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The Future of Diablo 3 Fansite Summit Mega-Report

Posted 1 Jul 2013 by

diablo 3 reportThis article covers all the doings and infos Blizzard shared with the attendees during the Diablo 3 Fan Site Summit at Blizzard Entertainment on June 28, 2013. Activities that day included Diablo 3 console play testing, Hearthstone play testing, a lengthy conversation with the entire Diablo 3 community team, lunch and a Diablo 3 roundtable with the entire Diablo 3 development team, and lots of miscellaneous conversation and insight from the CMs and other Blizzard employees.

Here’s a quick summary of the key facts, plus some predictions based on the current plans. All of this is fleshed out in the full article (click through for that) and also covered in more detail (and with more bad jokes) in The Diablo Podcast #97.

Fact #1: There will not be any Diablo 3 content patches before Blizzcon. When news of this broke a couple of weeks ago it was greeted with rage, but it’s just how it is. Like it or don’t. If you’re displeased with the current game and all you want from Diablo 3 is MOAR new game content, and you do not care about dev interviews, theorycrafting, insight into the process, concept art, etc… you should probably save yourself some public tantrums by taking a break and focusing your attention on other things until say… November-ish.

Fact #2: Blizzard is committed to doing all they can to keep the community engaged, despite the lack of new game content. That’s largely what this Fan Site Summit was about, as they wanted direct conversation with members of the community about how they could better support us and join us in providing you fans with interesting Diablo 3 stuff, in the immediate future and long term.

Fact #3: We will see much more communication and info from the CMs and the devs over the next few months than we’ve seen previously, and this includes numerous upcoming interviews with developers (those questions you guys submitted will not be going to waste), special themed in-game promotional events, and much more.

Predictions!

Diablo painting by Boris Vallejo.

Diablo painting by Boris Vallejo.

These are my opinions and speculations, based on what Bliz told us and what they seem to be working on. Do not take these as coded messages from Blizzard, and I’m sure any Bliz employee would “no comment” if asked to confirm/deny the following.

Prediction #1: I believe Blizzard has the Diablo 3 expansion scheduled to debut at Blizzcon 2013 in November, and they’re crunching furiously to make that happen, with all hands working on D3X and little if any attention now focused on Diablo 3 patches.

Prediction #2: The long-promised itemization patch will preview or integrate many of the big changes to itemization (and perhaps other game systems) that we’re going to see in D3X. This is part of the reason they’re not rushing out the itemization patch now, since 1) they couldn’t go into specific detail about it before D3X is announced, and 2) there would be no point in them doing a ton of item changes and rebalancing all the gear for the current state of the game, when the whole system is going to be turned upside down and reworked fairly soon™ in D3X.


That’s the intro. Click through for much more on the above points, much more about what the CMs and Devs said, and details about what we did and saw at Blizzard.

Console and Hearthstone
Due to how length considerations, I’ll post my play test observations on Hearthstone and the Diablo 3 Console in a separate article. I did talk about both of those games in the podcast, if you want to hear it sooner than later.

Photos
I didn’t take a lot of pictures since we’ve already got dozens of photos of Blizzard’s offices in our Blizzard Campus image gallery, and nothing there looked much different than it did in the past. I did get some cell phone pics of a new piece of art and a cool Tyrael statue I hadn’t seen before, and you can see those throughout the body of this article.


Setting the Stage

The Fansite Summit began Friday morning, 28 June, 2013, at Blizzard Entertainment’s main offices in Irvine, California. After a short cab ride from the hotel and a quick trip through security at the front gate, we headed to the main reception area, milled around with other fansite people there for similar events for WoW and Hearthstone, electronically signed an NDA that no one read and which will probably cost me a kidney (or worse) some day, got our adhesive, postcard-sized guest passes, and were herded by Lylirra over to a conference room were breakfast was served.

In attendance were five Diablo 3 fansite peoples, plus the Diablo 3 Community Managers Lylirra, Vaeflare, and Grimiku (who were all with us almost all day) and a couple of behind the scenes CM/PR employees. In that room, over coffee, bagels, and fruit (for those who hadn’t been up early enough to hit the quite good breakfast buffet at the Marriott), we spent about two hours discussing Diablo 3 community and fansite issues.

Lylirra chaired the meeting and after describing what the CMs do on a daily basis, how they spend their time and attention, what their priorities are, how they communicate and interact with fans via Twitter, Facebook, forums, fansites, and more, (refer to Bashiok’s Day in the Life for a similar tale, with more facial hair and glorification of meetings) she turned it into question time.

This turned out to be something of a preview of our later lunch and Open House with the Diablo 3 devs, in that it was mostly Blizzard employees asking for our opinion on things. Lylirra and the other CMs wanted to know what they could do to help us, to work with us, to promote our activities, what we thought the fans wanted to know, how better Blizzard could promote and communicate about Diablo 3, what sort of game info or details or features we wanted to see more of, etc. Basically everything related to Diablo 3 and Blizzard and fansites… aside from game content.

