Korean gamer culture is serious business. How serious? Korea’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) raided the Seoul office of Diablo III makers Blizzard Entertainment Monday investigating complaints from players. The players complained that the company refused to provide refunds to those unhappy about poor access to the game since its launch two weeks ago.
Via The Korea Times:
The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) said the firm is suspected of having violated the country’s law on electronic commerce and commercial contracts. The FTC said Tuesday that it raided the firm’s Seoul office Monday and secured related documents and other evidence with which it will determine whether Blizzard broke the law.
The investigation comes only two weeks after the release of the game, which has sold more than 6.3 million copies worldwide.
Larger-than-expected traffic to the online game’s severs made it extremely difficult for its users to access the game, particularly on weekday nights and weekends, according to Blizzard Korea.
Some buyers of the game vented frustration over server shutdowns and asked for refunds, but the company refused to do so, citing sales contract terms, which the FTC says is disadvantageous to consumers.
Diablo III is the latest (and the largest) representation of relatively new trend in computer gaming, requiring constant Internet connection and access to a company’s servers in order to play, even if the game does not have multiplayer components. In Diablo III, up to four players can run around slaying demons together and ignoring its tragicomically awful storyline, but it can also be played completely solo. Even alone, though, players must have a working internet connection at all times.
The connection requirement exists for several reasons, most of which are connected to fighting piracy and cheating. If you’re a non-gamer wondering why Blizzard would care if people cheat in the games they bought, the game has an online auction house that will eventually allow people to buy items in the game from each other for real-world money. In Diablo II (which did not have such an auction house and did not require constant Internet connection), the game’s “economy” suffered from hackers figuring out ways to duplicate items in the game and selling them to other players in a virtual black market. In Diablo III, parts of the game are on the players’ computers, but some assets are on Blizzard’s servers to make it much harder for hackers to engage in virtual counterfeiting and manipulating the market. The issue is complicated and controversial and no doubt it will be a focus of discussion with Hit and Run commenters below for anybody who wants to drill down deeper into the subject.
What has happened here is that Blizzard’s servers are currently unable to accommodate the number of people who want to play their game. So even those who have Internet access might not be able to play their copy of the game because of problems on Blizzard’s end. The complainants are demanding refunds because they can’t play their games when they want to, even though the games themselves are not broken, a complicated consumer issue that is bound to get more complex as games and information become less and less tied to personal pieces of equipment (like a PC).
Complicating matters further, Diablo III isn’t a subscription-based game like World of Warcraft, which has a monthly fee. Blizzard has credited World of Warcraft accounts in the past when unexpected server problems rendered the game unplayable for long lengths of time. Consumers pay for Diablo III entirely up front. There’s no mechanism for determining the value of being unable to play for two days in a month, for example. Thus, frustrated players are demanding a full refund:
FTC officials said the probe is aimed at confirming whether the firm has sold the game based on what they describe as an “unfair” contract so that people cannot receive refunds even if they discover problems with the game. They said they are studying whether the company should be held liable for “ill-preparation” for unexpected traffic.
It’s too early to see any results of the probe but some investigators expect the regulator to issue an order mandating Blizzard to provide a full refund to all unhappy customers.