Diablo III is a popular video game for the PC and Mac that sold a lot of copies and made a lot of people happy. Also, there was a lot of money. With great success comes great responsibility and cost, since the amount of success becomes proportional to the amount of crap to deal with to make the operation run smoothly. Being successful in the video game industry is not always what it's cracked up to be.
This past week has shed some light on two very interesting Diablo-related news pieces, putting Blizzard and its blockbuster dungeon crawler at the heart of scandals, government raids, clever vendors, banned games, and more international intrigue. You'd think that this was all a James Bond plot, but for the presence of guys with fanny packs and an overabundance of Utilikilts.
There have been many news stories in the video game industry that have given me pause -- and subsequently, joy -- as I laugh about their absurdity. Nothing can ever top "Big Pineapple." The bar for hilarious legal stories has been raised to a new degree. Dammit Blizzard, always innovating. If you have not heard about Big Pineapple, take a seat. You'll like this one.
Diablo III is currently undergoing a review process by the Ministry of Culture in China, waiting for approval to be sold in the extremely content-restrictive nation. Chinese gamers, however, don't want to wait for a copy of the game to play. Much like their NA and EU counterparts, Chinese gamers couldn't give a crap about rules and regulations and will do anything to get their games early and often. See, we aren't unlike in the slightest. World peace ASAP.
In order to skirt regulations, considering that selling Diablo III would be illegal without a stamp of approval from the ministry, retailers are finding ways of selling the game to paying customers without using Diablo's official name. So instead, retailers are calling the game "dà boluó" -- or "Big Pineapple," as it's translated. It totally sounds like Diablo, right? I love it.
Pictures of pineapples have accompanied listings for the game to help throw off search engines and government officials. Whether or not the Chinese government has put a stop to the sale of Big Pineapple, we do not know. However, the fact that online retailers in China, for a period of time, were all selling an unusually high volume of big pineapples might lead future civilizations to question what the hell was going on in the 21st century.
Meanwhile, still in Asia, Blizzard is having issues with the Korean government over
complaints related to the huge number of refunds demanded by players after Diablo III experienced a rough, rocky, and unstable launch. Korea's Fair Trade Commission raided Blizzard's Seoul offices after reports that Blizzard was not issuing certain refunds for players who were unable to play their game during the launch.
Blizzard has promised to bring the service up to speed in Korea and apparently has done so in a big way with doubling its capacities and loads -- but the complaints were still enough, apparently, to force the Fair Trade Commission's hand. Many point to Blizzard's prominence in Korea as the reason for the heightened government intervention, but I see it more as a posturing move. As e-sports becomes a bigger and more all-consuming pasttime all over the world, governments are going to be looking for ways to capitalize on the growing trend. It feels more like a posturing move to me and a reminder, but what do I know? If I ran a sovereign nation, this post would look a lot different than it does right now, let me tell you.
There is no denying that Blizzard is huge in Korea and that Blizzard's games have an impact that many of us don't understand completely. For more than a decade, StarCraft has been a staple of Korean lifestyle. There are multiple television channels devoted to the game and its competitive scene. When BlizzCon 2011 hosted the GSL finals, the StarCraft world was shocked that the games were happening outside of Korea. Imagine what the reaction would be if the NFL decided to have the Super Bowl in Japan in 2013.
At what point will Blizzard be done with Diablo III issues, legal or otherwise? Probably never, unfortunately. These games and services have become perpetual money-makers and perpetual problem-makers. Will that stop companies from creating games like this? No -- nor should it. As we traverse the murky waters of demon-slaying video game services that are under the watchful eyes of the Korean FTC raid teams, we are reminded that video games can be serious business, and it's up to us to fashion the correct response.
We need to look at the raids and have an appropriate response as a community. Were the Diablo launch day problems such an issue that it warranted the government raid of Blizzard Seoul, or are gamers toying with something a little bit dangerous to "get back" at companies for botching launches? Politicians in my country are self-obsessed, willfully ignorant legislators who thought SOPA and PIPA were good ideas. Don't let them think that raiding game companies is equally as awesome.
This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact your lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at firstname.lastname@example.org.