IRVINE, California - Fans of "Diablo III" celebrated the midnight launch of the long-awaited video game.
A crowd of more than 1,500 gathered Monday night around a stage built underneath the Ferris wheel at the Irvine Spectrum Center, a shopping center located about a mile from developer Blizzard Entertainment Inc.'s headquarters, for the gritty role-playing sequel set in the fantastical world of Sanctuary.
Anticipation for "Diablo III" from publisher Activision Blizzard Inc. has bubbled over because the previous entry in the series was released 12 years ago, a lifetime in the gaming world when compared with franchises like "World of Warcraft" and "Call of Duty," which regularly receive updates.
"When we first started doing midnight launches, we didn't think anyone would come, but now we do them for all our games, and they get bigger and bigger," said Rob Pardo, Blizzard's vice president of game design. "It's great for not only the fans but also the development team. They get to be here when everyone is buying the game and see the excitement."
"Diablo" fans huddled around the stage to watch Blizzard artists sketch characters from scratch, view never-before-seen footage, take part in trivia contests and attempt to catch free swag during "loot storms."
Ian Noble, 24, wanted his collector's edition autographed by developers.
"There's nowhere I'd rather be tonight," Noble said. "I've been waiting for this moment for a long, long time."
So why did it take so long?
"We were just goofing off mostly," joked lead designer Jay Wilson over howls from the crowd. "No, it takes a long time to make a Blizzard game. We're very focused on quality. If we think something is not good enough, we make it better. We redo things, which is really uncommon in game development. If we build a level and don't like (it), we'll throw it out."
In the third chapter of "Diablo," players choose among five classes - barbarian, demon hunter, monk, witch doctor or wizard - and battle hellish minions across the landscape of Sanctuary.
Wilson hopes new sprawling battlefields, real-money auctions, a deeper combat system and increased online capabilities for "Diablo III" will appease even the frustrated fans.
"If we could have done anything different, we probably wouldn't have announced the game when we did," said Wilson. "We could have waited a little longer. We thought we were closer to release. We want people to get excited, but we don't want them to feel like they're strung along. We always try to have a dialogue with the audience and exceed their expectations."
Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhati said "Diablo III," only available to play on PC and Mac computers, not game consoles, has the potential to sell more than 4 million copies. He estimated Blizzard would sell 3.5 million copies this year. "Diablo II," released in the summer of 2000, sold 4 million copies in the year after it debuted.