Blizzard President Mike Morhaime posted a rather lengthy open letter on Battle.net to talk about the launch of Diablo III, the problems associated with that launch, the need for the "always-on" requirement, and what the company has planned for the game in the future.
Morhaime starts by talking about how the launch was a smashing success, but noted that it is hard to predict how the number of players they would have to deal with at launch in advance.
Naturally this caused a number of launch window issues:
"The launch week of Diablo III was memorable for many reasons — some positive, and some not so positive. We were thrilled that Diablo III had the biggest PC-game launch ever, surpassing the lifetime sales of Cataclysm (the previous record holder for biggest PC-game launch) in a matter of weeks. We’ve been floored by the response.
However, the launch had many challenges as well. It has always been difficult to forecast how many players we will have. With World of Warcraft, it was a challenge to handle the immediate demand when we launched back in 2004, and that was just in North America. We eventually expanded to other regions and reached nearly 5 million players by the end of the first year, and there were a lot of growing pains with that. However, we’ve never gone from 0 to more than 6 million players across multiple continents within a few days with a brand-new game. For Diablo III, we looked at historical sales for Blizzard games and other top-selling PC games and watched preorder numbers. We even upped our estimates to ensure we had additional capacity, or so we thought. In the end, it just wasn’t enough, and that is something we will work hard to conquer for future releases."
Morhaime then goes on to note that the development team "worked around the clock" during the launch to support all regions by increasing capacity, deploying additional hardware to datacenters, and troubleshooting and fixing bugs. He says that they are still actively working on resolving issues and will respond to any new or outstanding issues quickly.
Ultimately Morhaime says that the development team will continue to squash bugs, resolve issues and deploy updates to the game because he wants people to keep playing the game for a very long time.
"You’ve seen some of that work already in patch 1.0.3, and you’ll see additional improvements with patch 1.0.4. On the game balance front, this update will contain changes designed to further deliver on the team’s goal of promoting “build diversity,” with buffs to many rarely used, underpowered class abilities. Another topic we’ve seen actively discussed is the fact that better, more distinct Legendary items are needed. We agree. Patch 1.0.4 will also include new and improved Legendary items that are more interesting, more powerful, and more epic in ways you probably won’t be expecting.
We’re also working on a number of interface updates, including social improvements that will allow players to more easily view their friends’ achievements, more quickly join games, and more efficiently communicate with each other. In addition, we’ll be making updates to the auction house in the future to provide players with better information through tooltips and notices, offer improved search functionality, and more."
Finally, Morhaime talks about the "always on" experience – a difficult subject for him to talk about given how many problems it ultimately created at launch.
"One other common topic we’ve seen in the forums is the always-connected experience, and the perception that the online requirement is nothing but an ineffective form of copy protection that has already been cracked. While we’ve never said that this requirement guarantees that there will be no cheating or game cracks, it does help us battle those problems (we have not found any fully functional cracks). More important to us is that the online requirement is critical for the long-term integrity of the game experience.
I fully understand the desire to play Diablo III offline; however, Diablo III was designed from the beginning to be an online game that can be enjoyed with friends, and the always-online requirement is the best way for us to support that design. The effectiveness of the online elements — including the friends list and cross-game communication; co-op matchmaking; persistent characters that you can use by yourself, with others, and in PvP; and some of our customer support, service, and security components — is tied directly to the online nature of the game.
These and other online-enabled features are essential to our design for Diablo III. That said, there are still improvements we believe we can make to expand the online experience and make co-op play even more rewarding, and this will remain one of our priorities moving forward. Overall, while there are some downsides to the online-only approach, I still believe this was the best long-term decision for the game."
You can check out the entire statement from Morhaime on Battle.net. He also talks about the auction houses and future end-game content for high level characters.