I’m sure some of the cynical “all that matters is moar game content” readers will think this is all BS, or PR, or useless, etc, but I have to disagree in part, and not just because I was an invited attendee. (I can probably be bought, but not quite that cheaply.) I’m fully in agreement that the game is what matters the most, and I’d take a big fat content patch over all the CM posts and dev interviews and art bombs in the world… but since we’re not getting a content patch in the immediate future, all the other stuff becomes more interesting and useful.

Like a lot of you guys, I’m a fan of the game, and not just of playing the game. I like talking about and debating the game, seeing artwork from the game, learning what the devs think about the game and future changes, hearing how they made it in the first place, etc. Like I said in the intro, if you’re not interested in that stuff, and if you are very unhappy with how Diablo 3 is right now… you’re not going to be a very happy camper over the next 4 months. Seriously, for your sake (and for the sake of the rest of us who are sick of reading the same tired complaints) you really ought to find some other hobbies until, say… November. At the soonest.


Why No Content Patch Soon?

Tyrael statue with glowing wings.

Tyrael statue with glowing wings.

I stated my opinion in the predictions at the top; that I think the devs are all crunching on D3X. This wasn’t anything the CMs or devs said in so many words, but comments such as, “we’re working on an expansion” were voiced a few times. Also, the last Friday every month is a day Blizzard does huge meetings of almost everyone working on each of their game projects. It’s sort of a progress report meeting, where everyone gets together, often in the same large room, to talk about what they’ve accomplished over the last 30ish days.

The 28th was the last Friday of the month, and thus our Diablo 3 Open House went a lot shorter than I’d have liked it to run, since all the devs except Josh Mosqueira had to rush out to make the meeting. Josh was able to stay a few minutes longer to wrap things up, but then he had to dash off as well, at which time the CMs took us over for our Hearthstone testing.

Orc statue in the quad.

Orc statue in the quad.

On a related note, around 4:15 we were all sitting at the tables, in the shade of umbrellas, outside in the main quad by that huge Orc Rider statue, waiting for our cabs to arrive for the ride over the Dave and Busters at the Spectrum mall. While we waited (for the WoW and Hearthstone fansite people to join us at 4:30) a parade of Blizzard employees came out of a building across the quad. And I mean a parade, not a dozen, but well over one hundred people, coming out two doors and all heading over the the main building behind us. I asked one of the CMs who they were and he told me it was the WoW dev team, coming out of their big monthly meeting in the cafeteria, where they had to gather since it was about the only room on campus (other than the theater) where that many people could get face-to-face.

I bring this up since we knew the Diablo dev team was having a similar meeting at the same time, and that they’re all hard at work on some Diablo thing. And we know it’s not the console since that’s all but finished, and we know it’s not Diablo 3 patches… so it’s not real hard to figure that it’s the expansion.

None of that proves D3X will be ready to debut at Blizzcon 2013, but note that the devs and CMs said “the next four months” several times when talking about their time frame for this big community relations push. Not “a few months” and not “three or five” months. I’m sure you can count the calendar in your head, but just to spell it out: July + August + September + October = 4 months. The fifth month is November and you know what happens on November 8-9 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

As for Diablo 3 patches, the CMs made clear what we’ve heard before; that Diablo 3 was never meant to be a constantly-patched game, with new content and features added as regularly as you see in MMOs like WoW. They did more patching the first year of Diablo 3 than planned, and that was out of necessity since the game wasn’t what the fans wanted upon release, and while those patches were essential and did a good job improving the game, they also set something of a misleading example, as fans grew to expect a new content patch or major rebalance every few months, when that was never the intention pre-release.

It’s not going to console those who are found to be inconsolable, but the reality is that no patches are planned until sometime after Blizzcon, and that is basically a return to their pre-game planned schedule. If you are outraged, consider that D2X launched in June 2001 in v1.08, got some quick fixes in v1.09 a couple of months later, and then sat in that version, afflicted by numerous major bugs, until v1.10 was released in mid-2003. That’s over 18 months without any patches, or longer than Diablo 3 has even existed, thus far.


Promotions and Features

Tyrael statue info plaque.

Tyrael statue info plaque.

During the CM breakfast conference many ideas were offered for new features, promotions, in-game bonuses, and so forth. Suggestions included themed weeks, like “Monk Week” or “Hardcore Week” (in the mode of SHARK WEEK) during which one class or play style would be focused on. The game would work as normal for the other classes, but the featured class or build or whatever would get some special promotion. You’d see it announced in the game launcher, fansites would get the word in advance to hype it up, we might get some details about the creation of that class from the devs, and during the promotion the class (or whatever) would get special in-game bonuses, probably like the +exp/MF bonus we all got during Anniversary Week.

