Yesterday, Mike Morhaime was given the Gamelab Honor Award during the Gamelab Conference held in Barcelona. During the conference Morhaime also took part in a round-table discussion hosted by GamesBeat's Dean Takahashi and covered by Tom Phillips of Eurogamer that centered around his career at Blizzard. While the talk featured topics spanning from Blizzard's beginnings to what Morhaime's future plans are, he did spend some time talking about the history of Diablo and many of the challenges Blizzard has faced with the franchise.
The Dreaded Real Money Auction House
As Diablo players, we know there were a lot of hardships involved with the launch of Diablo III. One of the most divisive features being the inclusion of the Real Money Auction House (RMAH) and it was this feature that gave Blizzard some of the biggest design hurdles. The RMAH affected gameplay and player behavior in ways they didn't expect.
"People are going to do this anyway - why don't we provide them a safe and secure way to trade items?" Morhaime said. "But the problem was that we didn't design the loot model with that in mind. We designed it without an auction house initially, and when you have an auction house in a game that's dropping tonnes and tons of loot, it's way cheaper and easier to get second-hand items from the auction house."
This created a very skewed structure of play where players acquired their gear primarily from the RMAH instead from within the game and the item reward loop that is the core of most ARPGs was "completely destroyed".
Morhaime would go to to approach the team and ask "If you could do what you wanted and snap your fingers to make it happen, would you remove the auction house?" "They said yes, that's what we'd do." There was no obvious way of justifying this to management on paper, Morhaime said, but it proved the right call.
Reaper of Souls brought in the cancellation of the RMAH and it was met with a far more positive reaction from the fan-base than the original launch of Diablo III. The coined 'Loot 2.0' that put more emphasis on self found gear helped to put the reward loop back in line, but at the cost of the almost complete removal of trading.
Diablo Immortal and Managing Expectations
Morhaime also talked about Diablo Immortal's announcement at BlizzCon 2018 and the back lash Blizzard received from the fans.
"It's sort of like when you have a group that's really passionate about a franchise like Diablo, really excited about a project that hasn't been announced - Blizzard tried to manage expectations that they weren't going to announce Diablo 4 at Blizzcon, but I'm not sure that got through," Morhaime recalled. Morhaime also added, "Most of the audience did not get that memo. Maybe there should have been more discussion around: Blizzard is not abandoning the PC."
This mirrors Blizzard's current president J. Allen Brack's comments back in May where he responded to a question about what Blizzard learned from the fans reaction to the Immortal announcement. Brack said "A huge number of lessons. I think that one of the things that we failed to do was to really help articulate that we are a PC gaming company and that we’re going to continue to be a PC gaming company."