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Diablo 3’s Chat Channels, Problems and Solutions

Posted 24 Feb 2012 by

Diablo III’s chat interface, recently revealed in DiabloWikiBeta Patch 13, met with a harsh reception. While most fans were happy that some sort of public chat was going to be included with the game, especially given the repeated official denials of such a feature, that happiness perished quickly when the chat was sighted.

Battle.Net Chat for Diablo 3While the Diablo III chat feature does include useful controls and options, including as the ability to inspect other player’s characters, see their achievements, add them to your Friends List, or create a game with them, those controls aren’t well-documented and don’t leap to the eye. What does show first is the tiny window that can’t be dragged or resized, the plain white text, and the awkward lower-right corner location. The system is actually fairly-robust in function, but it looks terrible at a glance, and lacks most of the formatting options that Internet users have grown to expect over the last decade or two of online chat applications.

The real problem, I think, is what fans want is not at all what Blizzard aimed to provide. The Diablo III chat system is, much like the (unpopular) Starcraft 2 one before it, all about facilitating gameplay. Blizzard designed it to enable players to quickly and easily join games together, and it should work adequately for that. The problem, and the source of most of last weekend’s negative reaction, is that we players were expecting a chat system that would serve as a communication device. Something akin to IRC, with features to support communication. A large display, color-coded text, chat functions, emotes, etc.

As a result we’ve got a clash between what Blizzard aimed to provide, and what their consumers desired. Thus… conflict, confusion, disappointment, and anger.

Refer to the video below for a clear look at the new system in action, and click through for the meat of this article. It covers the history of chat channels in Diablo III and Battle.net chat in general, the sorry state of SC2’s current chat, and concludes with some suggestions and requests for player input on the sorts of feature changes that could improve the current beta-version of Diablo III’s B.net chat.


A Brief History of Diablo 3’s Chat

Battle.Net Chat for Diablo 2
This is adapted from the DiabloWiki DiabloWikiChat Channels article, which goes into more detail and has more visuals.

October 2010: Bashiok confirms that SC2 chat channels are under development and that the tech will be ready for D3’s.

January 2011: Starcraft 2 gets chat channels, 6 months after the game’s launch.

September 2011: Bashiok confirms that Diablo III’s chat channels are in and working.

February 6, 2012: Bashiok says no public chat channels in D3 and explains why public chat is a bad feature we don’t want anyway.

February 8, 2012: After two days of massive fan rage, Bashiok says he was wrong, and that public chat channels were in the game after all and that he’d just somehow not noticed.

February 18, 2012: Chat channels debut with Beta Patch 13, and are immediately disliked by most.


Is Starcraft 2’s “B.net 2.0″ Diablo 3’s Future?

Battle.Net 2.0 Chat
Let’s hope not, since most Starcraft 2 players dislike the chat channels and other social features on their version of Battle.net 2.0, (disgruntled SC2 players often call it B.net 0.2.) and many attribute the moribund state of the online SC2 community directly to Bnet’s lacking social tools.

Blizzard did not want to include any chat channels in SC2, and only agreed to add them in after massive fan outcry. Chat was patched into the game in January 2011, seven months after release, and while fans were initially overjoyed to have them, that reaction soon turned to despair and desperation. The system is now largely disused.

For a depressing example of current player sentiment, see this recent 26-page thread about the current state of the Starcraft 2 online community. It dominates the Battle.net SC2 forums, there’s not a single Blue reply in the whole thing, and the hundreds of player replies show great agreement that the current chat system sucks. The OP is a copy of a detailed post on the Team Liquid SC2 site. It makes a strong case but is much too long to copy here. However this comment from another user is quite typical, and it succinctly sums up the general opinion.

Speaking from a person who honestly has no real life friends that are interested in starcraft, I can say the only reason I don’t log in myself anymore is because of the current iteration of battle.net. Its so cold and unwelcoming, and I don’t mean the players. I have almost no way to actually make friends, meet people, or have any kind of discussion. Why in gods name would the chat boxes be so tiny and lame? The online UI, frankly, is just very poor. I cannot for the life of me figure out why you would attempt to fix something that wasn’t broken in the first place.

Starcraft 2 PTR ChatIt seems that Blizzard learned something from their SC2 experiment, as illustrated by the public chat channels they are including in Diablo III. However, as “tiny and lame” were some of the most common adjectives used to describe the Diablo III chat interface… it’s clear that all is not yet well.

(See this post for an annotated gallery of the chat interfaces for every Blizzard title.)


