to play freaking singleplayer I'm screwed. I fail to see how always online improves anything. Just have a separate auction house for singleplayer and multiplayer, like they've already done with hardcore mode.

    Here is an interesting article on Diablo 3 and the future of gaming.

      That was gold

      What pissed me off about that cracked link. The game is $60US but $80AUS. CMON!!!! Our dollar is stonger than yours. And I'm downloading it too. ARRRRRRRGGGG!!!

        You should do your shopping better. Got mine for $69 and a few of my friends got it for $57. Never buy digital copies because they will rip off their foreign consumers most of the time. Look at 3rd party games on steam vs how much you can get it for retail.

    "When a game takes away our ability to meta-manipulate, it feels alive in a way that most games do not."

    This is in no way an intrinsic benefit of playing online. You even said so! But then you justify your whole article with the following line, which was -not- justified:

    "There’s something uniquely exciting that happens when you play a game on someone else’s servers."

    So no, Kirk Hamilton, no. Stop validating Blizzard's approach which fundamentally erodes gamers' rights and abilities to play games we paid for on our own terms. That, or actually justify yourself, don't just say "It feels kinda nice somehow" and attribute it to one of the worst approaches at DRM in the past 30 years.

      Sorry, correction: it -is- an intrinsic benefit of playing online, but it's not exclusively a property thereof. It can be achieved through other much less invasive and disruptive means.

        And to prove that point you only need to look to D3's predecessor...

    Hedging your bets and being an always-online apologetic.

    I understand what your saying and obviously there are many negatives and positives to think about in regards to not having an entirely offline mode but if implemented in many other games, it would prove potentially destructive figuratively speaking.

    Imagine if Mass Effect had it an always on DRM.
    What if I simply misread a line, misinterpreted what action my character was going to take like punch a helpless reporter and then what? I can't go back in time.
    Essentially, we have to figure out what the developer want's us to think in... say a conversational scenario in a game, which, if interpreted wrongly may go against our style of play. I dunno about you but if I was one punch away from getting a 50 point achievement with a full paragon character and accidentally did punch the reporter... I would be pissed, especially if I were an achievement whore.

    Nevertheless that is just one example of how being connected to the world would prove destructive in a game environment.

      that example is irrelevant to diablo however, as diablo doesnt offer any moral or story based choices. You dont effect the story at all, you just play through it.

    So... basically this is just another troll-titled article, except this time the author more or less admits he doesn't agree with it by the end? K.

    You know what makes it not a better game? Error 37.

    On a more serious note, if this was an MMO, then I think I could forgive all the "always online" crap, but D3 isn't structured like an MMO -- sure there's the "lots of people online" thing but you can only form your individual parties for each isolated game. Perhaps there needs to be a new name for this sort of thing.

    I was originally inclined to agree that having it always online wouldn't be such a terrible thing.

    However now 2 weeks in and my thoughts have changed. Disconnecting in this game is a major blow when you're about to approach a quest objective, get dc'd and have to start at the back of the area again. Also the fact that having randomly 400+ ping causes swings that should land to miss is a massive pain and causes too many problems when playing certain classes.

    This article reads like psuedo-intellectual vomit.

    The simple fact is although Blizzard/Actifail have released a great game in terms of gameplay, the fact they have essentially gotten away with "Always-Online" DRM by making it rely on server-generated content is a kick in the guts to gamers. Games should never DEPEND on an internet connection for their CONTENTS, let alone their DRM component. It's a complete load of shit.

    Unfortunately because they've actually designed a game with decent gameplay, they will use the record sales numbers to justify this bullshit, and label all those with perfectly valid complaints and problems as 0-day issues...

    And here's how it's always-online requirement makes it a worse game.

    [insert sarcasm] The "always on" seemed to have worked wonders for Ubisoft's reputation. Blizzard are definitely on a commercial winner with D3 but I think they may have tarnished their rep a little with their core fan-base by making these "for your own good" changes to how we play their game.

    As you said near the end, you can have persistent worlds without the need of always-on DRM. Your Dark Souls analogy works perfectly here.

    All the positive aspects of always-on DRM you are pointing out in this article are not limited to an always-on/server-based system. Therefore I have to disagree with the title of this article, that THIS could be one of the reasons why Always-On DRM makes Diablo 3 a better game.

