Diablo 3's Josh Mosqueria on launch failures, mistakes, and the road to redemption

Diablo III Josh GDC

Speaking at this year’s GDC, Diablo III game director Josh Mosqueira gave a post-mortem on the original Diablo III launch. In it, Mosqueira talked about how - even with estimate-smashing sale figures - the games initial design and systems, coupled with a disastrous launch, made for one of the “lowest point[s] for the team” during development. But nevertheless, the team pulled through.

“Even though we had the best of intentions, we know that we had let ourselves down, our teams down, and our players down.” said Mosqueira. “But the really special thing about the Diablo team, is that instead of fracturing, or bickering and losing faith with one another, we rallied around and told each other ‘we can do this’. And that’s exactly what we did.”

Josh Mosqueira’s first few weeks at Blizzard, and working in the Diablo team gave him plenty to be optimistic about, but caution quickly followed. “I’d only been there for a couple of weeks, and already I was really excited - something special was about to happen.” said Mosqueira. “But I could also see - as an outsider coming into this great team - that the spectre of Diablo II loomed large over the team. The pressure of trying to live up to the legacy of this incredible game, weighed down on the team, and impacted so many of the decisions.”

His excitement wasn’t unwarranted either. On Google alone, Diablo 3 was ranked 5th for 2012’s worldwide search trends.

Diablo III Error 37

Launch day, and at first, things were looking up. “The sales team had projected 6.666 million units to be sold in the first year; even our sales guys loved Diablo.” Mosqueira explained. “We got that in the first couple of days - we just didn’t know what to think, it was mind boggling.”

That incalculable popularity proved too much for Blizzard’s launch preparations however, and the launch of their most anticipated title slowly began to falter. “This is the really ugly side of it, the one that really stung” said Josh as he regaled the launch day server issues. “Even our most outlandish estimates for day one, ended up being massively conservative in reality. And it hurt - people had been waiting for ten years to play this game, and the worse fear of an always-online game, is not being able to play. That’s exactly what happened.

“The sales didn’t matter. The review scores didn’t matter. What mattered most to us was the player sentiment. We had let them down, and let me tell you - that felt shitty.”

The team took their hard learned lessons of the “Error 37” launch, and put them into practice with the games first expansion: Reaper of Souls - which was one of the “smoothest Blizzard launches in history” according to Josh.

Diablo III loot

The servers wasn’t the only issue with Diablo III at launch. Diablo III was abrupt and merciless in its difficulty, and it was causing players to adopt some very strange, and un-fun behaviours. “The game was so hard,” said Josh, “that instead of being these epic heroes, fighting against the forces of darkness, you were a Barbarian smashing pots. That’s right - the best heroes in Sanctuary were farming terra-cotta, because it was more efficient and less difficult than fighting monsters”

And when the game actually did give you loot, the chance at finding something worthwhile was miniscule. “When [you] were getting loot, getting bags full of yellows and legendaries, you would know as you clicked on every single one, that you weren’t going to get an upgrade.

“A true story: on my live character - my awesome Barbarian - it took me 104 hours before I found my first legendary. And do you know what it was? A quiver. Something was wrong there, and I remember that moment - what happened?”

Diablo III Auction House

Scarce loot drops only compounded the next real problem with Diablo III - the auction house. “When you weren’t getting any items in-game, where did we send you?” asked Josh to the audience. “To the medieval version of Ebay - because that’s what heroic heroes do right? Now the auction house was this great experiment - we had the best of intentions for it - but ultimately it ended up short-circuiting the core reward loop of the game.”

That intention was to provide players with a safe trading environment. Diablo 2 was plagued with account theft, item stealing and more when it came to item trading. “Even though it was their fault,” stated Josh, “we at Blizzard, felt it was our fault as well. So, we wanted to bring that experience under the Blizzard umbrella. We thought only around 10% of players will use it, so it’ll be ok. But again, with how hard the game was, and how stingy the loot was, we ended up shoving everyone into the auction house.”

As we now know, shortly after the console release of Diablo III, Mosqueira and the rest of Blizzard’s management held a meeting to discuss what to do with the auction house. It only took a mere 20 minutes for the entire room to be on board with one ultimate solution: removing the real money and gold auction house from Diablo III altogether.

And it worked too. Since then, with the help of Loot 2.0 and Adventure Mode, Diablo III has never been better since the release of its first expansion last year; you can read all about it in my Diablo III: Reaper of Souls review.

