Is It Soon Soon™?

  • #1

    A Blizzard midnight opening. Soon a reality for us Diablo III fans, too?

    With BlizzCon 2011 over, it's time to recollect what we learned. The major thing to notice is that there were no major Diablo III-related announcements. Some might've been disappointed when the major Diablo III events were showing a cinematic and the Diablo III box covers, but I wasn't.

    Why, you might ask? The lack of announcements really shows how far in development the game is. There are no large systems left to reveal, and there is no system still just lying on the drawing board. Therefore, we are living really exciting times. The wait for a new game in the Diablo franchise, started with the release of the Lord of Destruction expansion pack for Diablo II in June 2001, is soon over. Even the thought is surreal.

    Despite the surreality, this article will try to meticulously gather all we know of the game's progress and make educated speculations as to when we might expect to finally play the finished product. I should set forth a disclaimer that I have no secret information that isn't publicly available, and that all the actual conclusions presented will be highly speculative in nature. Although, I'll try to refrain from making too many pure guesses and base my speculation on actual information.


    Definitely far in development...

    Generally Blizzard has adopted a motto of releasing games "when they're done". The biggest sign of that, they have said, is when the entire development team is spending more time playing the game than developing it. In a recent interview conducted by Sixen and Force, the game's lead Jay Wilson said that the team is already busy playing the game over and over and enjoying it.

    The same was basically stated by Senior Game Designer of Diablo III, Andrew Chambers:


    Official Blizzard Quote:



    Andrew Chambers: Diablo and Diablo 2 were just those kinds of games that you just sunk hours into. It would be like "Oh, wait, it's... morning?" Those types of games. And that's one of the things that's kind of really hard to capture sometimes when you're doing a sequel. But I've been finding myself doing the exact same thing with Diablo 3. Intending to just test one small quest line or something -- like up to the Skeleton King -- and then basically playing the entire game in just one sitting. And then I'd be like,"What, that's not what I was here for!"[...]


    Although never stated directly (damn you people who asked so many irrelevant questions in the Diablo III Q&A panel) the whole game is definitely playable and most likely all of the game models and animations are implemented in some form. Probably some iteration is still left. As I already said, all of the game's systems have been implemented into the game. All cinematics have been finished, all recordings (both dialog, Foley effects and music) have been finished and only some post-production might remain. Not to mention the boxes the game will ship in are ready, and all of the collectibles featured in the CE are ready.

    The game feels altogether very polished as everyone participating in the beta can testify. The team is busy cracking whips to make the game ready. Even the team that is responsible for looking into developing a console version of the game is helping the PC development team to finish the game as soon as possible, as testified here by the Lead Console Developer, Josh Mosqueira:


    Official Blizzard Quote:



    Josh Mosqueira: Literally, there's three of us on the [Diablo III console] team right now. [...] But actually right now, day-to-day, I'm helping these guys [the PC development team] trying to finish this awesome game, Diablo.

    But now that I got you all excited, you should hold your horses.


    ... but still some more needed
    An example Legendary. Click to see full tool tip.
    Another actual info galore we experienced from BlizzCon is the little bits here and there were the development team admitted that there's still some work left ahead of them.

    The item system is still being worked on. As is evident from the recent update on the official site, where the tentative Legendary Item stats were replaced with the text "Legendary and Set items are being worked on. Check back soon to see their stats!"

    For example, the rune system is not finished. Although Jay Wilson said that the current system, and the system before that, would both have been fine for release, they are going to revise the system trying to incorporate the best of both worlds.

    Also, higher difficulties still require some tuning. Although they are definitely playable, the team is still looking into them. This is not a bad thing per se, since the difficulties are one of the last things to be done, and the fact that the team is working on them speaks wonders.

    The followers were only recently changed to be end-game viable, so there'll still be left some tweaking for them, especially in how they act in later difficulties. The team stated that their intention is to try to hit the sweet-spot where they are viable but not necessary, although they admitted that someone serious about min-maxing will most definitely use them.

