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Diablo III unlikely to ship for 2011 holiday season

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Container ship
Update September 23rd, 2011
Diablo III Officially Ships Early 2012 By Medievaldragon – September 23, 2011
'Nuff said.
Update August 3rd, 2011
It looks like at least Gamasutra is agreeing with me,[1] especially after not being able to commit to a ship date from Blizzard's earnings call.[2]

Original post

I'm not really known as a Diablo guy — being the main admin at WoWWiki, if you know me at all it is associated with Warcraft — but I love the franchise and I've been following it for a long time. I was saddened when Blizzard closed Blizzard North, because I knew that it meant either the death of the Diablo franchise or a long coma. Fortunately, it appears like the long coma was the final outcome, but the coma has been very long. There has not been a new Diablo game for 10 long years now. People make fun of Duke Nuk'em Forever, but Diablo III may be the second most vaporware title in video game history.

All that said, Diablo III will get shipped. I'm here just to lay out the case that it won't be fall/winter 2011 and more likely spring 2012. So, you may ask why do I think this and why would I even have the faintest idea if it could be true. I'm just some Warcraft bozo. Well, I was once in what we called the shrink-wrapped desktop software industry and I've been watching that industry for almost 20 years (yes, I'm old). Over those years, development cycles haven't changed that much and for video games, especially the premier ones, those cycles have been getting longer not shorter.

So lets look at some history. The World of Warcraft closed beta (not internal beta) lasted 7 months. Diablo III is not an MMO, so it is less complicated with less networking issues and server issues, but it probably shares almost no code with anything in the old Diablo II codebase, so was largely built from scratch, albeit over at least 4 years. So lets say a closed beta (real customers, but not just anyone off the street) would take around 4 months before release. It is now mid-July and no closed beta has yet been announced.

There are some rumors (believable ones) that the closed beta will start around the time Activision-Blizzard announces their quarterly results which is currently slated to be August 3rd, 2011. So if we take that date and project ahead 4 months, what do we get? September, October, November,... beginning of December. That is too late to have Diablo III available for the holiday season, unless it is digital download only. That would look really bad, so I doubt Blizzard would allow a digital download only version long before the actual boxes were available.

Why is the beginning of December too late? Christmas, the big holiday is over 3 weeks away, that should be enough time to get it in stores or shipping from mail order by a few days before. But no, the hold up is what is called manufacturing lead time. Even with robots and the internet, it still takes a bit over a month of lead time to get boxes into stores because you also have to worry about physical shipping times which usually chew up about a week total even when rushed.

With lead times, shrink-wrapped software has to be released to manufacturing by early november at the latest or sometime in october to prevent too much costly overtime. Diablo III is going to ship in spring 2012. Wish me wrong, but that is my prediction.

Fandyllic is the primary admin at WoWWiki and fellow long suffering Diablo fan.

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