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
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 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.
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.
An event when we probably won't get the release date.
Nevertheless, the end of the year will be a very exciting time for us all. Stay tuned!