There’s nothing like an ETA on that, or any guarantee we’ll ever see it, but it was one of the ideas the CMs seemed most enthusiastic about, in terms of liking the idea and thinking it technically feasible.

Another popular idea was to run limited-duration tournaments or leagues with some sort of in-game support. Players would be able to signify their character as part of it (as is often done with new characters given some special guild-style letters in their name) and perhaps set rules, such as no Auction House or no trading with non-event characters. During this conversation Lylirra asked how we ran our group ladders and rankings on Diablo3Ladders.com, and after I explained that it’s a simple thing for anyone to enroll their account into it and then join custom groups if they wish, she liked the idea that characters might be able to sort themselves on the realms in corresponding fashion.

From this and other recent comments I got the impression that Blizzard is seriously thinking about enabling ladders and tournaments and such in the future. I say in the future since the CMs made clear that any changes that require Battle.net functionality took at least three months, since the B.net programmers are always swamped with other tasks for other games. So even if they loved the idea of player-made leagues, and put it on top of their priority list, it would not appear until around the time of Blizzcon, at the soonest. I think they’re looking at that sort of thing long term, D3X or D3Y or even patches after that. But they are looking at it.


Modding

Blizzard also told us that the question of Player DiabloWikimodding is not closed. I was surprised to hear that as decisively as it was rejected pre-game, but Lylirra said specifically that they’re considering allowing it, and not just of WoW-style UI modding, but of the whole game, D2 style. No timeframe was given, and I’d bet it’s a distant future type thing, along with ladders and player leagues and such, but I was surprised and gratified to hear it.

I should point out that I played a lot of mods and dabbled in creating them myself for Diablo 2, and while I’m far from an expert in the technical issues, I can safely say that the Diablo 3 devs would have to disclose a great deal of the game code to enable any useful player modding. Furthermore, they’d almost certainly have to allow offline play, and the character insecurity that comes with a non-client server model. Mods can be played online of course, and modding communities were legion in the Diablo 2 days, but everyone has to have the exact same version of the game to multiplayer, and characters created in the vanilla game or in any mod can not be used in another (all of the items get corrupted and bugged, at the very least).


More Info Sharing

Year One Infographic

Year One Infographic

I asked if they could give us more facts and figures about the game and how it’s played, and mentioned the Anniversary Infographic. Lylirra and Vaeflare lit up on that topic, and talked about how they (mostly Lylirra) had done a ton of work on it. From what she said, the tech guys had delivered unto them a ton of stats about play time per class, deaths, kill totals, etc, and it had been up to the CMs and an in-house graphic designer to select the stats and decide how to present them in readable form.

Lylirra laughed about staying at work until two in the morning hunting up obscure details like the dimensions of Bobby’s Scrooge McDuck’s treasure vault and making estimates of the wingspan of Diablo 3 monsters. (See the graphic for details.)

I loved that infographic and most of the other fansite guys echoed that sentiment, and we all asked for more such presentations. (I also mentioned I had a bunch of related questions in my news post about it, and the CMs asked to send them along now and they’d see if any could be answered. I did.) I said it would be fun to see details on player behavior more regularly; say after a patch that changes a bunch of Demon Hunter skills, they could share stats on how much more (or not) DHs were played over the next week or two. The CMs didn’t promise anything, but they clearly liked the idea of doing more such infographics.


Breach the Archives

Another thing I suggested was that they share more details about how game features evolved. I love seeing those topics in Blizzcon panels, and wish they would share more of the “making of” stories with us. They’ve got tons of content and info that we never get to hear about, especially in terms of their design decisions, and I thought that would be a great way to give fans something interesting to look over, while we fill the time until Blizzcon and beyond.

That concept tied in nicely with the news they gave us that Wyatt Cheng’s GDC Postmortem is soon to be posted online in its entirety, and Lylirra talked about viewing it in rough draft and urging Wyatt to put more detail in. The devs go through so many iterations they get numb to the whole process of change and don’t really think it’s interesting. They like whatever the final product is and don’t want to go back and think about all the steps along the way, so Lylirra said she had to keep urging Wyatt to put in more info about how the health system and skill system evolved.


Talk Isn’t Just Talk

One random issue that came up during the Diablo 3 Open House was the term “talk.” I think it was Josh who made the point that they need a better term than “talk,” since when they say “we’ve been talking about X” fans don’t take the full meaning of it.

When one of the devs says they’ve been talking, or thinking, or considering something, they do not mean that it just came up in idle chat at lunch, or over the Red Bull machine. They mean a lot more than that. If they say they’ve been talking about feature X, that means they’ve really gone over it, examined and tested and theorycrafted it, argued about it for development, and probably even marked it up or tried it out in the game, to some extent.

