Shock and…. Outrage: Diablo Immortal and Mobile Gaming in the AAA industry

 Hearthstone, another title released by Blizzard that has made it’s way to iOS and Android

Hearthstone, another title released by Blizzard that has made it’s way to iOS and Android

Mobile games, some people love it, some people hate it, but everyone’s at least gotten their hands on a mobile game once in their lives. With the prevalence of phones in the current society, it’s no surprise that mobile games have also grown in popularity as well. Unsurprisingly, it has led some larger developers to turn from consoles and PC’s to dip their toes into the mobile genre. Popular games like Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and Hitman are some examples. There are some developers, however, that have pushed too far, a prime example being the recent Diablo Immortal announcement by Blizzard. Since the announcement, there’s been a lot of debate on why AAA developers seem to be inching closer to the mobile game industry. Whether it’s good, or bad is anybody’s guess, but it certainly has had the gaming world in a furor.

Mortal Reminder

 The now-infamous release of  Diablo Immortal  shocked fans, and not in a good way.

The now-infamous release of Diablo Immortal shocked fans, and not in a good way.

With a few simple words, Blizzard shocked and upset the gaming world with their unveiling of a new Diablo title: Diablo Immortal. Announced at BlizzCon 2018, the annual convention held by Blizzard, the title was reviled, to the point where some people thought that the whole release was “an out of season April fools’ joke”. Why? Diablo Immortal, unlike the rest of the Diablo franchise, was mobile-only.

            For most people, this isn’t too big of a deal. It’s a mobile game, there are hundreds of thousands of people playing them nowadays. Why should Blizzard get so much flack? All of what’s said above is true, but when looking at the other side, it’s easy to understand just why the hardcore Blizzard customers and fans are upset. Blizzard, and by extension Diablo has been primarily known for their PC releases. They are almost always released on PC first before porting over to consoles. Overwatch was, in fact, the rare one amongst Blizzard games, being released on PC and consoles simultaneously. From Blizzard’s track record, one assumes that their games are mostly released on the PC. Imagine the fans reaction when they were told that the next Diablo game, one that fans had anticipated for years since Diablo 3’s release in 2012 was not only a mobile game, but it was mobile only, and wouldn’t be released on PC or consoles.

 The uproar was fast and unrelenting as people hitched onto a now infamous line that the principal designer Wyatt Cheng made during a Q&A session for the game. “Do you guys not have phones?”. It’s hard to put into words just how upset the fanbase was, but in terms of numbers, after the announcement of Immortal, Activision Blizzard’s stock fell by 7%. Their announcement video on YouTube garnered so many dislikes that they had to delete and re-upload the video, which further infuriated the fanbase. All in all, the release was nothing short of a disaster.

Cash Cow

Why did Blizzard make a mobile game in the first place? The answer is quite clear. Money. The mobile games industry garners an impressive amount of revenue, up to an incredible 40.6 billion USD in 2017. Game developers can clearly see the benefits of entering the mobile market. They won’t have as much cost to develop their game, but they can reach infinitely more people. Another reason is that the rules, and culture behind microtransactions haven’t been defined in the mobile industry yet. When it comes to AAA titles, gamers are quick to discover and denounce micro-transactions or gambling (Read more about a discussion of microtransactions here.)

 Forcing customers to pay in order to play is predatory, and just all around not good for the consumer.

Forcing customers to pay in order to play is predatory, and just all around not good for the consumer.

In mobile titles, however, the cultural stigma behind their titles don’t really affect them very much. This allows them to consistently nickel-and-dime their customers, squeezing every last cent so that players have to pay to progress or even play their games.  The price may seem small at first, maybe a dollar to “replenish your energy”, but they stack up. These games prey on younger children, hoping that they’ll throw caution, and their parents' credit cards to the wind as they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to continue playing.

Furthermore, the very nature of mobile games is one of gaming in short bursts. It’s rare to have people sit and play mobile games for hours on end, and mobile game developers focus on getting that quick fix while on a daily commute or some such. People who play Diablo want a big, in-depth and deep title that was like the previous titles beforehand, yet they were given a mobile game, which in most cases is unable to hit any of those marks.

One can’t really say that Blizzard is at fault for attempting a mobile game. Immediately assuming malice from a studio that has released incredible titles for decades might be a bit of an overreaction, even if Immortal may have been a mistake. The crux of this debacle lies in a misunderstanding between the fans and Blizzard. Fans were hoping for a new entry to the Diablo series, made for them to continue their adventure and have another experience in a similar way. Blizzard however, wanted to attract more people outside of the diehard Diablo fans, and the higher-ups at Blizzard seemed to have agreed, thus pushing for a mobile game. The game itself could still be successful despite the backlash, but it probably wasn’t a good idea to announce Immortal at a convention for the most die-hard of die-hard blizzard fans.

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A Trend, or an Anomaly?

Blizzard may be representative of a growing trend within the industry. While mobile gaming has certainly been prevalent for a long time, it’s understandable that AAA developers want to get a piece of the pie. Console and PC titles, while they occupy a massive share of the market, don’t attract audiences from outside of the core “gamer” population. Mobile games however, have the potential to do so. Mobile games don’t require one to drop hundreds of dollars on a console or a desktop, and all they need is the phone which you most likely already have.

Many AAA developers have had mobile applications, but mostly as companion apps for their main game, but recently more developers have made either mobile ports or completely mobile games.

Ubisoft industries is an example, releasing several mobile-exclusive Assassin’s Creed games. Other developers have followed suit, with Fortnite and PUBG being ported to Android and iOS. However, all of these games have been released as companion pieces to the main game, or as a port of the main game existing on consoles or PC in the first place. Diablo Immortal looks to be the first to be a pseudo-replacement for a AAA title, as Blizzard didn’t announce any other Diablo related news. Had they announced work on Diablo 4, this whole debacle would not have existed.

It’s a complicated situation, one that consists of people misinterpreting situations on both sides. Blizzard isn’t deliberately trying to incense fans, but the audience at Blizzcon was definitely the wrong place to announce Immortal. On the other side, the hardcore fans have the right to be disappointed, but it shouldn’t give them the right to berate and send death threats to Blizzard developers. Knowing your fans, and managing their wants and needs along with continuing to make a profit and gain more customers at the same time is a mammoth task, yet Blizzard has done so for the past few years with only a few slip-ups. Now however, Blizzard may face their biggest challenge yet. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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