Let’s Talk About Diablo Immortal

I realise I’m behind the times on this particular story. Surely all the hot takes have been said. So, if you’re not aware, I’ll update you quickly. Earlier this month, Blizzard who is known for games like World of Warcraft and Overwatch had their annual event known as BlizzCon. BlizzCon usually begins with an opening ceremony where new developments at the company are announced. At this year’s BlizzCon they had a couple things of note such as a new Overwatch hero and a remaster of Warcraft 3. However, they decided to end this press conference with an announcement of mobile game Diablo Immortal. There was a prompt backlash and I want to talk about it.

First, why was there a backlash? On its most fundamental level, there had been rumours throughout the year of a main-series sequel to the Diablo franchise. BlizzCon is a conference held in California and tends to attract not only passionate fans but affluent fans. These fans are more likely to play predominately on PC as this is Blizzard’s main market. Notably, Diablo Immortal was added to the end of the opening ceremony. This would logically be the place to put your most exciting thing. This leaves those watching excited at the end of the show. So on the face of it, you can see the frustration as the reveal played very much against type. However, I think there’s another aspect we need to talk about when it comes to this game’s announcement.

When I first heard about the outrage over this game you know what I thought? ‘Here we go again’. You know why I thought that? Video games across their life have been accessible to those with enough expendable income to afford the initial cost of hundreds of dollars and between sixty and ninety dollars per new release, depending on region. This means that video games tend to be available to those who can afford luxuries. Games also have this subset of people. There is a group of people who think that games are only for people like them (typically straight, white men). We’ve seen these people be just the worst with movements such as GamerGate. Now, why do I mention this? Mobile games are the great equaliser. Mobile games expanded who played games and opened it to new audiences.

Those who would exclude people from gaming often try to attack mobile games first. As a market that favours simple experiences, it is often categorised as casual. Those who would exclude take this to exclude those who play mobile games as not real ‘gamers’ in a No True Scotsman sense. People also point anti-consumer practices that started on mobile and migrated over to mainstream games as another reason to discredit mobile games. (To which I say ‘look above ye at thou corporate overlords and wonder who is really responsible?). So, here’s the thing. The thing that sits at the heart of this whole controversy as it were. The announcement of Diablo Immortal was ill-thought out. Mobile games can have merit. I want to give Diablo Immortal the benefit of the doubt because of how those who would exclude treat mobile gaming.

There are a couple caveats to this whole thing, however. Word is that this game began with an eye towards the Chinese market. As is detailed in the linked article, Blizzard is owned by Activision who is the company behind the annualising of the Call of Duty series. It’s posited that Diablo 3 was considered less-than-a-success by the bigwigs and that there is pressure to monetise Diablo in a similar fashion to Overwatch and Hearthstone. What does this mean? It means that Diablo Immortal may be a highly monetised mobile game with an eye to the sensibilities of the Chinese audience first. As a result, it might end up being a crappy mobile game. Those who would exclude can feel justified in their beliefs and this whole thing will become a basic story with none of the nuance around the reputation of mobile games, and that worries me. To me, that feels like those that would exclude won this time because of how the story was told.

 

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