Diablo III's Digital Rights Management System Isn't So Bad

by Patrick O'Rourke

Fans of the Diablo franchise have waited 10 years for Diablo III, the follow-up to the critically acclaimed Diablo II. But because of Blizzard's digital rights management (DRM) that required a constant internet connection, many gamers were greeted with the now famous "Error 37" glitch - even if they were simply just trying to play the hotly anticipated title's single player mode.

Welcome to the world of DRM, an unfortunate necessity for PC game developers looking to protect their intellectual property. Piracy is always blamed for the decline of PC gaming's popularity and video game developers and publishers are constantly looking for inventive ways to protect their products (whether PC gaming's popularity is actually declining or not is another question altogether though).

DRM, especially when it comes to video games, definitely isn't anything new though. When a major PC game is released, whether it's a Ubisoft, EA Orgin or Steam title, if you're a gamer that primarily plays PC games, DRM is an unfortunate reality.

So how could Diablo III's DRM possibly be favourable for PC gaming and in many ways, actually make Diablo III a better game?

For the first few days following the release of Diablo III, the game was almost totally unplayable. If you were lucky enough to be one of the few that managed to log onto Blizzard's servers, odds are you'd get kicked off at some point during play. If Blizzard's must-always-maintain-an-internet-connection DRM didn't exist, fans of the franchise would have been able to actually play the game's single player mode, and the furor that blasted its way across the internet during the title's first week of release never would have occurred.

Gamers may have to pay for the Xbox 360's online service Xbox Live, but it offers one thing PC gaming never has been able to give gamers: a seamless, simple, comprehensive online gaming platform. With Xbox Live, players are able to communicate with one another through Microsoft's pay to play service through text or voice chat and easily jump from game to game with a group of friends.

Although Blizzard's Diablo III Battle.net online service isn't as fully featured yet, the fact that the title forces you to always maintain a constant online connection, allows you to easily join a game with a player on your friends list as well as keep tabs on their progress. Some form of built in voice chat should have been included in Diablo III, allowing the player to avoid the use of popular PC gaming voice chat services like Ventrilo or Xfire.

The fact that, while playing Diablo III, the player can jump from single player to multiplayer and into other friend's games with ease, is relatively new to PC gaming and makes the title much more accessible when it comes to drawing in the console demographic and more casual gamers. Battle.net also allows players to send messages across Blizzard's other titles like World of Warcraft (WoW) and StarCraft 2. Having a persistent system like this also aids in the development of building a dedicated community around the title (not that Blizzard has ever had any trouble building communities).

Also, because all Diablo III characters reside in the cloud on Blizzard's own servers, it means that the company has the ability to back up and track your character's activities. Similar to how WoW works, this means that every time you loot, pick up, or equip an item the change is automatically recorded in Blizzard's database you never have to worry about losing your character or its progress.

There's no denying that Diablo III's DRM is annoying, as it doesn't allow anyone to play the game unless they have a constant internet connection available. Many gamers find this intrusive and feel cheated because, in their eyes, this means that they never truly own the title - and in some ways they are correct. But there's a plus side to Diablo III's meddlesome digital rights management system.

Because of this feature, pirating the title is extremely difficult, and, in theory, this should lead to greater sales for Activision Blizzard. This would in turn hopefully encourage other developers to adopt similar DRM features and port exclusive console titles over to the platform that they normally wouldn't bother with because of concerns over the rampant piracy in the PC gaming landscape. The always online DRM also makes it very difficult to hack the title, which should result in a level playing field absent of unfair mods.

If fans had been able to log in at 12:01 EST. on May 15 like they were supposed to be able to, would the gamers really still think that Diablo III's DRM was that bad? No one can answer that question for sure, but they probably wouldn't have been happy either way.

Angry fans are still waiting for the title's player vs. player mode, a feature that will allow gamers to pit each other's characters against one another. The highly touted and potentially revolutionary auction house system that will allow players to sell in-game weapons for real-world money is also still absent from the game. Blizzard has stated that both features will be added to Diablo III relatively soon but their absence continues to add to the fire that the DRM fiasco has already started.

DRM is never great but it's an unfortunate reality of the modern gaming landscape - and if PC gaming is going to continue to thrive, it's a necessity. In the case of Diablo III, it isn't even actually that bad, and it's managed to bring a number of great previously console-only online features to the PC gaming world.

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Patrick O'Rourke

Patrick O'Rourke

Patrick is a freelance Toronto-based technology journalist and life long video game player with a passion for the gaming industry. His work has been published in a variety of publications including the Financial Post, Bitmob, Dose and Canada.com. He's also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of GameJudgment, an opinions focused gaming blog. more

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