Generic Click-Baity Title: Diablo Immortal Shenanigans

Oh how wonderful I haven’t written in here for a year and a half! Welcome back my three readers! Let’s see if I can top six posts for the entirety of our latest WoW expansion? Can you believe I’ve managed to maintain this blog for over nine years?

I am going to skip the obligatory Battle for Azeroth (since I probably wont’ play much this year) post and just briefly talk about the latest conundrum that is the upcoming mobile based Diablo Immortal that was announced at Blizzcon 2018. You probably know what’s happening but I like to document these events so I can refer to them in the future. I do not really have an opinion on this, but will utilize my time-travelling and boardroom re-interpretation skills to best explain the drama that has unfolded.

My Thoughts: Below will be my relatively neutral analysis of what is going on. A mobile Diablo? I’ll probably check it out since I’d expect a certain level of polish and quality in any Blizzard game. My only observation from what I’ve seen happen in World of Warcraft is that there appears to be a mandate to balance and “accomodate” more players, leading to the slow decline of any intricate or thought invoking game play.

The tl;dr Issue: Diablo fans, being Blizzard fans, being mostly PC gamers are pissed that the next Diablo game will be a mobile game. The announcement of this could have been better.

The Issue: People are upset because the next iconic Diablo title will be seemingly “re-skinned” into a generic mobile format. The game will contain canon lore for the time between Diablo II and Diablo III. So what? What are the implications? There are multiple pieces to the answer, so bear with me as I begin my ramble (seriously all writing structure breaks down from here on out):

The Ramble: Let’s start with the mobile gaming market. We need to first understand the difference in development time and costs, and also the potential monetization of mobile games versus the “traditional” game. Mobile games are convenient as they can be accessed by an extremely wide user-base via their their phones, which get smarter and smarter every year. The traditional PC/console game comes with a hefty sticker price but your total revenue is basically units x sales price (now with the occasional DLC pack).

Ok, so it’s cheaper to produce, so what? Ok no just wait, there’s the second part which entails how mobile games can be structured to be monetized via micro-transactions. The game may be initially downloaded for free, but within the game you can purchase small upgrades and boosts here and there to improve your experience. If you  obtain a large enough player base and you “hook” them into your micro transactions then you’ve got a nice steady cash-flow for basically doing nothing. Some games are notorious for offering egregiously priced micro transactions that do not seem so micro when they are set at $50-$150 USD. Alternatively, Diablo Immortal may come with a purchase price similar to Square Enix releasing old final fantasy games into the app stores for $20 or whatever. Doubtful.

Do we even know if Diablo immortal will be initially free? Do we know what the monetization structure is yet? So the company is out for a quick buck? Well, maybe. The third piece to this is that Diablo Immortal does not appear to be releasing on a proprietary mobile format from Blizzard, but will be using the UI/game template from NetEase, a company that develops games and has a game that is also basically a dungeon crawler that Diablo Immortal is probably going to be re-skinned onto.

Let’s step back again. Time-Warps to 2011. There was a period in time when mobile games boomed, a lot of mimic games would use or borrow or copy the template of a successful predecessor. Think Flappy Bird, any connect-items clear the board type game, or any generic landscape mode mobile game that uses a controller stick on the left and skill buttons on the right…much like what Diablo Immortal is going to form into. There is a base formula for a lot of mobile games and as long as whatever you “skin” onto it garners enough attention and adoration from mobile gamers you potentially have an immense cash cow.

Whether the game is fun or not right now does not matter. Whether or not NetEase has the expertise and and infrastructure and whatever other business-y jargon does not matter. The players do not care how you are obtaining your core competencies to deliver your product. Certainly Diablo will be blessed with the Blizzard touch of excellence, but the delivery and the optics of this announcement is just painful. Also the risk of being perceived of “just any other clone-y game” has probably already been outweighed in the board rooms in exchange for potential cash flows from monetization (is my hunch).

Fans were “expecting” a brand new big PC release such as a Diablo I/II remake, or Diablo IV, you really can not blame the developers as the decision is mostly coming from higher up. There’s most likely a schedule, and a budget that’s being adhered to and also some internal vision that may or may not be “make fun games that players want”. There are probably a shit ton of metrics in that vision that allude to that statement, but when you break it down the player is just a variable to multiply onto unit sales. For example:

  • Increase player base: Worded as “to increase the exposure of our games to wider market, I mean, player base.” Sounds good right? Adding more people to community is good, can be worded as “play with friends and family and basically any nub/pleb that may show any interest in our games”. Wait what? Well if we’re going to target more people our games may have to lose some depth and intricacies to accommodate more people. See now if you argue against this you’re an elitist, but now overall game quality is reduced. Just look at how absolutely ridiculously dumbed down the skills are in Battle for Azeroth.
  • Strengthen our cash flows/sales: which also means “maximize revenue while reducing costs.” This is fair. All companies need to innovate and hustle to stay alive and profitable. Where’s the trade off between max profitability vs. staying true to your core values for your player base?
  • Pursue the mobile gaming market is probably in there as well. The margins are just way too great to not attempt.

So what just happened? They are still making a game, for (more) players, and the game happens to have a nice profit margin attached to it. The cash can fund future projects. Sure, that’s fine. But you give this news to a mostly PC based gaming group with no other news PC related it’s gonna hurt. Thus the disconnect between the company, the players, and the actual developers themselves;..nothing aligns.

At this point I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore so…peace the fuck out.

Love,

Truny the Warlock

 

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