The stories behind the stories of 2022: Diablo Immortal enrages Blizzard’s most loyal fans

 

It’s the end of 2022, so let’s get self-indulgent: this week we’re publishing a few personal story highlights from the first year of mobilegamer.biz, and giving you a peek behind the curtain on how they came to be published.

Blizzard earned $49m from Diablo Immortal’s first month, with 10m downloads to date

In terms of pure press attention, Diablo Immortal was the biggest mobile game launch of the year, and not in a good way.

Marvel Snap has got plenty of media attention too, sure – but Blizzard and NetEase’s big-name launch had a vital extra element to it: angry dudes.

To cap off its debut month, we pulled Appmagic data that suggested it had earned $49m revenue from 10m downloads to date, and the story quickly became one of our most-read of the year. And while a good chunk of the people reading that story were in the business, many more came from Reddit. Threads like this were full of angry fans – and, let’s face it, folks just chipping in with no real knowledge of the matter – condemning the game for its perceived money-grabbing tendencies.

Diablo fans are super hardcore PC gamers, and a lot of them view mobile games with absolute contempt. So right from the moment it was announced, Immortal was fighting an uphill battle. It got booed at its big reveal, even.

So when it launched in the summer of this year, it had to arrive and prove that it was not some horrible, exploitative IAP-packed cash-grab. And it isn’t, really – this is a generous game polished to a dazzling degree. And it’ll provide many, many hours of completely free entertainment for those who want to play casually.

But Diablo players are not really casual players, clearly. It’s really hard to manage player expectations and successfully move a hardcore IP like Diablo over to mobile, as we noted not long after its launch.

The folks in the below video, for example, are true die-hard Blizzard fans – and game developers themselves – who aren’t actually as furious as the YouTube thumbnail suggests. They’re the ones who popularised the idea that it’d cost over $100k to max out a character – a claim that spread like wildfire in the games press, because it feeds into some pretty entrenched beliefs around mobile games as a whole. Another win for mobile gaming’s great reputation guys!!!

Throughout the 40 minute video, you can see that these folks just really love this series, and want to max out every character, collect every trinket and explore every nook and cranny. They say over and over again that the game itself is great – a full Diablo game on your phone! – but as completionists they can’t see and do everything they want to without spending big money.

That’s where the tension arises around Diablo Immortal. It’s the mismatch of the expectations of western PC players and the conventions and economies at work in mobile.

The revenue bar has been set so extraordinarily high in mobile that for this game to be considered a relative success it needs to deploy every part of the playbook to get into the top grossing charts and stay there. There always needs to be some item just out of reach, something locked away in gachas, a rotating series of live ops, battle pass objectives to hit. You know the deal. Long-time series fans are not used to this stuff, so you end up with Metacritic review bombing, angry YouTube videos and Reddit drama.

The “most helpful” user review for Diablo Immortal on Metacritic reads: “Horrible. I will never touch this game again, and anyone that cares about any other blizzard games shouldn’t either, they are testing the waters on how far they can take these scamming practices and if they are given support then they will do this for all of their games. SHAME on you blizzard.”

Still, the fact remains that the game is a wild success. Sensor Tower later said it had earned $100m in under two months, and by November we ran another story using Appmagic data suggesting it had already earned $300m. (It’s now at just over $340m.)

Six months later, the furore has died down and the game is ticking along fine. But that doesn’t mean we should shrug and ignore the lessons learned here. Beloved IP comes with alot of baggage, both good and bad.

Also, it’d be really nice if we as an industry could not keep having these horrible monetisation controversies. It’s not a good look for anyone.