Blizzard announced a new mobile game during BlizzCon this year. Diablo Immortal was the big reveal during the publisher’s keystone event and gamers were not happy.
The reveal was not met with applause and excitement. Rather, a collective sigh filled the room, followed by stunned disbelief and then, later, roiling anger.
Gamers were so unhappy that one even asked the studio if this was a delayed April Fool’s joke: A question many deemed inappropriate but which I find not only fitting but quite funny. After all, Blizzard is either joking or completely out of touch to announce this game in this fashion in front of this audience.
It’s not that a mobile Diablo game is a bad idea in and of itself. It’s the combination of many factors conspiring to upset Blizzard’s most ardent fan base. Let’s look at the biggest missteps, overreactions and other assorted problems with this whole fiasco.
1. The announcement itself.
Honestly, what the hell was Blizzard thinking announcing a mobile game as the capstone announcement of the BlizzCon keynote event in front of its most passionate fans—all of whom are PC and console players first and foremost? It’s almost like Blizzard has grown completely out of touch with its fan base as it chases profitability over everything else.
The company has said, in post-announcement interviews, that they were taken off guard by the overwhelmingly negative reaction. But that’s only possible if you’re out of touch to begin with. It doesn’t take a genius to anticipated how negatively fans are going to react to this. After all, it’s been six years since Diablo 3 released and we’ve heard virtually nothing about a proper sequel. Blizzard knows full well how highly anticipated that news is, and while they did say the sequel wouldn’t be announced this year, many gamers weren’t aware of this and expected at least a remaster of Diablo 2 to be announced.
Instead, we got a mobile game. Simply tossing in a brief teaser with the words ‘Diablo 4’ at the end would have changed the story from the outset. Everyone would be excited for the new main game and rightly view the mobile title as a placeholder akin to Fallout Shelter or Fallout 76.
When everything else is said and done, if gamers were simply given a taste of Diablo 4 to tide them over, this whole fiasco would have been a much smaller controversy.
If we knew even the tiniest details, had even a sliver of a glimpse at the game or a cinematic from it, this firestorm would have been almost entirely avoided.
It’s been six years since Diablo 3 came out, a game that was itself mired in a great deal of controversy at launch but which went on not only to great success, but to become a truly great game in its own right. Of course gamers are eager to find out more—to find out anything, really. Anything at all.
It doesn’t help that early reports from players of the Diablo Immortal demo are largely tepid at best. It doesn’t help that we PC and console players are not only aware of the mobile game industry’s bad monetization practices, but also of the limits of mobile gaming’s inputs and controls. We know for a fact that Immortal won’t be as good as a PC Diablo title.
So we’re left clueless as ever, still wondering when and what the next real Diablo game will be. Eating our steamed veggies and dreaming of steak while everyone tells us we should be grateful for what we have.
With a bungled announcement, one might expect that fingers would be pointed at Blizzard and its surprising incompetence on this front, but sadly that was largely brushed under the table as everyone began focusing their ire on the usual suspects: Gamers.
2. The reaction to the reaction.
Here’s something I’ve noticed over and over again as the years shuffle on: When there’s a controversy in the gaming industry, the impulse seems to be to point fingers at gamers and how wicked and entitled they are rather than think of them as consumers. Consumers have every right to be upset when corporations do a poor job at offering them products they actually want, and yet in gaming (for whatever reason almost entirely unique in this regard) the biggest fans are often the ones who get the most blame.
Is it really gamers’ fault for being upset by the Diablo Immortal announcement? Are they just “entitled gamers” once again, as they were decried during the Mass Effect 3 controversy and countless others? Or are they actually entitled to a little upset when they’re letdown by the companies whose games they buy and support? After all, without consumers a company is dead in the water. Game publishers and the press forget this at their peril.
Let’s conjure a metaphor. Imagine going to a restaurant that’s been hyping this amazing steak dinner. Everyone is excited for this dinner but when they get there, the waiter tells them sorry we don’t have steak but it’s still going to be a great dinner, just wait and see. Then they bring out steamed veggies.
The customers are upset. They were expecting steak, and if not steak they were expecting a meal still and yet all they’re given is steamed veggies. “Is this a joke?” one asks.
