What Diablo Immortal Means For The Future Of Gaming

What Diablo Immortal Means For The Future Of Gaming
Image: Blizzard

Diablo Immortal has been setting the internet alight with controversy. Every gaming website under the sun has a take about how the microtransactions ruin the gameplay and how Blizzard was ruining fans’ beloved childhood memories of Diablo. The game currently holds the lowest user score on Metacritic. Still more Diablo fans feel like this just isn’t a game designed for them. And they might be right. Despite its mobile origins, Immortal grew wax wings and flew too close to the PC gaming sun. For a loyal audience to whom Blizzard had pandered for years, that was considered unforgivable.

I get it. The monetisation criticisms hold water, but the prospect of overspending isn’t always the actual reason why console gamers are so upset. The truth is simpler: Mobile represents another front in the never-ending culture war for the heart and soul of gaming. But I have to question if it has to be a war at all.

Before Immortal was announced, Diablo fans could safely ignore mobile games as “cash grabs” that would never affect the premium games that they wanted to play. But ever since Blizzard announced that the game would be a full Diablo experience, these gamers have felt threatened by what they perceive as mobile’s encroachment on “legitimate” gaming. In fact, the game raised so many concerns that Blizzard’s community manager had to clarify that Diablo IV would not have “mobile-style monetisation.”

But it wasn’t enough for Blizzard to make promises to the fans. The press was also expected to fall in line with “Immortal is bad.” On June 4, there was an incendiary tweet from a Twitch streamer that lambasted journalists for saying that Diablo Immortal is…well, fun. I was unsurprised, because I was met with similar public hostility when I started writing about Genshin Impact. If a journalist is “too positive” about a mobile game, then a very vocal segment of gamers will decry them as a traitor to gaming and a corporate shill. To these players, the rise of F2P gaming is a virus that needs to be stamped out. Especially before it “takes over” gaming at large.

Despite all the background noise (or maybe because of it), I felt compelled to download Diablo Immortal and play for a bit. For context: I have never played a Diablo game before Immortal. The setting seemed too over-the-top for my tastes, and I wasn’t sure how to digest three games’ worth of lore before Diablo IV came out. Since so many games are constantly releasing, I made my peace with Diablo being one of those series that I would just never get into.

Diablo Immortal held my hand through the excruciating experience of getting into a widely beloved franchise 25 years too late. The equipment interface told me which gear had the best stats, and the footprints told me exactly where to go. The quests were structured in a way that made it easy for me to stop playing and then pick the game back up later. Best of all, Immortal didn’t loredump me as if I were a Diablo fan. All the stories were perfectly self-contained, and the world felt less intimidating for it. Immortal is how I learned to love Diablo.

Like, I get it now. The villains might be monstrous demons from hell, but their designs are killer. The voice acting is superb, and I grew attached to the side characters I met along the way. I’d always had the impression that Diablo is an edgelord game, but Immortal is full of heart. Every character in the game was willing to make steep personal sacrifices because they wanted to fight against the suffering that hell inflicted on innocent people. What’s not to love about that?

All of these factors likely played a huge part of why Diablo Immortal has 10 million downloads despite a 0.2 user score on Metacritic. There’s a huge disconnect between the internet commenters who consider themselves the stewards of gaming and the actual audiences who enjoy playing Diablo as a F2P game. I’m not here to tell anyone that they should enjoy Diablo Immortal. I have friends who can’t gel their brain against the live-service loop, just like how my brain bounces off certain types of puzzles.

Screenshot: Blizzard / KotakuScreenshot: Blizzard / Kotaku

Part of this problem is exacerbated by how Blizzard marketed the game. In order to cover for Diablo IV needing more time in development, the studio announced that Diablo Immortal is a “fully-fledged Diablo experience on mobile.” They quickly learned that this might have been a huge mistake.

I almost didn’t write this blog until I was at least level 60. I’d seen the blowback that my colleagues got for writing about the game “too early,” and I wanted to avoid that fate. But I was having such a relaxing time in Immortal, I just didn’t feel like rushing the content for the sake of proving myself to Diablo fans. That’s when I started thinking: maybe there’s something fundamentally broken about how PC and console games are consumed.

In a PC or console game, the expectation is that you get to sink a ton of hours into a game very quickly in order to become a godlike merchant of death. That’s not the way to play a mobile game. If any content feels time-gated or locked behind very low drop rates, it’s because you’re expected to play this game for years, not in the quick bursts between now and the next major AAA release. That means that the “wins” have to be less frequent too. It took me nearly a year to build up a team that was good enough to clear a major event in Arknights. I couldn’t imagine telling a “traditional” gamer that they’d have to grind a year to clear important content.

