"Mobile": the cussword of BlizzCon 2018

Saturday, 3rd of November 2018, 13:48 +01:00

Having been a big fan of Blizzard Games for decades, I was watching the BlizzCon 2018 Opening Ceremony livestream last night. The announcement in the end intrigued me.

Diablo fans around the world have been relatively uncatered to during the last years, Blizzard Entertainment has been focusing on their other IPs and building new universes, testing the hard-core Diablo fans' patience for a long time up until now. The rumour mill and gossip about a reveal of Diablo 4 at this BlizzCon was strengthened by adding a Diablo session at prime-time on the schedule, right after the opening ceremony. Diablo 4 was what the existing audience of Diablo fans were hoping for, but they were presented Diablo Immortal. Blizzard's first, mobile-first game.

Regardless of Blizzard's attempts of managing theirs fans' expectations, Wyatt Cheng's speech didn't strike home, which directly manifested itself in increasingly nervous communication from his side. It was painful to watch.

Wyatt Cheng announcing Diablo Immortal

Of course, the tact and timing of the announcement could have been better, and in hindsight Blizzard probably regrets at least parts of the way they executed this announcement.

Regardless, I am getting some pretty strong PC Master Race-vibes seeing the audience's response. And I know, some hesitation is to be expected when a franchise which makes players feel good about grinding through dungeons with difficulty levels ranging from Normal, Hard, Expert, Master and Torment I to Torment XIII announces a new game that most likely will only have a slice of that depth. But this level of rejection alarmed me.

I think the question of the panel on stage "Do you guys not have phones?" hits the nail on the head. Why? Why are players so reluctant using the ~$800 devices they have in their pockets all day to at least try, with an open mind, a (most probably) free game that might just be very good?

The answer is of course: microtransactions, and specifically the ones that remove agency from the game. Next to endless wiping on Mythic G'huun, this is what keeps the average Blizzard fan up at night, and not without reason. Traumas of mobile spin-offs with too aggressive pay-to-win strategies like EA's Dungeon Keeper Mobile are not easily forgotten. Nobody wants to see their favourite franchise being butchered by pay-or-churn game balancing, but looking at Blizzard's track record with Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, one could say they know how to make fun free-to-play games. Nobody knows how the monetisation of Diablo Immortal is going to play out yet. Hell, the most important part of the game's loop (Epic Lewt) is still "very much work in progress".

Making a competitive free-to-play game that is not at least a bit pay-to-win is very difficult, unless purchases only provide purely cosmetic upgrades. A game like Diablo which has never focused on Player-versus-Player combat can most certainly be enjoyable, even if it has a different pacing. The only thing it takes is an open mind.

I'd have a couple of questions to the disapproving part of the Diablo fan base, the 96.7% that downvoted the cinematic trailer:

- What about some trust in the company that has practically never released a single bad game? That same company that has provided you with thousands of hours of fun in the past. The fact that Diablo Immortal isn't developed in-house doesn't mean Blizzard isn't going to still be heavily involved in its design.

- What about innovation? Didn't you want more revolutionary and modern ways to play games rather than simply the next sequel?

- What about respect? If you love the products of this company so much that you're willing to travel to Anaheim and indulge in all geekdom that Blizzard provides, why these snarky, disrespectful remarks about April Fools jokes, instead of treating their employees with respect?

- Why the jealousy towards new generations of Diablo players that will have a great time with a new, modern version of the game you love so much. Nobody said you won't get your Diablo 4 fix.

It's striking that in times like these where uninformed opinions, fake news and made up statistics have become more and more prevalent, the general public's opinions becomes more and more radical and prejudiced as well.

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