    As for the beta, some of the recent skill changes (that are on the game's official site) were only recently updated into the beta. That means that there are still several beta patches to go.


    What can history teach us?

    Now that we've definitely noticed that the development is on home stretch, it's time to look back into history and see what we can learn from it. I have gathered the following data of the previous 4 Blizzard releases:


    Although timelines in the past tell nothing about the future by themselves, we can assume that Blizzard has an internal strategy about how they prefer to transition from beta to launch. The data should be pretty self-explanatory, but on the left we have various dates for SCII and three WoW expansion packs and on the right I laid out the times between release date announcement and game release, and beta closure and release date.

    I intentionally excluded the launch of the original World of Warcraft and previous games, since from the fact that WoW's release date was announced only a couple weeks before release we can make that the agenda was simply to put the game out as soon as it's done.


    Let's first look at how far in advance Blizzard has preferred to announce their release dates. Right now we know that Diablo III is aimed at Q1 of 2012, which would place the prospective release date between January and March. Blizzard has gravitated between a steady window of 8-9.5 weeks for the time period they have chosen between release date announcement and actual release date. Only exception is Starcraft II, but because the game was delayed from an original release date in 2009 to 2010, we might assume that Blizzard wanted to give the fans a decent forewarning as the delays were mostly associated with battle.net 2.0 infrastructure rather than the game itself.

    Therefore we could safely assume that Diablo III release date is going to be announced at least 8 weeks before the release takes place. So a January release would be announced this November and a February release the coming December, and so forth.


    The login screen we all want to see eventually.
    Now, turning our attention to beta closure. We should first keep in mind that the Diablo III beta key sweepstakes on Facebook have been announced to continue until December 12. It would make sense that whoever decided on the duration of the sweepstakes had the most recent knowledge available. It would also make sense if Blizzard intended to run the sweepstakes for at least its full duration, since it'd be bad press to stop them earlier than intended, while as prolonging it would be only positive.

    The two most recent betas have been closed roughly 2-3 weeks in advance from release, so we might expect this trend to continue. Therefore at earliest the beta could be sensibly predicted to close right after the Boxing Day (Dec 26). I do expect the beta to continue a little bit longer, but probably not much.

    Thus the earliest sensible release date for the actual game is a Tuesday, two weeks from the Boxing Day, which would be January 10 2012. But because we're talking of Blizzard, any predictions we make should include a couple weeks of extra buffer.

    If I had to make a guess for the release date, I'd place it around January 31 or February 7 2012. However, what's most interesting is that an earlier release date would probably be announced during this November. Henceforth, in just four week's time, we can safely assume whether the game is going to come out in January or February. If the release date hasn't been announced by the end of November, we can pretty safely assume that the date is going to be announced during December and the actual release take place during February.


    An event when we probably won't get the release date.
    Tomorrow, on November 8, Activision-Blizzard will have its third quarter financial results conference call. I'm prone to say that we won't get an exact release date, but it's very possible that Blizzard might clarify their release window to please investors. It might be something as simple as "we expect to launch the game before the end of February", or then they might simply restate their earlier Q1 2012 prediction. We'll cover the podcast in any case, so be sure to check our front page if I'm proven wrong.

    Nevertheless, the end of the year will be a very exciting time for us all. Stay tuned!
  • #2
    +1. Excellent write-up. :)
    "God? What's that?"
  • #3
    +1 indeed. Very thorough! Includes every known aspect (I think) to have an accurate speculative release date and with a good foundation! Yeah I also think they won't give a specific release date but I really hope they do give a better prediction (like "before the end of February"). Even something like this will be good news for me!

    I also think the fact that the Sweepstakes will end on the 12th of Dec, is not that discouraging. Blizz initially aimed D3 to be released at the end of 2011, but if something went astray it will be pushed back. Thus they initially intended the beta to last for just a couple of months, not till Dec 26 or later. Therefore the last month or so of beta MIGHT just be for the pleasure of the testers and not actually have an "input" for the finished D3 product. Blizz also said that the upside for the pushback is an extended beta to which more people will have a chance to play the beta.

