Professionals hooked on fantasy game

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 May, 2012, 12:00am


Most of the gamers feverishly trying to get their hands on Diablo III in the city yesterday were not teenagers but professionals in their 20s and 30s who grew up with the game.

Launched in Asia, the United States and Europe on Tuesday by industry heavyweight Blizzard Entertainment, it had pre-sales of two million copies and its servers crashed earlier in the week as thousands of players tried to log on, a problem that now appears to be fixed.

The highly anticipated online role-playing game has been 12 years in the making, with its last incarnation produced in 2000. In Hong Kong, it has already sold out at HMV and Hong Kong Records.

Fans streamed in and out of shops at the 188 Oriental Shopping Centre in Wan Chai yesterday on the hunt for one of the 14,000 copies one vendor said were available in Hong Kong. Their requests for the game were met with a firm 'No' or a hushed 'Come back later,' as some vendors openly touted the product at inflated prices.

The game sells for US$60 but was being offered by some vendors for US$100. The collector's edition is priced at HK$2,000.

With a classic good-versus-evil storyline, Diablo III follows five characters that set out to save the Sanctuary, a place besieged by a villain called Diablo. Players hack and slash - as the genre is known - through several levels of dungeons, fighting off baddies, collecting gold and better weapons along the way.

'All my friends are playing it,' said Colin Greis, a 14-year-old Hong Kong International School student who was at EUSGAMES, in the Wan Chai computer centre, checking prices with a friend. He estimated that about 300 of the 1,000-plus students at his school play the game.

But his generation was outnumbered by older players looking for the game at city retailers this week.

'There's some kind of basic human need to build, to create and to accomplish something that the game appeals to,' said Alex Cheng, a 28-year-old father of three and banker who has been waking up at 4am to play the game.

On Friday night, as his wife watched television in bed, Cheng loaded the game and signed in to Skype to call his friend Chris Scott, an IT professional with a mining company based in Vancouver. The two are old college friends who used to play World of Warcraft, another popular Blizzard game, together.

'I don't like to drink coffee, and like to wake up slowly, so this is a good way to start the day for me,' Scott said. They have not been in touch for a few years, but reconnected because of Diablo.

While the two take a healthy approach to the game, in places where role-playing games like World of Warcraft are popular, such as South Korea, there are occasional reports of deaths after sessions of 12 to 15 hours. A South Korean man died in 2005 after playing StarCraft, another Blizzard hit, for more than 50 hours without rest or adequate sustenance.

On Friday, about 10pm Hong Kong time and 6am on the west coast of Canada, the Scott and Cheng discussed how their approach to gaming had changed. Gone are the days when they had all the time in the world to play - a fact the industry has now taken into account. It now caters to busy professionals by providing quicker ways to bypass levels, at a price. Better gear and weapons can be bought in the virtual world, if you are willing to stump up the cash in the real world.

Costs for extra gear range from a few US dollars to US$250 and will be available on a global online auction market for the game set to launch at the end of the month.

'Before we had all the time and not the money. Now we have all the money and not the time,' Scott said. 'I wouldn't pay for it, but people do.'

But that is where the two friends differ. Cheng admits he might be tempted to splash out.

'We're not kids any more, time is valuable. Now I think, 'Do I want to play this game for 18 hours for that uber-weapon, or do I want to pay US$5 for this item?' Hands down, no competition, easy decision,' he said. 'I'd rather spend that time with my family.'