Of course, the gambling factor is a legitimate concern. Diablo Immortal won’t release in the Netherlands or Belgium due to their gambling regulations. Despite what haters might think about my Genshin blogs, I do think that federal governments should place restrictions on F2P games. At the very least, I don’t believe that children should be allowed to swipe credit cards on microtransactions. But the problem is that most critics of F2P games don’t actually understand the community or the motivations of mobile players. Console gamers are often justifiably upset at the ignorant gaming discussions in national media, but even gaming outlets don’t hold themselves to the same standards of nuance when it comes to mobile games. I’ve seen too many instances of mobile gamers being maligned as “casual.” Given almost all of the furious response to Immortal has been based around a vociferous defence of those prone to being exploited by in-game spending, where’s the empathy for the people that mobile critics claim to care about?

There absolutely needs to be a lot of discussion about the more predatory aspects of mobile gaming. But this can’t take place entirely from the perspective of a die-hard group of lifelong Diablo fans being angry that their favourite franchise has reached out to another audience. Ten million people downloaded the game because they wanted to, and while protecting the most vulnerable among their number is an admirable goal, it’s perhaps not always the genuine reason for the outcry.

 

Immortal faced backlash for the same reasons that the western audience reacted so strongly to Genshin Impact. It has a PC port, and it’s high-quality enough to disguise its mobile-first approach. But that doesn’t change that these games were made for a very different gamer in mind. So there’s no need for PC and console players to feel threatened by Immortal. Blizzard is angling for a much bigger fish — the mobile community that already represents the gaming majority.

Comments

  • None of the Blizzard fansites have said anything negative about the game, like they are silentto issues which are even uncharacteristic for them as they often report of WoW or Overwatches problems or the Blizzard fiascos over the year.

    But nothing about Immortal, Even promoting the near identical “you can avoid paying MTX” articles but without expressing the controversy. That’s worrying to me.

  • There’s a graph I like to point people to.

    It’s a graph that shows the ever growing cost of games development over the last 20 years.

    Modern games cost an absolute fortune to make and that’s starting to cause problems. Big expenses means higher risks and poorer returns. Stuff investors just aren’t interested in getting behind.

    So what’s a publisher to do? Find alternative revenue streams. Enter DLC, expansions, subscriptions and yes.. micro transactions.

    I don’t think micro transactions are going anywhere. But I do think we’re going to need laws to regulate them. At some point, they cross the line and become predatory.

    • I am bit on the fence on this particular argument… Costs for everything tend to rise over the years so it tracks aspects would also rise in the games industry.

      But when a company does some stupid shit, makes bad choices in design, execution etc, and the game doesn’t sell… How many of them are absolutely throwing the loss due to those reasons onto the ‘rising costs’ argument, as they push for more and more questionable ways to introduce predatory nonsense?

      Because I see this argument about game development costs brought up all the time, yet I also see something else that really just doesn’t mesh with that entire notion. Which is if the costs are as prohibitive as some people would love you to think, how in the hell are ANY small developers able to even exist? Through the sheer power of love and friendship?

      I’m all for an argument about genuine cost increases, I just don’t believe it is anywhere near as bad as some love to claim. I’m also not interested in letting big companies get away with using it as a shield for when they fail through their own actions, or why they’re suddenly trying to nickel and dime everyone at every turn and think people should be perfectly okay with it.

    • You act like publishers like blizzard are struggling with revenue. They are having nothing of the sort. They have had year-on-year profits. This has nothing at all to do with companies desperately needing to compensate for rising costs, This has everything to do with companies being willing to sink to any low just to fleece more money from their customers.

    • Ever expanding cost…

      Blizzard cleared 8.8 billion dollars in revenue in 2021 if which operating costs (inc salary development, executive bonuses, servers, property, lawsuits etc) was only 37%. They ain’t crying that they can’t afford to make or profit from games.

      This is also the developer that fired 800 people just to return a higher end of year profit so he their CEO can hit a metric that paid him an insane amount.

      Bobby pays himself enough money to develop 3 games, in a year they struggled to make 1 good game.

  • Diablo Immortal is proof the shit is only going to get worse… And governments will have to start stepping in more and more, thankfully some countries are a bit further ahead on that particular ball than others.

    But some of the lies told about Diablo Immortal by its own developers are the real concern. The sort of technicality abusing, definition bending lies that let them say “You can’t buy gear in our game, stop lying!” yet the gems at the core of the Immortal shit are effectively the same thing when it comes right down to it.

    If Diablo 4 ONLY has cosmetic microtransactions I’ll be fucking blown away and genuinely impressed. But as it stands, they’ve now seen the inch they can get away with… So I absolutely see them going for the mile.

  • Oh right, we had a change in Federal government… might email them all again asking them to ban predatory microtransactions and simulated gambling in video games.

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