GDC 2013: Diablo III’s mistakes, mishapes and misfits


The Diablo III development team made mistakes with the auction house, item design and combat diversity, according to the game’s former creative director, Jay Wilson. Speaking at GDC 2013 Wilson did, however, also praise other aspects of the game, including its accessibility, health system and character design.

First, Wilson admitted that the Blizzard development team had got the item system badly wrong. Diablo revised items from Diablo II to prevent characters like Diablo II’s Sorceress, who was almost totally item-independent – and hence overpowered and extremely popular.

Unfortunately, in Diablo III “Items were mathy” he said, as players needed to maximise their character’s particular core stats. “Being a Barbarian and swinging an axe doesn’t often involve algebra,” said Wilson. Blizzard has attempted to fix this with hundreds of new legendary items in patch 1.04, which are more ‘build changer’ items.

Similarly, combat was made repetitive by the player’s high level of skill customization. “We had no ‘diverse combat mechanics’ pillar… the player is a swiss army knife, we don’t know if they’re the scissors or the saw,” Wilson said. If the designer doesn’t know any of the skills a player has, not even dodges or ranged attacks, then he can’t design mechanics around them, limiting him to the few attacks universal to all classes.

Similarly, though Wilson generally praised the rich skill customization system, he felt that the linear levelling up system often provided players with skills that they would never use, undermining the appeal of upgrading.

He was most damning regarding the game’s much-delayed auction house, saying: “I think we would turn it off if we could.” He also suggested that the team had deeply underestimated the playerbase’s use of both auction houses, making them both messy and dominant, and undermining player’s ability to play. He did, however, defend their decision to implement as they did. “We picked the wrong answer, but I stand by us trying to solve a problem that really needs to be solved.”

On the positive side, Wilson felt that the team managed to replicate the first game’s accessibility, even reducing the complexity of the keyboard commands – which will prove useful ahead of the upcoming console launch. As Wilson put it, “I loved that I could just shove Cheetos in my mouth and have a beer and play with one hand.” He praised their decision to purloin God of War’s random health orb system over Diablo II’s potion-based system, as it rewarded players for attacking monsters. Finally, he was extremely happy with the thematic elements of the game, particularly the highly original class archetypes, saying “awesome comes first”.