Last weekend, Diablo 3 player DarkOne watched helplessly as his 231-hour-old, level 60 wizard dropped dead, assassinated by a strange and unavoidable glitch. Huge red numbers began spooling out of him like bloody confetti before he flopped to the sand, pointlessly defeated. You can watch the video below if you'd like to try figure out how it happened, though it won't be of much comfort to DarkOne. He was playing Hardcore mode, in which death means just that: your character is permanently destroyed, confined to the history books as soon as you perish. Surely that's the sort of trauma that would have most players reaching for the uninstall button? Well not quite, because by the next day DarkOne had hit level 32 with a new barbarian. "Hardcore, of course," he clarifies.
These Hardcore characters are created at their owner's risk, and Blizzard steadfastly refuse to roll back player accounts in the event of a Hardcore death, no matter who's at fault. That means that, should a Blizzard employee park their arse on the button that turns off their servers, it's your loss. Tough potatoes. But when the whole North American Diablo 3 server lagged out last week, countless Hardcore characters met their unfair demise. Millions of barbarians, demon hunters and witch doctors cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced, slain by Skeleton Kings while their owners stared blankly at a fast-reddening latency bar.
Should Blizzard be doing more to protect these Hardcore players, who are likely their biggest (and potentially craziest) fans? After all, the threat of being disconnected - in a single player game, no less - can't be considered part of the designed risk of playing in Hardcore mode. Like much of the baggage that arrives with the game's always-online stipulation, it's plainly in opposition to the spirit of the game. Hardcore characters should be fighting giant wasps, not network problems and game glitches. Many players disagree, with an unofficial (though promoted by Blizzard) Hardcore FAQ on Battle.net stating in no uncertain terms: "Even if it's lag, a stealth nerf, a Blizzard employee comes to your house and covers your eyes, or a bug or glitch kills you at level 59, you will not get that character back and you can not cry on the forums. You must suck it up because all those things are part of hardcore play. Accept it or don't play it."
"I felt kind of empty," says DarkOne of the moment his 231 hours of play were brought to a juddering hault by a fatal bug. He'd played, on average, ten hours a day. "I couldn't believe it the first second I died. Then after I watched the recording back I felt kind of disappointed. Here was my wizard, with almost 232 hours played, killed by something that shouldn't be there.
"I think that it was was some invisible projectiles from the dune stinger that killed me. Some people said that I lagged, but lag doesnt work that way. When you lag you can't do anything. You can see how I'm running around, picking up gold, hurting enemies and so on."
Even with his video evidence, Blizzard won't resurrect DarkOne's fallen hero, or any other heroes for that matter. Unfair as that sounds, opening the matter up to discussion would surely see Blizzard inundated with resurrection requests every time a barbarian accidentally moonwalks into an elite pack of soul rippers. "The answer I got from Blizzard," explains a pragmatic DarkOne, "was that they couldn't start an investigation until more players complain about this bug. Do more players need to die?"
Apparently, yes. But even if individual resets for bug-murdered heroes is too much of an ask, surely some leniancy in the case of server-wide crashes would be a welcome gesture, if not an obligation on Blizzard's part. Hardcore is, after all, a mode that Blizzard have seen fit to include (and, well, sell) with Diablo 3 knowing of the inevitable network problems that would scupper it. They have a duty to maintain some oversight, or at the very least not patronise customers by conflating the challenges of their game with the stability of our internet connections, or theirs.
DarkOne might have reached level 60 again by now, but how long will his new character last? Weeks of playtime can vanish in a fraction of a second, through no fault of the player. Should the hardcore "suck it up" and accept it as part of some sort of sinister meta-game? Or do Blizzard have a duty, as providers of an always-online service, to protect players from glitches and compensate them for their consequences?
"Hardcore is broken" goes the lament of lag-stricken players. But it really needn't be.