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[Updated: We’ve added additional comments from Billy Pidgeon, a senior analyst at game research firm M2 Research.]

World of Warcraft and Diablo developer Blizzard Entertainment added a box-art image for a Diablo 3 beta over the weekend — a sign that the company might be close to a final release date for the game.

Diablo 3 is one of the most anticipated titles of the year. The last Diablo game came out in 2000 and still boasts a big player base. It’s nothing compared to Blizzard Entertainment’s most popular online role-playing game, World of Warcraft, which has around 11.4 million subscribers. But the game’s hack-and-slash and loot-seeking formula proved to be incredibly popular and the game has persisted for more than a decade. It even inspired a number of dungeon crawler copycats like Torchlight.

Blizzard Entertainment chief executive Mike Morhaime also said the company was targeting the third quarter this year for an external Diablo 3 beta, which falls between July 1 and September 30, on the company’s most recent earnings conference call. The company is also apparently planning a press tour for the game in August. The last time the company scheduled a press briefing so close to an expected release date for a game was just before the company announced the beta of the third expansion pack for World of Warcraft, called Cataclysm.


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Morhaime said the company was targeting a fourth-quarter release for the game, but did not give an official release date on the company’s most recent earnings call.

A leaked launch schedule for some of Blizzard Entertainment’s top franchises, including World of Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft noted a fourth-quarter release for Diablo 3 and indicated that a localized version of the game for Brazil would come out in the third quarter this year, which Blizzard Entertainment unveiled last Thursday.

“The development team is working hard to try and launch Diablo III this year,” Morhaime said. “But I want to be clear that we do not have an official release date or window yet. As always, we will not compromise the quality of the game in order to hit a window.”

The Diablo games allow anywhere from two to eight players to jump into discrete games with randomly generated dungeons. The goal is to prevent the forces of Hell from taking over the world by defeating Diablo, the lord of terror, and his cohorts. Players chase after loot like powerful items and weapons to use against other enemies and players or for trade.

Blizzard Entertainment announced Diablo III at its yearly convention, Blizzcon, in 2008. The company unveiled a new player class at each subsequent Blizzcon, including the final class at last year’s convention. Diablo has taken somewhat of a backseat to Blizzard Entertainment’s larger game, World of Warcraft, and its newest release Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty.

There’s a good chance Blizzard Entertainment will give a release date for the game soon rather than waiting until Blizzcon, M2 research senior analyst Billy Pidgeon told VentureBeat. The game has been in development for some time and should be ready soon, and there isn’t much reason for the company to wait to release a game from one of its top franchises, he said.

“There’s plenty of excitement for World of Warcraft, unless they want to hold it back and polish it further I don’t see a reason for them to hold back on releasing it,” he said. “That’s what Blizzard rightly does, they wait until it’s done until they release it, I don’t know that they would wait further.”

The box art image can be found on Blizzard Entertainment’s European site. VentureBeat has contacted the company for additional details.

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