    Edit: Also found the following in another thread, but not much attention was given to it. It just states that this blogger had very accurate info of BlizzCon 2011 aswell as Diablo 3 as early as March 2011 even before Blizz announced it.

    Therefore, that highly speculative Jan 17th release is not THAT speculative indeed.
  • #4
    Quote from MonkManD3

    I also think the fact that the Sweepstakes will end on the 12th of Dec, is not that discouraging. Blizz initially aimed D3 to be released at the end of 2011, but if something went astray it will be pushed back. Thus they initially intended the beta to last for just a couple of months, not till Dec 26 or later. Therefore the last month or so of beta MIGHT just be for the pleasure of the testers and not actually have an "input" for the finished D3 product. Blizz also said that the upside for the pushback is an extended beta to which more people will have a chance to play the beta.


    The duration of the sweepstakes was not announced until the delay to Q1 2012 was announced, so therefore I'm prone to agree with you.

    The last month of the beta definitely won't really be much different from a closed demo experience.
  • #5
    Ty for this!! +1 from me.
  • #6
    And where did Blizzard state Q1 2012? All's I've ever heard was "early 2012".

    And even if they DID state Q1, March is in Q1 so why are we completely excluding March?

    Sounds like more fans creating false hope for themselves again.
  • #7
    Great article, Don, but I'm surprised you didn't mention the RMAH.

    If I had to guess, that system is one they're having the biggest issues with. It's a completely new system they have to implement and they have very little experience in. Game mechanics and item adjustments can be made post-launch. Money issues can't.
    "All generalizations are false, including this one." -Mark Twain
  • #8
    Quote from DarkPhenomenon

    And where did Blizzard state Q1 2012? All's I've ever heard was "early 2012".


    You are correct that nowhere they explicitly stated Q1, but "early" in the year generally means the first three or four months (although is less strictly defined, which probably is why they chose that term instead). The following four months would be "middle".

    The earlier prospective release window was Q4 2011 ("by the end of the year"), so although Blizzard did not lock themselves into Q1, it's right now very much the release window.


    Quote from DarkPhenomenon

    And even if they DID state Q1, March is in Q1 so why are we completely excluding March?


    Who say's we're excluding March? However, there simply is just so little game left to develop that March (or April) is what I'd call a "pessimistic" scenario. Release in January is theoretically possible, but hardly something I'd expect.

    Based on what we know right know, February is a highly realistic month for release.


    Quote from DarkPhenomenon

    Sounds like more fans creating false hope for themselves again.


    Like I said, a February release date is mostly a guess, the main point (involving no false hope) is that we can expect an announcement in December by latest if we are to get a February release.



    Quote from CherubDown

    Great article, Don, but I'm surprised you didn't mention the RMAH.

    If I had to guess, that system is one they're having the biggest issues with. It's a completely new system they have to implement and they have very little experience in. Game mechanics and item adjustments can be made post-launch. Money issues can't.


    Since Blizzard teamed with PayPal (a subsidiary of eBay), they have a lot of experience running an electronic AH site at their disposal. It's not that big of an issue, and they can always launch the RMAH in phases.
  • #9
    Quote from DarkPhenomenon

    All's I've ever heard was "early 2012".


    And a further thing, which I had to do some research upon to not repeat my inexactness, was that last time Blizzard used the term "early" in conjunction with a game release, it was when The Burning Crusade was delayed from a "late 2006" release into "early 2007" release.

    The game was launched on January 16, 2007.

