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Two victories in one day: Maxis and Blizzard’s dramatic turnaround

Two victories in one day: Maxis and Blizzard's turnaround

Remember this date: March 18th, 2014. It’s a special day, where two villains were put in the ground for good. Diablo 3’s accursed Auction House and SimCity’s infuriating always-online “feature” are no more, or in the case of the latter, no more unless you actually want it.

It’s certainly taken a long time, a lot of shouting and a lot of angry forum posts, but the end result has been a victory of sorts. Communities were listened to, and affected significant changes in their respective games. It doesn’t happen so often that it isn’t worthy of note, and it’s just happened twice in one day.

This didn’t have to happen, which makes the turnaround so surprising. With over 2 million copies sold by last summer, SimCity was a commercial success despite the mediocre to poor critical response, while Diablo 3 broke presale records is is one of the best selling games of all time.

These were not games that did so poorly that the developers needed to prostrate themselves in front of players and admit that they made a mistake or that anything needed fixing. Good will would have been lost, sure, but EA especially has made pissing people off a tradition, yet folk still gobble up their products.

Is it suddenly going to fix all the issues in SimCity? Probably not. Diablo III’s looking a lot healthier, though, thanks to recent updates. But it’s still a huge shift. In the case of SimCity, it allegedly took a team of Maxis engineers six and a half months, rewriting core parts of the game before single-player SimCity worked properly. The game was designed, for better or worse, as a social, multiplayer experience. You can’t simply tack on an offline mode and cross your fingers.

Diablo 3’s Auction House wasn’t integral to the game in the way that SimCity’s online feature was, but its impact was just as massive. It made the game, if you view the Diablo series as a loot-driven experience, ultimately meaningless. If you wanted the flashiest items and the best gear, you wouldn’t get any of that having fun. You’d get it by playing an entirely different game, poring over spreadsheets, identifying market trends, spying bargains. You’d have to play the Auction House, not Diablo 3. It was horribly pervasive.

So removing the Auction House wasn’t enough, which is one of the reasons we are now able to enjoy loot 2.0. Blizzard needed to make loot drops meaningful again, undoing the damage rendered by their misguided attempts to stop a potential black market from cropping up.

These changes aren’t simply Blizzard and EA admitting their mistake and making a quick fix. They are massive, sweeping changes that will hopefully have a significant impact on the respective games. Not because sales were poor and not because the games couldn’t be played in the state they were in, but because players wouldn’t let it rest. Not once. And what at first could have been viewed as impotent gamer rage has proven itself to be an effective way to positively alter two games.

This is a really good day.

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