Diablo Immortal’s Microtransactions Controversy Reflects Industry-Wide Disconnect Between Devs & Gamers
“Diablo Immortal” is a free-to-play, massively multiplayer online action role-playing video game developed by Blizzard Entertainment and NetEase. The game has been a hot topic of viral discussion due to a number of controversies surrounding the game’s developers since “Diablo Immortal” was released on June 2nd.
Just one week after its release, “Diablo Immortal” was not only Blizzard’s lowest-rated game ever but also held the lowest-rated user score in Metacritic history. While the Metacritic review score sits at 81 from critics on mobile, the current player score sits at just 0.4. Around 94 percent of player reviews are negative, complaining about a “blatant cash-grab,” “evil micro transactions,“ “Pay2Win“ and the fact that “grinding is absolutely insane.”
This development, among several other PR controversies surrounding the game, has been widely shared and trolled as “Diablo Immortal” continues to receive backlash for its unusually expensive microtransactions and predatory mechanics. The growing disconnect between the game’s developers and its players reflects current industry challenges surrounding predatory in-game purchases and the increasing disparity between players’ expectations for the game and what developers actually deliver. For brands and developers alike, Blizzard’s release of “Diablo Immortal” reveals a cautionary tale about microtransactions and the implications of misleading your customers.
Let’s break it down problem by problem. To set the stage, it had been six years since the last title, “Diablo 3” was released. There were no announcements of a new title, even virtually, until 2018. Even then, fans thought that this would be a remaster of the previous title, if not a new game altogether.
When “Diablo Immortal” came out, it was clear from user reception that Blizzard lacked the originality many players had hoped would push the story forward in a new direction after four years of waiting. Rather than having its own original concepts in games, Blizzard used existing ideas and altered them a bit to make them more lore-focused. The character designs are also polished, but they follow more or less the same structure.
One of the earliest frustrations surrounding the game was the “Unable to authenticate” error. The latest problem for the player base was being unable to authenticate with Battle.net when launching “Diablo Immortal.”
Even more of an unexpected problem for players was the initial announcement that “Diablo Immortal” was not coming to PC. The developers claimed that despite their adoration for PC games, “Diablo Immortal” was meant for mobile phones only. Other “Diablo” titles did well when they were released across PC, which confused many players. Most seasoned players prefer PC as the controls are much easier, and the overall experience is far better as compared to mobile phones.
The execution of this announcement was also a thorn in the side of their player base. Blizzard took the news to Blizzcon in 2018 to announce the release of “Diablo Immortal,” the crowning reveal in the keynote event with an audience of primarily PC and console players. Reception to the announcement was overwhelmingly negative and was made worse by subsequent statements from Blizzard claiming they were not expecting the reaction they got.
Fans were mostly expecting “Diablo 4,” but instead, they got a mobile sequel in the form of Diablo Immortal. When players first saw a demo of the game, it was very clear that Blizzard had failed to meet fans’ expectations. The game was met with a largely negative reaction after being announced at the 2018 BlizzCon convention, spawning the Do You Guys Not Have Phones? meme.
“Do you guys not have phones” was a remark made by Blizzard Entertainment’s principal game designer Wyatt Cheng during the presentation of the mobile game “Diablo Immortal” at BlizzCon in November 2018. The remark, which was given as a response to the crowd’s disappointed reaction to “Diablo Immortal” being strictly mobile, has since been used to mock both Blizzard Entertainment and video game publishers acting disconnected from gaming audiences in general. Following the release of “Diablo Immortal,” the phrase has humorously altered to “do you guys not have money?” and “do you guys not have wallets?” to comment on the microtransactions system within the game.
In every Free-To-Play mobile game, microtransactions have become standard. Some microtransactions are not considered to be bad as long as they don’t impact the overall gameplay experience. This has been the largest gripe with “Diablo Immortal,” particularly because Blizzard initially assured players they wouldn’t have to spend money on gear to enjoy a good gaming experience.
But Diablo’s Legendary Gems play a huge role in the game. Players can upgrade their gear and level up faster using these gems. It will also affect their progression in the endgame, where they face bosses like Skarn Helliquary. Undoubtedly for a game like “Diablo Immortal,” the end game is very important. Not only did Blizzard mislead players by implicating that in-game purchases would not impact overall gameplay, but Diablo’s microtransactions are also unusually expensive.
A video from Bellular News broke down all the microtransactions that “Diablo Immortal” offers. According to the clip, the amount of money you’d need to spend on “Immortal” to unlock everything and max out a character fully comes to a whopping $110,000, something completely impossible for most free-to-play gamers.
A character in “Diablo Immortal” can be leveled up in three ways. There is XP that will unlock levels and skills up to level 60, the current level cap in the game. Then there’s equipment that can be upgraded to suit a player’s style. Both of these can be done through regular gameplay by any player without needing to spend a cent on the game. The issue starts when considering the third way: the Legendary Gems. According to a breakdown from Bellular News, it will cost a player $110,000 to fully upgrade a character’s Legendary Gems as it’s a feat not possible for free-to-play gamers. Free-to-play players get 1–3 Legendary Crests per month. The result is either a ten-year grind using some real money or up to $110,000 spent on purchasing gems.
In the following days, several gaming news websites reported on Bellular’s calculation, including an article by GameRant. On June 5th, Redditor gorays21 posted the article in the /r/Diablo subreddit, where it gained over 1,400 upvotes in one day. On June 2nd, 2022, streamer and YouTuber Asmongold played through the same dungeon with and without a paid modifier, showcasing a drastic difference in loot drops.
The news that “Diablo Immortal” made $24 million in two weeks for Blizzard may seem like a bad thing when one considers how that money was accumulated, but it could also be a good sign that the community frontloaded its interest, and now that revenue will only drop over time.
Although $24 million is a huge amount of money considering how loud the community has been about its dislike of the mobile game’s monetization practices, it’s worth putting things into perspective. The mobile gaming market is used to much higher revenue numbers for highly anticipated releases, especially around the first two weeks or first month out — as has been seen time and again with heavy-hitters being games like “Honor of Kings,” “Genshin Impact,” “PUBG Mobile,” “Pokemon GO” and “Candy Crush Saga.”
Compared to some of these games, “Diablo Immortal’s” $24 million revenue is not that impressive. The United States mobile gaming market generated $1.9 billion just in May 2022. It’s plausible that “Diablo Immortal’s” numbers will go down over time as the game’s honeymoon period is over and only a small percentage of players manage to fully gear out their characters for PvE content. As far as PvP goes, it’s also likely that high-spenders will lose interest if not matched with fellow players who can compete at their power level.
Overall, Diablo Immortal’s microtransactions have been the biggest focal point in critics’ and player reviews of the game. Blizzard’s lack of market research or awareness in catering to their mostly PC players snowballed with poor execution, misleading promotion and blatant disregard, sometimes mockery for their players’ feedback.
Given the list of issues with the gameplay itself plus Blizzard’s poor PR management of the game’s release, many gamers feel the game is simply not innovational enough to dedicate their time to, particularly amongst those who do not have the means to invest six figures on mods that would make the game more playable.