Fighting a New Monster: Tracing DRM Issues in Diablo 3

Dean Holden


In this paper, I describe the design of gaming experiences within various types of digital rights management (DRM) systems, primarily via a case study of Blizzard Entertainment's Diablo 3. Recent technological implementations have enforced policies at odds with best practices for consumer-based gaming. Because of these policies, new methods for distribution, enforcement, and avoidance are colliding within gaming ecosystems - often at the expense of the user experience. While much of the discussion focuses on Diablo 3, the game itself is not the paper's primary focus. Diablo 3 is, however, a particularly illustrative case study for the much larger issue of how DRM changes users' gaming experiences - typically for the worse. Although the implementation of DRM is typically presented as an attempt at a positive move on the legal and business side of distribution, I present it here as an overwhelmingly negative move for user experience. To illustrate this, I intend to point out how the documented problems with Diablo 3's launch can be traced back to its DRM system, discuss the consequences of these problems by following consumer reaction, and also suggest less-invasive alternatives to current DRM implementation in video games.