    I wouldn't still get my hopes up for a January release, but either February or March is something I could bet on.
  • #10
    hope its early early next year :S
  • #11
    Excellent Article (wow)

    However, I really hope the release date will be set on either Jan or early Feb...
    "I am the Master of My Fate; I am the Captain of My Soul." by William Ernest Henley.
  • #12
    Good article. Finally some speculation that doesn't make me clench my butthole in anger, well written!
    Ne frustra vixisse videar.
  • #13
    Nice article!
    Let's hope you are too pessimistic and they release it on january, 3rd! :xD:
  • #14
    Quote from CherubDown

    Great article, Don, but I'm surprised you didn't mention the RMAH.

    If I had to guess, that system is one they're having the biggest issues with. It's a completely new system they have to implement and they have very little experience in. Game mechanics and item adjustments can be made post-launch. Money issues can't.


    Blizzard actually has alot of experience when it comes to money. Theyve had their ONLINE Shop for years and have been taking wow subscriptions for years.

    The way (from what ive read) is you Pre-buy money into an E-wallet to spend in the RMAH so it doesnt seem much different from the WoW AH.. In that instead of checking your "bag gold" they're checking your "account e-wallet" to see if funds are available. And when people buy it it ever goes back to the "e-wallet" or cashed out to paypal.

    Obviously it wont be as straightforward as this but your making it out like the rmah is brand new technology when its just a glorified gold auction house taking funds from elsewhere.

    Since im sure paypal will be taking a small cut, im sure theyre fully onboard also with the tech side.
  • #15
    Such a long article ... ^^

    My estimation:

    The content is DONE. The team is currently ironing out the remaining stability issues. The beta patch 5 looks very good and release-ready (note, for example, the implementation of FSAA and the shifting of the Cauldron of Jordan past level 13). Diablo 3 will be launched mid January 2012 to counter SWTOR (includes 30 days of free playing time!). In preparation for the critical launch, a public stress test beta for Diablo 3 preorders and WoW annual pass buyers will be launched early December prior to the launch of SWTOR. The public stress test beta will be announced by Mike Morhaime tomorrow during the Activison Blizzard 3rd quarter conference, and maybe we'll hear the final release date, too.
  • #16
    Sooner rather than later? the main purpose for the beta was to test AH and server stability... both are doing very well according to feedback.
    Blizzard used to care about releasing Diablo III, then they all took an arrow in the knee...
  • #17
    Quote from pikke

    Nice article!
    Let's hope you are too pessimistic and they release it on january, 3rd! :xD:

    You're still to pessimistic! January 1st imo! It would be a double whammy! I'll celebrate both New Year's Eve and the release of D3 in-line to get a copy while I'm boozed up! Would be the best day and the best playing experience I'll have!
  • #18
    Quote from MonkManD3

    You're still to pessimistic! January 1st imo! It would be a double whammy! I'll celebrate both New Year's Eve and the release of D3 in-line to get a copy while I'm boozed up! Would be the best day and the best playing experience I'll have!


    Unfortunately Jan 1 isn't a Tuesday :P.
  • #19
    Quote from Don_guillotine

    Quote from MonkManD3

    You're still to pessimistic! January 1st imo! It would be a double whammy! I'll celebrate both New Year's Eve and the release of D3 in-line to get a copy while I'm boozed up! Would be the best day and the best playing experience I'll have!


    Unfortunately Jan 1 isn't a Tuesday :P.

    Well I'll probably think it is when I'm celebrating New Years Eve! :P Damn, that sounds like I'm booze addicted...You know what they say about change:
    Change is inevitable - except from a vending machine. - Robert C. Gallagher.
    Maybe Blizz will change this Tuesday tradition just for D3...or not:
    Change is inevitable - except from Blizzard Entertainment. - MonkManD3 :P
  • #20
    Well done Don_guillotine! As always I enjoy reading your article: very well written, impartial arguments and cold logics.

    Yet I personaly don't believe in a january release, delaying a game (thats been under developments for... I don't know but many years) for just 1 month does not make sense. +Blizzard employes working 24/7 during Christmas? At least 2 more months of development time will give us D3 in late February - mid or late March.

    Either way. One day soon™ we will all know who was right :)
    To Game is Necessary
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