I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this. I want to make this brief enough that even a Blizzard fanboy can understand it.

It has come to my attention that the higher-ups at Blizzard Entertainment have taken a fond interest in Native American history, transforming the company into the Aztec Empire and seeing how many people they can piss off before their best plans burn in flames. And since the only thing a crusading Hernan Cortes and the average Reddit denizen have in common is about nine months between showers, Blizzard is going to continue until every consumer right for computer software is ground into dust.

At the beginning of August 2011, Blizzard announced that the sequel to their beloved 2000 dungeon crawler Diablo II would not feature an offline single-player mode. None. Playing the game through Battle.net 2.0 is mandatory. I’m not sure why this surprised anybody, because the company already announced that the game could not be played on a Local Area Network.* And if you’ve been paying any attention to the recent history of the developer, you would have known that they hate you and everything about you. For the people stuck under a rock that didn’t see this coming? It’s Cryday, Cryday. Gotta whine hard on Cryday. It’s the Four Horsemen of the Crypocalypse: “Fuck you, Blizzard!”, “Your anus smells like penis shit!”, “Go to hell, Bobby Kotick!”, and of course, “I’m gonna pirate the game on launch day!” Yup. On the first day that Diablo III is available to the public, people are going to pirate the game in droves and get back at that evil Blizzard. And I am here to say “No, you won’t. Blizzard beat you guys. For now, Blizzard won.”

It’s not that I blame the aggressive behavior and current sentiment of the consumer. Here’s another developer saying they’ve got a way around software pirates. Developers have been losing that war for nearly forty years. When Atari was unable to secure a timely patent for the solid state technology in the game cabinet for 1972’s Pong, other manufacturers cashed in. It’s been all downhill from there. Thirty-eight years later, a new world of gigantic software creators have been losing their battles. In 2011, French-Canadian publisher Ubisoft announced that a portion of their computer software release lineup would require a persistent internet connection. This made for particularly scathing headlines when 2010’s console video game hit Assassin’s Creed II was announced as one of the games that would feature the technology.* Roughly a month after that game went to retail, the “always connected” requirement was cracked and disabled.* Blizzard has been fighting their own battles, too. When the company launched StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty in 2010, the single-player campaign was required to “phone home” to Battle.net 2.0 upon startup. Roughly a day after the release of that game, the single-player campaign was cracked and the game was functional and available on torrent websites. This prevailing train of thought has led to the idea that Diablo III will just as easily fall victim to software piracy. “Ubisoft’s games required a persistent internet connection and they were cracked. The StarCraft II single-player campaign had to connect to Battle.net and it was cracked. Why will this be any different?”

Companies have learned a valuable lesson from the rise and popularity of both the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game and the free-to-play browser games on Facebook and beyond. It seems likely that hackers will not catch up for some time. What’s the easiest way to get around SecuROM? A company creates the Virtual Maginot Line, you take your best efforts and bomb the shit out of Virtual Neutral Belgium. In most cases, the only way to defeat SecuROM was to have a legitimate copy of the game in your hard drive. How did hackers get around it? They simply disabled the check. From there, modifying the program to function was simple stuff.

When Blizzard and Ubisoft said that their games would require an internet connection, they simply told the game to phone home. All hackers had to do was disable the check or create a string of code that the server would accept. This is the same reason that companies won’t package the game with a Local Area Network function that has to be signed off by the online gaming service. All you have to do is disable or manipulate the handshake and you can play the game like nothing ever happened!

What’s happening in Diablo III is really simple: In StarCraft II and Assassin’s Creed II, all of the critical single-player game elements were hosted locally. All of the data and information required to play the game is hosted on the hard drive. All you have to do is unlock some doors. Do you know which games are not pirated on the first day, or the first month, or ever? Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. If the game is not named World of Warcraft or Rift or Lineage or the game was not released over ten years ago, you will not be able to play a pirated version of that game. Even then, it can be difficult to find the right server with the right latency and the right functionality. Software piracy and MMOs are a completely different ball game. In an MMO, critical game files are hosted and managed server-side. Did you notice that the single-player campaign in Wings of Liberty was breached on the second day? But thirteen months later, the only multiplayer crack for StarCraft II must run on a Taiwanese game client and can only host one-versus-one games? And it’s so deficient that you cannot even change the player usernames? The critical StarCraft II multiplayer game files are also hosted server-side.

