At roughly 6AM EST this morning, Diablo III fan forums throughout the ‘net began to light up with reports that anyone with a free Battle.net account could now access the game’s beta test. As the test had previously only been available to those who received invites from Blizzard itself, this news started a miniature rush of prospective players hoping for a chance to play the highly-anticipated title prior to its official May 15 release.
You can’t blame the fans for attempting to join the beta test, but it should be noted that the version of Diablo III they had downloaded via Battle.net wasn’t the standard beta client. Instead, through some bizarre glitch, these players had received a previously unannounced version of the game. This “Starter Edition” of Diablo III reportedly includes all of the features of the beta client, only it periodically asks players to purchase the full version of the game.
Once Blizzard was made aware of the leak, it scrambled to plug the hole in its usually ironclad veil of secrecy. At about 9AM EST the beta servers were taken offline altogether. “The Diablo III beta is currently unavailable until further notice while we work to resolve an issue,” writes pseudonymous Blizzard community liaison “Nethaera” on the official Diablo III forums. An update on the servers’ status is expected shortly, though it’s anyone’s guess when they’ll actually be up and running again.
More importantly though, is that mysterious, heretofore unknown “Starter Edition” of the game that beta testers seem to have stumbled upon. As Ars Technica points out, Blizzard released a Starter Edition for StarCraft II following its launch as well as a World of Warcraft Starter Edition in June 2011. Both releases were essentially free iterations of the full game that had a hard-coded time limit built into them after which they would no longer function. The idea was that new players would get a taste of Blizzard’s wares, get hooked and spring for the full version of the game. With this morning’s discovery, it seems that Blizzard plans to offer a similar scheme for Diablo III. Presumably we’ll be hearing more about this as we approach the game’s launch.