Diablo III – It’s close, and getting closer.

Good news, Diablo fans. More than 15 years after the release of the first Diablo, and 7 years after Diablo III was first announced, we are getting close to release. Real close.

Ever since Jay Wilson’s “Game System Updates” post on battle.net (covered here), we have seen what looks like an accelerated release of news, updates, beta patches and announcements, which all seem to be pointing to one conclusion: release!

A quick recap – since the Game System Update post (hard to believe, only a little over 2 weeks ago) and the following ‘major’ beta patch release 10, we have seen 2 more beta patches, both of which did nothing except fix bugs and typos. This is a very good sign. But what else is there?

Battle.Net Changes

A few days ago, there was an update to the Battle.Net Terms of Service, which all players are required to accept the next time they log in. The main changes insert clauses around the “Battle.Net Balance”, the currency you will be using on the Real Money Auction house. Then today, we’ve seen what that change foreshadowed: Battle.Net Balance is now available within the account page. You can choose a currency, view a transaction history, and also establish a link to PayPal.

Difficulty in integration between PayPal and Battle.Net has been a popular theory as the real reason for the delay over the past few months. Getting Battle.net 2.0 stable is what delayed SC2 by six months, after all. Whether true or not, the fact that this is now live makes it clear that PayPal integration is done and dusted.

Huge Beta Opt-In Wave

Another huge clue. Blizzard gave beta access to over 100,000 new players. The beta is very short (can be completed in 2 hours on your first run, and in 20 minutes from start to finish if you speedrun). Many players are also complaining it’s very easy. What all of this points to is that Blizzard are not going to leave these 100,000 players waiting around, exhausting the limited content and eventually becoming disillusioned. This is their PR machine in full gear – these players are going to go out, talk on forums and fansites, post videos on Youtube, and generally build the hype around the game to it’s peak. They only have a couple of months before all this momentum is lost – and they’re too smart to let that happen. The clock is ticking!

Runestone System – Finalised

Before the Battle.net integration was considered the source of all delays (and even before the South Korea Game Review Board), Blizzard’s inability to finalise their skill/runestone system was what appeared to be holding up the release. Over the course of 18 months, it continually changed, and continued to change at each event (the Press Event had one version, Blizzcon had another, Blizzard was not happy with either). Finally, this is sorted and they’re getting ready to give us the details, according to a tweet from Bashiok from just 1 hour ago (emphasis mine):

Q: Any word when news about runes will be released?
Bashiok: We’re planning that out. Its in and working. Not too much longer.
Q: Does this include the skill system?
Bashiok: Skill and rune systems are intrinsically linked.

Investor Conference Call

The next quarterly Activision-Blizzard investor conference call is this Thursday, 9th Feb. Shareholders will be excited by the opportunities presented by the Real Money Auction House. They will want an update. This is the final reason why I am strongly expecting that we will have a release date announcement some time before (or, at the latest, during) this conference call.  I might be biased by the fact that I really, really want the release to be announced, but I think that all the evidence is pointing towards it.

Given Blizzard’s historical release schedule, release date announcements are typically made 6-8 weeks before an actual release. This looks like around the end of March – both March 27th and 30th are popular choices. There’s also the chance that Blizzard will delay until early April for business reasons (to consolidate all the D3 preorders and the retail sales into one financial quarter). Either way, not long to go.

The Alternative? Well, if we don’t see a date announcement in the next couple of days, and we don’t get a  date on the investor conference call, then forget Q1. We’ll be looking at May or June. And I will be a sad Paradice.

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