The furor over the Diablo 3 announcements has even made its way onto boingboing. Between that and the forums there are all kinds of folks ticked off at Blizzard over their announcements of a Real Money Auction House and the requirement to play online. Lots of people are chucking around conspiracy theories about Blizzard's shift towards social gaming and facebook integration and the forces of evil... but I think they just aren't seeing the big picture. Here are the facts:
1. If people are allowed to play offline they will hack their characters.
2. Playing online with people who have hacked characters and gear isn't fun for and does not lead to any kind of persistent trading game or sense of advancement and also ruins PvP.
3. Having separate realms for single player characters that are played online and online only characters means that many people will end up with characters they are attached to but which are in the wrong partition. They will be separated from their friends characters and potentially from the entire player economy.
In D2 Blizzard ignored the third fact and we ended up with the travesty of Open Battle.Net where everybody was running with max level characters with hacked gear whose only goals were to grief those few people who were playing legitimately. What this also meant was that all the people that started playing offline ended up having to start again from the beginning if they wanted to play with their friends - not particularly daunting for the hardcore players but a really big stumbling block for beginners I think.
Sure, Blizzard could just offer single player mode available offline with big warning notices that proclaim "YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE ONLINE GAME WITH THIS CHARACTER!" when a new character is started and this would benefit those who want to play offline while travelling or whatnot. It will also screw over all kinds of people who don't know what they are doing and end up building a bunch of single player characters that are then stranded outside Battle.net. This would give players the freedom to play anywhere and also the freedom to screw up. Instead Blizzard has decided to make sure that nobody gets those options.
Was this all motivated by the desire to improve the game for players at a cost of the players' freedom or was it a nefarious scheme to get everyone to spend money at the RMAH and add in another layer of DRM on the sly? I suspect it was mostly the former but the fact that forcing people to play online might get Blizzard some extra revenue and might keep hacks out of the game a little longer couldn't have hurt. Thing is, if Blizzard could have found any way at all to let people play offline and maintain a secure online environment that was integrated with offline characters they would do it! They can't though, and they either needed to continue the clunky and annoying split of online/offline characters or force you to have an internet connection. It won't affect me either way but for the record I think they made the right call.