Diablo Immortal Is a Beautiful Pay to Win Mess
Blizzard Entertainment released Diablo Immortal on June 2 and fans are not happy. The game’s director, Wyatt Cheng, announced this title at Blizzcon 2018 to a confused reception. One man even used the Q&A session to ask if the announcement was an April Fool’s joke.
The audience’s reaction to the announcement of a mobile-only Diablo was so underwhelming that Wyatt responded with a line that instantly became a meme, “Do you guys not have phones?”
Many Diablo fans are PC (and Mac) gamers who love their devilish hack-and-slash games. Fans were hungry for a sequel that would be better than Diablo 3 and hearkened back to their Diablo 1 & 2 experiences. So imagine how a bunch of PC gamers would feel after getting excited for the next game in their beloved franchise and flying all the way to Blizzcon only to find out it was going straight to phones.
What are the people saying about Diablo Immortal?
YouTube user palmieres said it best in the comments of Jim Sterling’s response to the game:
“That “you guys have phones” argument is magnificent. They’re saying this to a group of people who spend years planning and improving their PCs, that have areas in their homes dedicated to gaming, who spend money to make themselves a little corner of happiness and escapism, decorating it with love and filling it with pieces of memorabilia and nostalgia. And these assholes want them to play a game they’ve been waiting for years on a phone, while casually taking a shit and considering if they should spend $5 on those gems that give them a shiny new “mystery magical pouch” that might or might not contain some decent loot.”
The unveiling of Diablo Immortal was another sign of how disconnected Blizzard leadership had grown from their fan base. Diablo Immortal was not an attempt to make a great game for Diablo fans. It was an attempt to leverage a recognized brand to lure new customers into the Blizzard eco system and use predatory monetization techniques rampant in mobile gaming to extract maximum dollars from said customers.
Are fans overreacting to Diablo Immortal?
As a gamer, I acknowledge our responses to things can be extreme at times. We care a lot about the medium of video games. So when our expectations are not met for something we care about, we don’t always respond with a clear head.
With that said, some letdowns deserve the response they get.
Diablo Immortal is the Pay To Win mess that fans were afraid it would be. Arguably, it’s the worst we’ve seen, but read on and tell me if you disagree.
I felt embarrassed for Wyatt during that awkward unveiling at Blizzcon 2018. But any sympathy I felt has evaporated in light of the predatory monetization Blizzard implemented in Diablo Immortal.
The Director Drama of Diablo Immortal
Streamer Zizaran dug up a reddit post made by Cheng 4 months ago when monetization was brought up.
Cheng specifically states, “There is no way to acquire or rank up gear using money.”
The statement is technically true. You cannot purchase weapons and armor with money. You acquire them by slaying mobs and bosses.
However, you upgrade the gear you acquire with items called Legendary Gems. And to acquire Legendary Gems, you can craft them from materials you pick up. Or you spend Platinum (one of three currencies) to buy them from other players. Or you spend Eternal Orbs (another of the three currencies) on Legendary Crests that guarantee at least one Legendary Gem of random quality (1-5 stars) from Elder Rift dungeons.
You might think crafting is the way to go. But wait until you find out how much time and effort it takes to get lucky with a 5 star Legendary Gem.
Confused about the different currencies? Jim Sterling summed up all three from a game design perspective:
- “Gold is the bullshit flimsy in-game currency designed to give players a false sense of investment and encourage a psychological sunk cost.”
- “Platinum is the halfway house currency. It can be earned in dribs and drabs by playing the game, but you can easily speed up the acquisition by paying real world money for it.”
- “Eternal Orbs, of course, are the real currency used to buy most of the things people would actually care about, and can only be bought directly for your real world cash.”
Diablo Immortal and Legendary Gems
Legendary Gems are so potent in Diablo Immortal that late-game character progression depends on them. Once you reach the level cap of 60, the only way you can make significant improvements is by acquiring Legendary Gems. This is because Legendary Gems offer colossal boosts to your health and damage output, and grant legendary effects that are integral to maxing out character builds.
Here’s what Twitter user @lancemate had to say about the value of Legendary Gems in response to Cheng’s tweet above about them not being gear:
So here’s the kicker—in the current state of the game, the top-shelf (5-star) Legendary Gems are almost impossible to acquire if you don’t pay for Legendary Crests. And Legendary Crests only give you a 0.05% chance to acquire top-shelf Legendary Gems.
Michael and Matt from the YouTube channel Bellular News, extrapolated the numbers from a reddit post by u/daymeeuhn to determine how much real money you would have to spend to max out ONE character in Diablo Immortal and it’s almost funny.
