D3: to us a game, to them a number.

1 06 2012

Reading this post by the Syp this morning brought to mind memories of rough launch periods for various games I’ve enjoyed, Diablo 3 being the most recent. I came down on them a bit hard in a previous post here; now I’m going to forgive them because (irony) I work in software.

The fact of the matter is that Blizzard does have the largest resume in the industry insofar as super-popular games that everybody plays on an online service that they host. Many people – myself included – put this forward as evidence that they had no excuse for that fail of a launch.

Actually, they very well could have an excuse.

Given the magnitude of their resume, I honestly find it unlikely that their technical departments or even their middle-management under-estimated how many people would play; they probably had a damn good idea that Everybody was going to play. Their only truly original IP; a game that resurrected and redefined the dungeon hack genre; people would come, Ray. They’d pass over the money without even thinking about it, because it’s money they have and peace they want.

Did I say peace? I meant “dead demon faces”.

One potential delimiter that I didn’t put forward before (I’m embarrassed to say that – in my disappointment – it escaped me) is the barrier of budget. Yes, even for Blizzard and Diablo 3.

They no doubt had a stupidly huge budget for the game, which was very likely not squandered. Game design, testing, balance; tools, assets, server and client code (the latter for three platforms – PC, Mac, and console), graphics and AI engines, hardware, testing, coffee and free lunch on Fridays for the staff, hardware for development, testing, and hosting, blah blah…the amount of cash they had on hand was no doubt massive but it was necessarily finite. The game looked awesome at launch…if you could log in.

They only have so much for resources, and if they work like any other company I’ve seen, they attempt to requisition funds for each piece individually, but the final total is what their backers are really interested in. (SIMPLISTIC ARMCHAIR ARITHMETIC INCOMING.) They put in M, they expect N*M for a return on a time table, which honestly means more to them than the game actually being fully ready. “Good enough” is what the backers are after. Good enough for N*M where M is as little as they can give and N has a floor that they’ve imagined, much in the way a child likes to imagine all the gifts under the tree at Christmas time.

So, Blizzard’s brass (the guys in charge of the middle-management) take their numbers to the backers and they say “Okay, we needs this and this and-”

“Waitaminute”, says the collective backers. “M is too big.”

“Yes,” says the BlizBrass “, but we expect demand for the game to be suuuuuuper high because 1. WoW, 2. Diablo 2, 3. it has basically no competition, 4. everybody’s been waiting for it for over a decade and they’re foaming at the mouths.”

“Of course,” says the collective backers, “and thus we expect to make a stupid amount of bank which will allow us each to buy six additional massive houses for no reason. Huzzah, America. Huzzah.”

“We simply won’t be able to meet demand if we don’t have all the-”

“Hush, now. We’re picturing it. Hooooooouuses. Yeeeeeees.”

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