This wasn’t in relation to any specific topic, but they just wanted to be sure we realized that when they said they’d been talking about something, such as Ladders or an DiabloWikiIronborn mode, that’s an indication that they’re giving those features very close scrutiny and consideration. Not just a moment of chat.


Blizzard Devs Are Hella Gamers

A bit OT, but during lunch, immediately before the Diablo 3 Open House we all ate lunch in the conference room (CPK pizzas, pasta, and salad were delivered), and most of the thirty minutes or so of eating was filled by the Diablo 3 devs talking about the video games they were playing. Non-work games, for the most part, none of them Diablo-clones, and there were a lot of them.

I’m not much of a gamer these days other than Diablo 3, so I didn’t even know many of the games they were talking about, but the conversation was rapid fire about literally a dozen different titles, most of which most of the devs there had an opinion on. AAA titles, major sequels, indy games, old games for the Gamecube, mobile games, etc.

You often hear that the Blizzard devs are huge gamers, and that’s been very amply proven in almost all of the dozens of conversation between Blizzard employees that I’ve overheard or been part of over the years. They are always gaming, always playing other games, old and new, and it’s partially for fun and partially to learn from what other developers are doing, in every genre.


Josh’s One Question

Through this article I’ve mostly combined the conversation from the morning meeting with the CMs and the afternoon meeting with the Diablo 3 devs, because much of the content overlapped. In both conferences the Blizzard people were full of questions for us, very eager to know what the fans wanted more of, curious how they could better relay content and info to the community, etc.

What little we did talk about game content was entirely during the afternoon session though, and it mostly came in reply to Josh’s one question. Afterwards he told us he had 8 questions, and I do not know what 2-8 were. Though I hope to find out, since Josh and Lylirra talked about extending the conversation and getting more questions to the attendees either via email or perhaps a Skype or phone chat.

At any rate, Josh’s one question spurred about forty minutes of conversation, which is why it was the only one he asked. And he wanted to know the best single thing the developers could do to improve Diablo 3.

(You’ll note that that question doesn’t necessarily imply or require an in-game answer, though all of our replies came from that angle.)

Suggestions flew, and included endless dungeons, improved items, more support for variants and odd builds (enabled via items, especially), shutting down the Auction House, creating more viable builds, and more. The devs didn’t say yes or no to anything, (or give any indication which changes they were leaning towards) but just spurred the conversation with pros and cons and points on both sides of the issue, as did we fansite peoples.

In this conversation and many others, the devs made clear that they were very in-touch with fan wants and the current conversations/debates about what’s wrong (and right) about Diablo 3. I didn’t hear anything new or different in this conversation than I’ve read in many forum posts in the past, which is why I’m not restating all the comments here, though I covered them in some detail in the podcast. I’m sure nothing we said was a new revelation to any of the Blizzard guys either, but they clearly enjoyed the give and take. Afterwards, Josh talked about how valuable he found it, and he said he was fascinated by how we fansite people described issues, and the terms and phrases we used to to express our opinions and game suggestions.

I don’t know quite what he meant by that, but it was certainly a nice way to say, “All of your ideas are familiar, but I liked how you spoke them.”

I don’t think that’s what he meant, even though I’m positive that every argument any of us made (and most were made by me, as usual) had been chewed over by the devs already. So what Josh and the other devs found useful was hearing which things we stressed, or thought most important, or how we worded the issues.

In this as in all other conversations that day, the Blizzard people could not have been more interested in the opinions and arguments of the fans, and I’m sure the other attendees would agree with me that we could have happily spent several hours in that conference room, going through all eight of Josh’s questions and talking many other Diablo 3 topics.


Conclusion

I don’t want to sound like a fanboy, but it was a really nice trip and visit. All of the Blizzard people were very cool and approachable in conversation, they were sincerely interested in our opinions and what we thought of the community, and regarded the guests as spokespeople for the fans. I can’t speak for the other attendees, but I tried my best to share my own opinions, as informed and colored by what I hear from you guys in comments every day.

That said, I certainly hoped going in that I’d get to ask a lot more questions about the game, their plans for upcoming patches, their reasoning behind some recent changes (or non-changes), etc. I didn’t read through every question in the 180 comments on those two news threads, sort them all by topic, add many more questions of my own, and print them out Friday morning at the hotel business center for the finger exercise. Alas, events unfolded as described above and there wasn’t really any chance to get into the Q&A I’d anticipated. (Happily there should be fairly soon.)

Even without that content though, it felt like a useful excursion and at least setting the stage for improved future relations between the developers and the fans. As Neinball and Aahz both said on the podcast, we’ve had months and years of sporadic silence and non-communication with the Diablo 3 developers and CMs, so improvements on that front are welcome, to help tide us over when there’s not new info to luxuriate in.