written by Alastrom
The announcement of Diablo Immortal has people fired up in what many in the industry effectively refer to as a “shitstorm.” The ten minute reveal gave players a glimpse into what direction Blizzard was taking the twenty year old franchise. I watched the stream live and you could feel the tension in the room. Fans of the series clung to their seats and as every minute ticked by they realized they were counting down the one of the most dangerous design decisions in decades. You see, Diablo fans are an interesting breed. Many of them are still involved in Diablo II, a game that released in early 2000. Diablo III was met with a rocky start but has gone on to surpass twenty million copies sold. But it seems the move to mobile gaming is where fans draw the the line. Since the announcement, Blizzard has found itself out in the cold. One has to wonder, how exactly did this go so wrong and so quickly?
The company has been responsible for some of the most avid fans known to gaming with a large portion of them gathering every year at BlizzCon to see what’s in store for the future. It was at BlizzCon where the announcement was made but the echoes of that decision are still being played out. Blizzard has since removed the original video several times on YouTube, an action that many suspect was to “reset” the mass amounts of dislikes that players were expressing. Fans are an interesting bunch, we love our games and we’re often the strongest critics of them. When a company gets it right, we spend hours glued to the screen experiencing every moment with gleeful joy. When they get it wrong, we take to the internet to express our discontent in a variety of ways. This isn’t new behavior for gamers and you can find the cycle playing out for just about every game out there. Blizzard had to understand this and yet they seemed entirely unprepared to handle it.
For starters, Diablo hasn’t seen a major content update for a number of years. When measured against games like World of Warcraft, Overwatch, StarCraft II and Heroes of the Storm, this seems to stand in stark contrast to how the company normally operates. This has understandably left fans of the game wondering exactly where the series will go in the years to come. Rumors of a Diablo II remake as well as Diablo IV have been circulating for quite some time, so when Blizzard began hyping Diablo content at BlizzCon, players perked up and started listening. Their reaction to the announcement of a mobile game was most certainly a response to expectations failing to meet reality. Mobile games are a hard sell. They make financial sense, most everyone has a phone these days capable of running them. But “hardcore” gamers still resist the push to mobile markets. Many players don’t care for the control scheme while others feel that these titles tend to be stripped down experiences to run on limited hardware. Still, many have been burned in the past with the wild monetary commitment many mobile titles demand in order to enjoy the full experience. Whatever the reason, Blizzard decided to go full steam ahead and players responded with all of the charm of a brick wall.
Blizzard is not entirely at fault for this. For me it represents two major points of view. The first, is a complete lack of understanding on the part of the company. The second, is whatever the opposite of positive internet virility is. Players seem to latch onto the negative emotions of one another and it almost becomes a contest to see who can express the most amount of rage in 280 characters or less. This becomes a snowball effect that turns into a very figurative blizzard (small b) until most of the people who are outraged have conflated their concerns to insurmountable levels. It has become very apparent that the fate of any video game can be decided entirely on how it’s initially received. For example, Todd Howard gives us a cover of John Denver’s “Country Roads” and most of the internet can’t stop humming that god damned tune long enough to question the game play. On the other hand, Wyatt Cheng awkwardly announces that a beloved series can be enjoyed on your phone and out come the pitchforks.
Just days after the debacle, Diablo 4 was conveniently leaked to be in development but it’s too early to say if this will help Blizzard’s rapidly falling stock prices. Perhaps if they had opened with this information, players would have responded to a mobile game in the interim with arms wide open in place of clenched fists. None of this does much to address whether or not the game will be good or not. While I don’t personally spend a lot of time on mobile games, I respect them as an outlet for gamers on the go. Even with falling subscription numbers for World of Warcraft, their flagship game, the company has every opportunity to bounce back from these troubled times. There’s no shortage of players out there willing to fly half way across the country dressed up as their favorite hero to listen to a glorified sales pitch. That’s loyalty that can only be earned and Blizzard would do well to remember what it took to get them there.