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Reikhardt avatarShriven avatarMiri avatarNeurosploit avatarMountain_Man avatarDog Pants avatar+1
Reikhardt Avatar
130
1 Year ago

Diablo 3 is one of the greatest examples of dev's realising they got it wrong and subsequently put it right. I really wish that EA/ Maxis would have taken these kinds of radical steps to put Simcity right.

1
Shriven Avatar
3030
1 Year ago

Took balls for them to just come out and say "we fucked up, sorry" Kudos Blizzard.

1
Miri Avatar
8
1 Year ago

D3 was my first Diablo game, I managed to miss D and D2 completely. Perhaps because of this, I was immune to the hostility the title hit on release. D3 is in my top 5 all time favourite games, and given that I have been gaming since 1979, that's quite an accolade. I have only a few things on my wishlist for D3.. 1) continued and expansive support - I want to see a graphics upgrade as well as new content 2) more expansions - RoS was awesome, not just because of loot 2.0 but the whole experience was darker, the story better and the campaign awesome. 3) open world areas - these work, look over the fence at what gazillion have done 4) micro-transactions and free-to-play models - be bold, micro transactions work - talk to the hearthstone team!

Diablo 3 is the single best game of its genre, for it to stay there and not see Marvel Heroes, Path of Exile or Umbra take its crown, it has to adapt and grow not just make new legendaries and change balance, but to give new areas to to the world, and a more open and interesting world. I belive Diablo 3 still has the potential to morph over time into the best MMO-ARPG in the world.. it just needs a little more Ooomph from the developers.

Much can be learned from other titles in the genre, and marvel heroes goes from strength to strength with every passing quarter.

Keep it up guys, and invest into D3 more.. you have the best product in the marketplace, now how about keeping it there.

1
Neurosploit Avatar
48
1 Year ago

I'm happy that they made the changes that they did. Looking back at diablo at their blizzcon presentation and staying transparent towards the crowd in the long term has certainly won my confidence back and I'm looking forward to what they'll bring next.

I just hope they can stretch the game out a bit again. Being on torment 4 after a single day of play in the new season is a little too quick if you ask me. Loot rolls are fine at the moment I could just use a little bit of stretch in the gear progression. Ancients are nice now but to me they feel too unreliable compared to the stretch I was hoping for. It's a bit uneven. My new character either gets a semi full set of gear in a few hours after 70 or after a few days. Also sets need more diversity as in which slot you can equip set items. A 6/6 or 5/6 set with 6 or 7 parts leaves little to no customization.

1
Cush Avatar
11
1 Year ago

Yeah my biggest issue is that most of the legendaries are basically non viable despite some of them having interesting effects. Most classes have a couple of sets which are pretty much essential to be powerful and deviating from that sees a big hit to your character.

1
Dog Pants Avatar
1385
1 Year ago

A genuine question to Diablo 3 fans: what is it that keeps you playing it for years? Do you play multiplayer? I ask because, as much as I enjoyed the first two games, I could only manage to complete them once. A second time would feel repetitive. Does D3 have something more to it, or is replaying the story part of the appeal?

1
Cush Avatar
11
1 Year ago

I have played on and off since launch with most of my time in season 1/2 after the expansion, to be honest it isn't really the kind of game you can get into properly unless you enjoy grinding. If you didn't know, the endgame is centered around opening up special rifts which are on random maps with random mob sets and have bosses at the end, with harder timed 'greater rifts' in which the mobs get more difficult as you go into higher level rifts, and the highest rifts/best times get you a spot on the leaderboards

I play it pretty casually but most of my time is spent farming legendaries in rifts, I have friends boost me to max level in 30 mins on new chars I want to play. It's fun having a few different characters and going through that process of trying new builds and seeing them get stronger.

The leaderboards for fastest/highest rift times have appeal for a lot of people but really you need to sink a massive amount of time into grinding gear to get the builds/stats you need for them.

I just like wrecking stuff and hoping that next legendary drop will be something awesome for me.

If you want to hit max level playing story you need to complete the story then start again, alternatively you can go over to adventure mode at any time and just do bounties/kill stuff to level up.

1
Mountain_Man Avatar
701
1 Year ago

"The sales didn’t matter. The review scores didn’t matter. What mattered most to us was the player sentiment. We had let them down, and let me tell you - that felt shitty."

.

It's too bad they felt that way because there were many, many players who were happy with Diablo 3 from day one (and I'm saying this as someone who has been a fan of this series since the first game). Unfortunately, our voices were drowned out by the vocal minority of forum trolls and 4chan members who spammed sites like Metacritic with negative reviews from hundreds of fake accounts.

.

That said, they have improved the game remarkably since release, so I guess it's a win/win for everybody.

0