$224,000 to max out a character in a MOBILE GAME!
And that’s being optimistic.
Matt added that the $224,000 figure assumes better luck than most, and if you had “average luck” you might have to spend upwards of “about $500K”. He went on to say, “It could be technically more, but it’s really hard to say.”
To which Michael responded, “An industry individual in the know told me it was over $1,000,000 for all the gems in all the slots on your character.”
They explained that it’s difficult to nail down any single number because of how layered the randomness is. Michael stated, “It’s purposefully really, really, really vague, because this sort of thing is the last thing they would want you to know. There’s so many layers of randomness that to actually simulate this would be a super hardcore job that you would need to build a sophisticated model for.”
What wacky version of reality are we living in?
Oh, that’s right, we live in the version where companies like Electronic Arts make billions of dollars exploiting children by marketing and selling video games that introduce them to gambling at a young age.
Yeah, so this all tracks.
Let’s say you want to take the Free to Play route and not spend any money in Diablo Immortal. How long would it take to reach that same point without spending any money?
In the current state of the game, according to Michael and Matt, it would take a F2P player 10 years to max out a single character.
Hmmm… $224,000 or 10 years of my life?
Who is Diablo Immortal made for?
With numbers like that, Blizzard Entertainment clearly aimed this one at landing the whales who are willing to spend an obscene amount of money on a mobile game. Unfortunately, that means the game is also targeting those who may be prone to gambling addiction.
I refuse to acknowledge the latter is the primary target. But there’s a reason Diablo Immortal isn’t available in countries like the Netherlands and Belgium. The Dutch website Tweakers had this to say:
After questions from Tweakers, the communication manager of Activision-Blizzard Benelux has confirmed that Diablo Immortal will not appear in the Netherlands and Belgium. The game will not be available in these countries through the app stores, nor will it be available for PC through Battle.net. “This is related to the current operating conditions for games in those countries,” Blizzard cites as the reason. The communication manager does not want to provide any further substantive comment on this.
It is obvious that Blizzard will not release the game due to legislation against loot boxes in Belgium. The Belgian Gaming Commission has strict rules against loot boxes in games. If they can be bought with money and if chance plays a part in obtaining the content, they are against the gambling law. As a result, many free-to-play games do not appear in Belgium.
There is a great game underneath the disgusting monetization. As of this writing, Diablo Immortal has a 4.7/5 rating with 51K reviews on the Apple App Store. It’s a little lower on the Google Play Store with a 3.9/5 rating from 390K reviews, but it’s clearly being review bombed like it is on Metacritic where it has a whopping 0.7/10 user score compared to the 81 Metascore.
I haven’t read or seen anything negative about the gameplay itself. All of the criticism is being leveled at the appalling monetization that rears its ugly head at every possible turn. As the player, you are bombarded by opportunities to open your wallet.
I don’t doubt the team who developed Diablo Immortal is full of people who love the Diablo franchise and wanted to make a mechanically sound and enjoyable hack-and-slash RPG in the same vein as previous Diablo games. It’s clear that a lot of love went into Diablo Immortal, but it’s also clear that a lot of work went into tightly integrating these monetization techniques into the gameplay loop.
Who’s to blame for this Diablo Immortal mess?
The games industry once avoided holding individual developers responsible for scummy monetization practices in games. This is because the monetization techniques seemed like they were layered onto the game rather than tightly integrated into the gameplay loop.
But in Diablo Immortal, the developers baked the monetization directly into the gameplay loop. As others have pointed out, the Elder Rift dungeons are playable loot boxes. You pay for a Legendary Crest to apply to an Elder Rift dungeon run and then you “open” the loot box when you defeat the boss at the end of the dungeon. This implies the developers were aware of the final product they were building. Teams of people worked together to create a playable loot box with the Diablo name and aesthetic.
We used to point the finger at upper management and leadership for whipping developers into assembling something without them knowing how scummy the final product would be. But you can’t escape it in Diablo Immortal. The game was built from the ground up to get you to open your wallet.
So when do we start asking the individual developers what their souls are worth? These systems take advantage of our psychology to get us hooked on rapid progression in the beginning only to slow the progression down and bombard us with purchases to regain that initial feeling of rapid progression.
It’s clear Activision Blizzard doesn’t want to make Diablo great again. They want to milk the franchise for every last cent.
It’s a business—can you blame them?
Absolutely, and we should.
Gameplay-wise Diablo Immortal is an enjoyable experience. But as a complete package, it is an embarrassment to the Diablo franchise. It’s everything that’s wrong with mobile gaming in one devilishly attractive loot box.
But hey, at least developers under Activision Blizzard are unionizing.