    Ridiculous. I think it's time I stopped reading kotaku.

    All these points are why I tried to play a character in Diablo 2 years ago. I got killed by lag halfway through act 1 and went back to playing offline.
    If I didn't tolerate it then, I'm not going to tolerate it now when there's more games competing for my $$$.

    Whelp, that's just fucking stupid.
    I'm out, so long Kotaku, I liked your AU articles but I can't tolerate this trash so I'm off to the greener pastures of RockPaperShotgun and Joystiq.

    Dont understand why you rage kids are raging about lag and stuff. I could even use my phone to tether to my laptop to play with minimal lag and i killed diablo with it. Grow up kids

      So because you can play fine with no lag, we should all accept our often massive lag and grow up? What an adult way of thinking!

        No lag? Are you kidding me? I have 400-1000 ping and i have NO PROBLEM killing diablo with it. What's your excuse?

          Its the spikes now and then for 2-3 seconds, I am only up to Act 2 on Hell but if I get a spike while fighting a pack of elites its all over.

          I am playing single player, why should we accept this lag in single player because you are able to kill Diablo with a shit ping? How are the two related at all?

          Its like if you PAID MONEY for a Mercedes and I gave you a mountain bike "I can get to work using that bike, whats your excuse?"

      Ahh yes, the old 'I'm having no issues so that means no one else could possibly be having any either'.

      You sir, are a fucking moron. Kindly GTFO

        Another pointless reply that does not make any point except trying to use meme line to sounds cool. If playing with 400-1000 ping while able to complete the game seems no issues to you then you sir, are a fucking moron. Kindly learn to play games. If i can play in the worst condition why cant you play when you are better? Fucking kids these days dont know how to appreciate.

          Would you be able to tell us why its GOOD that you have a shit ping?

          I cant understand how you can defend people who are making a profit off us by selling us a service and then not providing a service.

            He's bragging that he's a Hardass McAwesome because he can play a laggy game and not lose it. Maybe he can even enjoy it. Just sounds like he has shit standards.

            But having shit standards doesn't help him stroke his e-peen as thoroughly! The zaniness!

          Here's a suggestion, create a hardcore character and see how long you last with that ping. Not everyone has the luxury of having an internet connection wherever they go. You seemingly have a high tolerance for something that responds half a second or greater after you issue a command. Almost no one else can do this. Truth of the matter is, you're either refusing to put yourself in others' shoes to see just how annoying this problem is or you're defending blizzard out of blind fanboyism.

    Maybe you should frantically gesticulate to the point you made where the always online was a good thing, or did you struggle to find the words to prove it?

    my only issue is that one day, the servers will shut down. what then?

    No. It is absolutely ridiculous how I cannot play a game I purchased, SINGLEPLAYER if their servers are down.

    Kotaku, home of the flowers and rainbows feel-good articles. I seriously have to find a better gaming news site.

    Third world country, unstable internet.

    you know why skyrim has the save feature which you can manipulate to your desire? SO YOU CAN MAKE YOUR CHARACTER BE WHOMEVER YOU WISH IT TO BE. Skyrim gives the freedom to change the decisions about your character whenever you wish. Like say my character did action A but what if it had done B or C? I haven't played Diablo 3, but the 2 games I think are very different from each other. The other thing is, Skyrim doesn't need to be played that way - it can be played without save game manipulation if you desire so - just play and let the autosave record your progress and live with the consequences.

    Really, this article was a terrible read.

    Always Online = Bad
    Reasoning: Online services are subject to availability, and therefore your experience and enjoyment is subject to availability.

    Never Online = Bad
    Reasoning: Exclusive offline is fine for some games, but a game that cries out to be played with friends should always have the option for an online mode - seperate from the offline

    Online if Requested = Good
    Reasoning: Player choice and freedom is paramount, allowing people to play how they want, when they want, with the restrictions, limitations and benefits therein.

    Blizzard was wrong.

    Blizzard work tirelessly to create a patch/expansion that introduces this functionality. They currently have enough money to buy God and have hired everyone worth their salt in the industry because they can - they can afford it.

    Totally agree man. I'd be completely happy with it if there was no lag or downtime, but I do like "really" playing in someone else's world.

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