With any modern game, software patches released after the game ships can eliminate bugs and add additional content. But Blizzard, among others, also uses these patches to affect how the game plays, weakening ("nerfing") some aspects while strengthening others.
Blizzard usually publishes its patch schedule, informing players in advance of the changes they will bring to the game.
Soon after Diablo III launched, however, Blizzard unexpectedly patched the game via an unannounced "hotfix," changing the abilities of skills like Lingering Fog, Boon of Protection, and Force Armor. Decreasing the potency of these skills forced some players to alter their strategy mid-way through the game, prompting complaints from players.
Blizzard attempted to reassure players that the hotfix was a rare occurrence, and that it would leave in place powerful skills and abilities that, in its words, did not break the game. "We expect that because the game is new, some other issues will arise that will need to be immediately addressed through hotfixes, but in general, most changes will arrive through patches," the company wrote in a blog post.
"We know these hotfixes snuck up on people, and it took us a day or so to communicate that they had gone live," Blizzard added. "However, our intent moving forward is that when there are circumstances where a hotfix is necessary, we'll communicate changes that could impact your ability to play your class through 'Upcoming Changes' posts in the General forum. Ideally, we'll let you know as soon as we even have the idea that we want to make that kind of change."
Blizzard also released statistics that indicated that most players are still early in the game: on average players have created three characters each, Blizzard said, with 80 percent of characters are between levels one and 30.
"We don't want you to be worried that a hotfix nerf is lurking around the corner every day," Blizzard wrote. "If a skill is strong, but isn't really breaking the game, we want you to have your fun. Part of the enjoyment of Diablo is finding those super-strong builds, and we want players to be excited to use something they discovered that feels overpowered. A good example of this is the monk Overawe rune, which many players have identified as being quite good. We agree it's good, but we don't think it's so far out of line that we're going to swoop in and hotfix it out of existence."
Blizzard also addressed issues with its "Inferno" mode, where players face a steady stream of incoming damage. The company said that it would promote "build diversity," ensuring that no one class had an advantage. The changes will be made in a patch, not a hotfix.
After a catastrophic first day of outages that prompted an apology from the company, Blizzard's only persistent issue has been the multiple delays in the real-world auction house, where players can use real money to buy virtual items within the game. Blizzard has no official date to launch the exchange "beyond the previously estimated May time frame", the company said last week.
Nevertheless, that hasn't stopped Diablo III from becoming the fastest-selling PC game ever, according to the company.