The Social/Online Game Experiment
How bad has this launch been? It's easily the worst since vanilla World of Warcraft launched in 2004. Back then, Blizzard had an excuse -- it was launching its first MMO as a much smaller company.
Let me put some specifics to my general claims of dissatisfaction. One week out of the gate, I have yet to enjoy a stable play experience after 4 PM. I die from lag 2-4x a night. The idea of playing Hardcore mode under these conditions is a joke; playing with other people makes things significantly worse and over the weekend, the game was utterly unplayable. I've done extensive troubleshooting at every point of my network, swapped out routers, hand-configured TCP/IP and NIC settings, run diagnostic software and traceroutes, and tested two different NICs (which actually helped a bit).
This is a problem. If this was a World of Warcraft expansion, Blizzard would have already offered free time to those unable to play a week after the game shipped. With Diablo III, there's no such recourse. I'm scarcely advocating for a monthly subscription model, but this situation highlights an interesting problem. In WoW, the subscription model gives Blizzard an easy way to redress problems with service. In Diablo III, there's no simple way to reimburse consumers.
The structures for a robust experience are here...
but for some players, the ability to use them is significantly limited
I can't write anything about Diablo III's vaunted social system because I've scarcely seen it. What I can comment on is that features like the Auction House, while clearly still in need of some better search/sorting functionality, are nicely and subtly integrated. If you want a classic Diablo experience without any use of the Auction House, you can have it. If you want to buy and sell items for gold, the option is there. We'll refrain from commenting on the Real Money AH until it's available for testing.
Other features, like having a common stash, the lack of any death penalty besides durability loss, and only having to train one character's crafting all work quite well. Once the game is playable, I look forward to quite a bit of fun with friends -- whenever that is.