Max Schaefer talks RMT, DRM and Mods

10 Aug 2011  by   Paul Younger
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If you’ve been following the news here on IncGamers.com or Diablo: IncGamers, then you’ll know that Blizzard dropped a bit of a bombshell last week announcing their Real Money Auction system, always on connectivity and the lack of any modding.
As you can imagine it split the community’s opinion on whether Blizzard were doing the right thing with what is undoubtably one of the most anticipated sequels in recent times. We thought it would be interesting to find out what the original creator of the first Diablo titles thought of the recent decisions by Blizzard which have caused such a stir this past week.
Max Schaefer, founder of Runic Games and the man behind what many consider Diablo’s rival, Torchlight and the upcoming Torchlight 2, certainly knows his stuff when it comes to ARPG titles. So what does he think and what are his plans for Torchlight 2 now the gates have been blown open at Blizzard?

What do you think of the Diablo 3 auction house and the RMT aspect of it?
It’s something we thought about back in the old Diablo days as a way for people to have a more-secure transaction for all the items they were selling on EBAY. I’m not sure how I feel about it today – there are pluses and minuses. I’m glad they are doing it, though, because it serves as another point of distinction between Diablo III and Torchlight II.
Did you consider any systems like that in Diablo 2?
Not in Diablo 2, but as a result of the item auctions on EBAY for Diablo II items, we began to consider it.
How about in the early days of the Diablo MMORPG plans?
Yes, but not firm plans.
So what about Torchlight 2 which you are currently working on. Will that have any auction house style of trading?
No. Torchlight 2 is taking the opposite approach and opening everything up. We will ship development tools with the game with which you can just make any item you like (as well as mod the game however you want.) This choice precludes having an actual worldwide economy of any kind.
Did you consider any RMT aspects to Torchlight 2 trading or other features? Why or why not?
No. Instead we chose to give our players the most flexibility possible. Online, offline, LAN play, and development tools. We will stay a one-time low cost purchase. I think both approaches are legitimate, though, this is just the path we’re taking for Torchlight II.
Regarding the always-on connection Blizzars are employing, the DRM in Diablo 3. What are your thoughts on that, the no single player or LAN options?
I will confess I don’t know all the details, but it seems that most of what they are doing is related to trying to keep a truly secure, cheat-free economy in Diablo III. Whatever you do, you have to make sacrifices. We sacrifice a cheat-free environment to give players the most options, they are sacrificing options and flexibility for security of the economy like you would in an MMO. I understand their approach and sympathize with the technical difficulties of what they are trying to do.
What are you guys doing for DRM/online support/requirement with Torchlight 2? 
Same as Torchlight 1 basically. So there’s a one-time online activation and that’s it. Our Steam version uses standard Steam DRM. There will always be offline play, including LAN play that doesn’t require authorization. To use our matchmaking lobby, you’ll need to sign in with your account, which is sort of a verification, but that’s it. We try to keep it as easy and non-intrusive as possible, and actively encourage our players to make and use mods as they desire.
Is it acceptable/ethical for a developer to require online full time for a non-MMORPG?
Yes, provided it fits the requirements of what they want to do with the game. In this case, a fully secure economy MAY require it. Since we are not going down that road ourselves, I’m very hesitant to second-guess their approach. As a gamer, I’d be annoyed if I thought this were just a Kotick-inspired plan to soak the consumer, but knowing Blizzard and the guys over there, that’s NOT what’s happening here. I’m certain it’s to create a fair competitive environment for their players. If you are an offline or single-player type, that’s not going to appeal to you, but if you like to partake in the ladders, or sell your fancy loot, or play with the absolute knowledge that nobody has an unfair advantage, it makes sense.

By the way, I think that there really is no meaningful distinction between Diablo 3 (or Diablo 2) and an MMORPG. By my reckoning, it is one, but that’s been my position for a long, long time.
Do developers have an obligation to provide extra services to players in a game that requires such a DRM, even w/o MMORPG style monthly fees?
No, I don’t think so. I do think there’s an obligation to provide a cheat-free, secure game, though (or at least do their best to do so.) 
There is zero modding of any sort (even UI mods) allowed in D3. It won’t even be possible to attempt to mod without extensive hacking, since you can’t play the game at all unless you’re using the official version via Battle.Net.
You guys didn’t object to modding in Diablo/Diablo 2. Peter Hu made extensive changes in v1.10 D2X to enable much easier modding. And you were very supportive of modding in TL1 with TorchEd. Does that continue in TL2?
Yes, we will ship our development tool with the game. It is the same one we use in-house, and hasn’t been disabled in any way. This time, it’s much more powerful, and you can mod the UI much easier with it. We will make it easy to track and trade mods, as well, so that people can easily share them with others, and play in synced up games.
Do you think an RPG like Torchlight or Diablo 3 and its community, benefits from player input, modding access, etc?
We think so for Torchlight, but we’re not trying to create that cheat-free environment, so we don’t suffer from the downsides of allowing modding. Like I said before, I understand why they are precluding mods in Diablo 3, and like any design decision of this magnitude, there are advantages and disadvantages to any approach.
Does forcing players to play only online, barring all modding, etc, contradict your basic game design/development principles?
No, it actually doesn’t contradict my principles. I don’t have a doctrinaire view on this – if they have a really fun, competitive, and fair game as a result, then I’ll be happy as a player to give up the flexibility. But it has to be worth it, and I think the choices Blizzard has made have upped the pressure on themselves to deliver. There are many paths to good games, even within specific genres like ours. We’ll surely be playing Diablo3 in the office, so we’re happy to give them an option for when they are offline or want to try some mods.
Thanks to Max for his opinion and watch out for more news on Torchlight 2 here on IncGamers in the coming weeks.

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