Suggestions for Diablo III Chat Improvements

As I said in the intro, I think the problem is a divergence of goals. Fans want a chat interface and channel system that’s useful for communication and socializing, which is why almost all of the complaints about the current system is how hard it is to use. The window is tiny, the text is plain white, there aren’t formatting options, the window can’t be resized or repositioned, etc. Additionally, the sins of the SC2 chat system are assumed to carry over to D3’s, so fans are assuming there will be no support for guilds, no private channel permanence or mod tools, etc.

It’s not surprising that fans feel that way, since Blizzard didn’t design the system to support communication and socializing. They spent their time and effort enabling features such as quick game creation, Friends List integration, account/character/achievements inspection, etc. The chat system has a lot of powerful features, but it’s not user friendly and it looks like a cell phone text message interface from about 2003. It appears that Blizzard designed it for quick chat and short messages, rather than considering that some players would want to spend hours in the chat, just shooting the breeze and making new friends to game with.

Thus many, many fans are complaining that it’s not more like Diablo II’s chat interface, and I’ve seen dozens of fans wondering why it couldn’t have been more like Warcraft III’s chat system, which many feel was the pinnacle of Battle.net chat interfaces.

That’s an easy question to answer…. because Blizzard didn’t design the SC2 or D3 chat systems to be like War3’s. That one was old school style and meant for conversations and socializing. For reasons unknown, Blizzard clearly does not want us spending time chatting over Battle.net. They want chat to exist only as a way to create new games and get back to playing, and they’re designing their chat systems to support that, and little else. Hence all the matchmaking systems in SC2, which they assured us (pre-release) would be so good that no one would want or need a chat system.

Diablo 3 Chat Fan Made ExampleDiablo III doesn’t go as far in that direction as SC2 did, but when you look at the lack of an option to create and name public games, the anonymous Auction House, the automated game joining systems, their plans for random-player matchups and hidden PvP ratings for the Arena, etc, it’s pretty clear that the chat channels are not an aberration. It’s all part of Blizzard’s redesign and redirection of Battle.net. The only problem is that many (most?) fans don’t seem to want what Blizzard is trying to give us. Hence all the issues with the SC2 B.net experience, and this current D3 chat channel imbroglio.


Another issue that might be worth debating… was Bashiok correct in his quickly retracted explanation as to why public chat channels are no good?

As far as having open public channels, there’s far more negative to them than positive and we maintain a stance that creating an open chat environment without a social structure behind it is an invitation for moderation and support disasters. Most people that want chat channels though are referring to guild channels, or otherwise channels they themselves can operate and choose to invite others to, and we see those as completely valid forms of chat (there’s a social structure backing the channel). As I said, back in September, it’s unlikely to be anything we attain for ship, but the social group-type chat features are still very much a desire for the future.

I’ve seen a lot of public chat, on B.net and elsewhere, and honestly, most of what Bashiok said was 100% correct. Unmoderated chat channels are generally a wretched hives of scum and villainy, with enough profanity, racism, sexism, homophobia, and generally idiotic flaming that you often feel a need to wash out your brain with bleach after more than a few minute’s exposure.

You may disagree. Whether you do or not, should we accept unmoderated chat on Diablo III? Why can’t Blizzard have some of their hundreds of CS staff spend an hour a day skimming chat and banning spam bots and other deserving parties? This isn’t Diablo II, where people can just hack up another CD-key in 30 seconds. As Eliminator (IIRC) argued on last week’s Diablo Podcast, those CS guys would pay for themselves in no time, if everyone they banned had to buy another copy of the game to get back into the chat.


However you feel about the benefits or drawbacks of public chat channels, I think almost all of us can agree that the current look of the Diablo III chat channels leaves a lot to be desired. Assuming Blizzard is open to making changes and improvements to the Diablo III chat interface (this is NOT a safe assumption, given the untouched SC2 chat system, despite over a year of constant fan entreaties for improvements) what would fix it? Or at least make it better?

Diablo 3 Chat Fan Made ExampleAssuming they are open to making changes, what do you want to see fixed? I’ve read numerous fan suggestions, and even seen some mockups of an improved Diablo III chat interface. You see one to the right, and while it’s an overcrowded aesthetic atrocity, it does show the kind of thing fans seem to want. A much larger chat window, easy visibility for the names of the posters, colors in the text, a D2 style visual display of everyone’s character, and more.

Exactly where and how all of those elements would be displayed is open to debate, but at the very least it seems like the Diablo III chat window should be much larger, resizeable, and draggable. It’s ironic that a company that takes so long to do everything in game dev, while they iterate, reiterate, and sometimes de-iterate back to square one, would release such a rough-looking, aesthetically-displeasing chat window, even during the beta test.

What do you guys think? What do you want to see changed in the Diablo III chat interface? And do you think there’s any point in even asking, given how the unpopular SC2 chat has remained virtually unchanged since its introduction over a year ago?


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