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Offline: 'Diablo III'

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Paul Miller continues his offline journeys with a copy of Diablo III.

paul miller
paul miller

I don't use the internet. Diablo III, Blizzard's latest stunning blockbuster sequel, requires the internet. I know this, you know this. And yet...

The other day I was talking to a friend about how much incredible, unparalleled fun he's been having playing Diablo III. I got a little jealous. I would buy a copy of Diablo III, and attempt to install it, and fail, and then: something something. Spite Blizzard. Something something. Rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light. I would purchase its crippled product as an act of defiance.

I grabbed my skateboard and blazed the half-block path to my local GameStop, which is just marginally closer than my local Best Buy, and on my side of the street, and therefore my default for video game impulse buys. I bought the $60 copy of Diablo III and an unplanned $20 copy of Mass Effect 2 for Xbox, and then hurried out before more damage could be done to my wallet and best intentions.

Back home I hooked up my gaming PC, which has lain dormant since my last night on the internet. As it booted, and for minutes after, I fiddled with the Diablo III packaging, which is fronted by a meaty double-gatefold that's fastened with velcro. The screenshots and hype text would do a great job selling the game if Diablo III wasn't a completely obvious purchase for any PC gamer alive, or if GameStop didn't stash its copies behind the counter.

Inside the box was the disc, in a cheap cardboard sleeve, a user guide, some huge "guest pass" cards, and a thick pad of paper — which is apparently meant for me to take notes on my exploits? I'm not here to provide answers, I'm just explaining the box experience because I'm guessing you bought a digital copy online and you didn't get a pad of paper, or even know you were supposed to play the game with a pad of paper. Now you know.

After all, it said on the back of the box: "internet connection required," and I'm The Man Who Left the Internet

I cracked the guide and started to read descriptions of the varied classes, trying to figure out which one I'd like to play. And then I caught myself. What was I doing? I didn't buy this game to play it. I won't be able to play it for another 11 months. I bought this game to make a statement, not to derive satisfaction from it. After all, it said on the back of the box: "internet connection required," and I'm The Man Who Left the Internet.

And yet, despite my friend's explicit description of the moment in time when his install specifically sought out internet verification, I held my breath as the DVD-ROM spun up. I was clutching the disc's sleeve, which had an extensive serial number inkjetted to it. Serial numbers have always worked before, I argued to myself. I mean, even Photoshop works with a serial number, and that program costs hundreds of dollars. Or maybe Blizzard accidentally slipped up and printed a few hundred discs without the DRM on them — like when the post office accidentally puts a plane upside down on a stamp — and I was one of the lucky few.

I didn't even make it to a splash screen. An error message popped up moments after I double-clicked the disc icon: apparently the "battle.net patch service" was unavailable, error code "BLZPTS00002." I should check my internet connection, it said.

And so I did what any quixotic DRM-protester would do: I called the Blizzard support hotline listed on the back of the box. It wasn't that hard to navigate to the "installation and other tech support" option for Diablo III in the phone tree. And then I waited. The robo-lady quoted me a surprisingly specific "91 minutes," but in fact I waited 109 minutes for my call to go through to a support representative. I actually ate dinner and had two other entire phone conversations while the robo-lady repeatedly reminded me that I could easily solve all my problems at Blizzard's website, in between peals of orchestral music. And then I heard a friendly young man ask me my name and Battle.net email address.

I blundered on, explaining my installation "problem"

He had won before firing a single shot. How could I claim to have no internet? I have a recently active, heavily active, Battle.net account, which I would log into every time I played StarCraft II. I blundered on, explaining my installation "problem." I even had my error code written down, so I could quote it to him with faux-bewilderment, but didn't even get a chance.

"Diablo III requires an internet connection at all times," he said, with the sort of confidence and edge someone gains after repeating a line endlessly to down-with-fascist-DRM 16-year-olds and down-with-fascist-DRM 26-year-olds.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because that's how the developers made it," he answered, like someone trying to explain magnets to a toddler.

But why. I mean, I get it, Blizzard's been using Battle.net to progressively tighten its grip on piracy since World of Warcraft shipped — even as its games become so reliant on Battle.net, at least in terms of replay-ability, that they'd be near worthless without it. And now, with Diablo III, Blizzard has introduced a whole new security headache: real-money transactions in its player-to-player item auction house. DRM is almost as much a part of the game as looting dungeons is at this point.

"But why?" I asked, hoping I sounded mature and concerned, not like I needed a warm bottle of milk and then a nap.

"All games in the future will require an internet connection," he continued, "most already do." He rattled off World of Warcraft and Mass Effect 3 as examples. It was obvious he was reading off a script at this point. It was probably taped up next to his monitor, titled in 36 point Times New Roman: "What to say to whiners about Diablo III DRM."

I pointed out that Mass Effect 3 didn't require an internet connection to play it on the Xbox.

"Well, we don't make Xbox games."

I was so beat, and I knew it, but I pressed on. "Will you guys ever remove this requirement?"

"No. It will NOT change. Diablo III will always require an internet connection."

Maybe below the last bullet point on his script he has taped a picture of his family, I don't know. Maybe before he gets "installation and other tech support" calls for Diablo III he puts two fingers to his lips, then presses that kiss to the photo, like a fighter pilot going into battle. It was into the evening at this point, and he had an American accent, so maybe he was about to wrap up his shift and then head home to his beautiful wife and real-life toddler. Maybe sometimes he lets his kid sit on his lap while he plays World of Warcraft. At night, when bedtime comes, he tells his son stories of the future, where all games will require internet connections "always and forever. The end."

After I hung up I put the Mass Effect 2 disc into my Xbox and forgot about the whole ordeal.

*A footnote, for my mom, who reads these posts and might start to worry: Diablo III is not a game where you play as the devil, rather it's a game where you fight against the devil. The choice of powers you employ is your own, and your options are not entirely demonic in nature. And I can't play it anyway.

Paul Miller will regularly be posting dispatches from the disconnected world on The Verge during his year away from the internet. He won't be reading your comments, but he'll be here in spirit.