news Video game giant Blizzard is currently facing a tsunami of complaints from Australian gamers frustrated that the company’s lack of Australian servers is making its new Diablo III unplayable for locals.
Since Diablo III was launched several weeks ago, Australians have posted a large number of complaints about poor latency — commonly known as ‘ping time’ — to Blizzard’s Battle.net servers located in the US. Access to the server infrastructure is required to play Diablo III, unlike with the company’s previous Diablo games which did feature online multiplayer options, but also offered stand-alone single-player campaigns which did not require Internet access.
“Here I am again at 1am EST trying to play D3 and my latency is over 500 because America is awake and Blizzard is unable or unwilling to put enough bandwidth in place to handle the load,” wrote one frustrated player last night. “Once the yanks piss off to bed my latency drops down to a decent 230 or so; now can you explain why this is still an issue weeks from launch?” Another added that the issue was specific to when residents of the United States awake to play Diablo III. “Yeah, you can spot when the yanks pile out of bed in the morning,” they said. “Stupid public holidays (and weekends).”
And a third wrote: “I’m a little worried that I won’t be able to play Diablo 3 at all, my internet connection is not exactly the fastest connection out there and it seems every time I play the game I lag and by lag I mean it jumps all over the screen and my attacks respond about 40 seconds later than it should, I cant access doors and talk to in-game characters, so yes it lags a lot! So much that it makes me turn the game off in frustration.”
On the same Battle.net forum, a Blizzard community manager named Arcagnion noted in mid-May that the company was aware that some players were “still encountering latency” when playing Diablo III, and invited affected players to post their experiences. “In some cases, your issues may not be specific to the region,” Arcagnion wrote, “and we’re working our absolute hardest to address these concerns as soon as possible. In other cases, we believe that your issues with in-game latency may have been resolved by recent hotfixes.”
Last week, following hundreds of responses from Australian players, Arcagnion wrote that Blizzard had gone through all of the responses and associated threads on the Battle.net forums. “I am sure that you understand that most of the questions we can’t answer, BUT we have been talking with the server admins and seeing what, if any improvements can be made regarding latency and we’ll keep you updated,” they wrote.
A continuing problem
It’s not the first time that Blizzard has suffered issues with latency with respect to Australian gamers attempting to play its popular franchises. In fact, a pattern has emerged over the past several years in which the company has experienced a fresh set of problems in Australia every time it releases a new game.
In April 2010, for example, a senior Blizzard executive reportedly said the company was discussing the possibility of hosting Australian servers for its popular World of Warcraft game. At that stage, national broadband company Internode said it had been discussing the need for an Australian World of Warcraft server with Blizzard “for many years”, although the company had proven intractable.
Then, in June that same year, Blizzard faced a new wave of dissent from Australian gamers furious about the company’s decision to lock Australians into only being able to play multiplayer games of its upcoming StarCraft II title against players in Southeast Asia — not in America or Europe. That decision was eventually reversed — with Australians getting access to the US servers — but problems with latency persisted, with ISP iiNet being forced to amend its network path to make the StarCraft II experience better for Australians.
In October that year Blizzard blamed some of the network latency problems on Optus, erroneously believing the telco was Australia’s largest telco — which is in fact Telstra. But at that stage the company was also still talking about an Australian datacentre, or enlarging its Singapore-based datacentre, which is used to provide access to StarCraft II for Australians.
Blizzard is not the only video game company which has consistently declined to deploy Australian infrastructure to support its online service; the issue is widespread within the video gaming industry, as it is within the enterprise IT category for software as a service-style software access. However, Blizzard is probably the most high-profile example of a global gaming company which has faced frustrations from Australians on the issue for a lengthy period spanning years.
A representative from Blizzard Australia has been invited to respond to this issue.
You can understand why Blizzard likes to centralise its operations in key locations such as the US; to a company which has hundreds of millions of customers and is part of the giant Activision group, the Australian market must seem like a very small one; insignificant revenue, insignificant numbers of players; insignificant complaints and so on. However, it has always seemed unfair to Australians that we pay the full price for games such as World of WarCraft and Diablo III, yet receive a degraded level of performance from those games because of Blizzard’s reluctance to establish dedicated Australian infrastructure to support those games.
In the year 2000, or even 2005, it seems clear that it would have been a big ask for Blizzard to establish an Australian datacentre to support Australian players of such games. Our country has historically had expensive datacentre access and telecommunications costs — expenses which would have cut into Blizzard’s bottom line.
However, in 2012 the situation has changed, and I believe there are no longer any excuses for companies like Blizzard which refuse to establish Australian infrastructure to support their games. There have been a stack of huge datacentres built in Australia over the past few years, and telecommunications prices have also come down. The market is ready for local support from companies like Blizzard, and it’s hard to believe that a company with overall revenues of close to $5 billion per year couldn’t afford a few tens of millions of dollars to support long-term loyal Australian gamers.
Fair suck of the sav, Blizzard.
Image credit: Blizzard