In order to manipulate and manage those server-side game files, you must emulate Battle.net and then discover how both the software and the server manage and manipulate information, disabling any security or encryption as it tries to get in your way. And even if a group of hackers can accomplish this, their project will get zero visibility. It will be a violation of the End User License Agreement, a violation that has been enforced in a court of law on numerous occasions. Reverse-engineering the server to create your own is damn-well illegal. No Blizzard fan sites will dare host the files and give the program the kind of visibility that it needs in order to propagate in the wild. In StarCraft II, there is little local in multiplayer. That’s why the game will always feature a minimum latency, even if you can find a way to “host” the server on your own computer. Diablo III will be no different and will go into territory that the men and women working on StarCraft II (a game with fixed map designs and a significant amount of locally-hosted content) could not dream of.

I think some gamers just haven’t realized this. A “crack” will be possible eventually, but it will actually come in the form of an emulated server that will take weeks or even months to implement. Diablo 3 simply can’t be played offline. Everything about your character is controlled by the server.

In World of Warcraft, all of the maps and levels are static (fixed). But in Diablo, the dungeons and levels are dynamically generated. It hasn’t been mentioned in any interviews, but it’s the SERVER that creates these random maps, random dungeons, random event scripting, mob locations, random NPCs, and vendor items for sale. The server might even control boss AI. All of this data is transferred to your client.

The game has been designed from the ground up for the server to generate all of the random content in the game.

Digital Castration writer “Daeity”, “Unrealized Reality of Diablo 3 — Part 1”, published on August 13, 2011.*

Since the mid-nineties, the greatest compromise between the consumer and the developer in the young history of video game consumer rights has been a one-user-per-copy license to use an online multiplayer service. I’m sure somebody has a valid argument against this form of digital rights management, but I can’t quite think of one. Consumers are okay with this. They’ve been enjoying their Battle.nets and QuakeWorlds for over a decade. In exchange, companies got a level of control over software piracy and dealt a significant blow to the used computer video game market. The success of those services spawned those online role-playing games with their monthly subscription fees. Online multiplayer has become so popular that sixty-dollar console video games feature single-player campaigns that act as paid demos for the pay-to-play Xbox Live gaming service. Companies are now leveraging that compromise. As long as developers and publishers can only jerk their wanks at the possibility of a society where cloud computing services such as OnLive are an accepted standard for video game distribution, then this new world of client-server multiplayer video games are going to be their way of doing business. If the server fails, the client fails. If the client fails, the server fails. The actual content will be generated server-side and will be manipulated through a client featuring the bare minimum of game code required to play the product. If you’re wondering why Diablo III does not feature modmaking abilities, that sums it up. How can you modify game code that is not designed to exist in a permanent state on your computer?

How many game assets in this picture are being hosted on your machine? The correct
answer is “LOL U MAD?” (Credit: Blizzard Entertainment*)

Not much to it. Diablo III is an MMORPG masquerading as a dungeon crawler. If their service “works as intended”, then your only option for playing the game will be “purchase the game”. If anyone is playing an illegitimate-but-functional version of this game within the first three months, it means that Blizzard fucked up somewhere and somebody is probably getting fired. And as more high-profile releases move towards a free-to-play model, there will be less and less incentive to understand and circumvent this technology. (Pirating a free video game. Good luck selling that one to the internet.) This industry has become enamored with the idea of generating hype to create significant first-day and first-week sales. Creating a form of copy-protection that works for the months and years past that first day and first week is about as good as it can get for these companies.

If you believe in the philosophy that eliminating all software piracy for your products will increase short-term sales, then Blizzard has succeeded. Congratulations to Michael Morhaime. In your race to prevent players from downloading a series of games and products whose financial success has become increasingly reliant on a social gaming philosophy (the idea that your video games are “cool” and worth playing with friends “just because”), you’ve alienated the most passionate members of your player base. Only right now, nobody thinks you got away with it. Computer gamers are so distrustful of the development hierarchy that shouting “Blizzard!” on a crowded message board is like bringing your Tea Party buddies to a Barack Obama speech. When you say “We won’t let you play Diablo III offline because of software piracy”, consumers are laughing it off. But this time, they’re going to figure it out the hard way. Eh, it won’t be all that bad. Witnessing their state of shock and confusion is going to be a thousand times more entertaining than Diablo III.

And no, that doesn’t reflect well on Diablo III.

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