Now imagine that these customers are told they’re exhibiting sings of “toxic masculinity” and that they’re just “entitled” crybabies who need to shut up and go home. The restaurant has every right to make steamed veggies and if they’re just patient, down the road they’ll also have steak. Headlines make much ado over these entitled restaurant goers who can’t just shut up and eat their broccoli.
I’m sorry but if this sounds crazy to you, welcome to the gaming industry where we’re routinely given broccoli and told to chew, promises of steak be damned.
Articles that decry gamers as “asses” hardly help. They just make game writers feel superior while fanning the flames and accomplishing absolutely nothing productive. Blizzard developers asking their biggest fans “Do you guys not have phones?” when they see how disappointed they are that this game isn’t coming to PC is likewise incredibly unhelpful. How is this the customers’ fault?
No, it is not being entitled to expect the company you’ve supported for years to announce something geared toward you at their biggest event of the year. That’s not entitlement or toxic or anything else, and anyone saying so has their finger so is missing the point very badly indeed.
3. We know next to nothing about the game.
Adding injury to insult, we know virtually nothing about Diablo Immortal. Some people were able to demo it at BlizzCon, but they came away with no knowledge of the most important systems like how gear and loot works.
We also have no clue what kind of monetization Blizzard plans to use, but given the dismal state of the mobile industry and the way it plays to whales and the Asian market where microtransaction, pay-to-win schemes and other dubious revenue practices are much more widely accepted, we can be forgiven for our skepticism.
Blizzard’s silence on this issue is worrisome.
4. It sure looks like a reskin, and even if it isn’t the concept is horribly dated.
Another issue with the game is that Blizzard isn’t even developing it on its own. Mobile publisher NetEase has that honor. And that not only justifiably worries many gamers, it got some cyber-sleuths digging. They discovered that Diablo Immortal looks an awful lot like NetEase’s Endless of God, another hack-and-slash mobile loot game that’s essentially a Diablo knock-off.
While Blizzard has denied that this is a reskin, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a mobile developer has essentially taken assets, systems, UI and other design elements from one of their other games and then just changed a few things (art, story, some mechanics) and called it a new title.
I can’t say one way or another, but just the bad smell associated with this practice, and the early incriminations surrounding the game, will be enough to make it stick.
Worse, I’m confused why Blizzard thinks another mobile action-RPG in this vein is even necessary. Mobile gamers have been playing this type of clone for ages, and simply stamping Diablo on it strikes me as not enough.
Blizzard should have taken a page from Epic Games and Fortnite—not by releasing a Diablo Battle Royale, but by releasing a cross-platform Diablo experience. Imagine if Diablo 4 released not only on PC and consoles, but on Mac, iOS, Android, etc. and allowed full-blown crossplay on all these platforms. You could play the game with gamers on PC, PS4 and mobile all at the same time. If any game is suited to this type of play, it’s Diablo.
If nothing else, this feels like a huge missed opportunity.
5. Blizzard made its own bed.
Diablo Immortal is a disappointment to fans not just because it’s a mobile game but because this is Blizzard. This isn’t EA or any number of other companies we expect this kind of thing from. Blizzard has spent decades cultivating a fierce following based on the quality of its games. Blizzard doesn’t put out games constantly, but when it does we get titles like Overwatch, Hearthstone and World of Warcraft. Pillars of gaming.
Having a mobile developer like NetEase take the lead on this game is galling enough on its own, announcement foibles aside, press overreaction aside, and lack of Diablo 4 news aside.
Blizzard is supposed to give fans a taste of the great things it has coming down the pipeline at BlizzCon. Instead, they served up a mobile game announcement as the big news and then scoffed at their fans when they reacted with anger and disappointment. This is not the Blizzard fans have come to know and love.
It reminds me of so many other beloved developers who inexplicably changed, the spirit of the company and the games left in tatters and only a brand remaining. I’m not saying that’s what will happen with Blizzard here, but this is the kind of bad move that leads down that dark path. It’s troublesome to say the least.
Will Blizzard respond by giving fans what they’re asking for? Will the company show us that we’re wrong and that they have quality games in the pipeline that can excite the hardcore fans? Or will they set all that aside and chase profits at the expense of what has made this company so beloved to begin with? These are the questions that need to be asked. Not whether gamers are “entitled” or “asses” or “toxic” or whatever other ludicrous scapegoat has been thrown their way.
But hey, welcome to the vicious cycle.