Too much of no one’s surprise, the announcement of Diablo: Immortal has been a steller flop. Flop in this case, of course, means that all those Diablo fans that have been holding out for Blizzard to do anything meaningful with the franchise would angerly snark and sneer at the prospect of a mobile phone game of their beloved franchise. And while I may personally feel that these comments are a little much at times, on the other hand, I can sympathize with their feelings.
You all might recall another long-standing franchise being relegated to the same fate at a not too distant press conference, Command & Conquer: Rivals. Here, a once great RTS franchise, after years of slumber, would be brought back from the dead in the form of—a mobile game. Fans were furious, and rightly so, here is a series that many cared for, and after years of many years of no new titles, the game to break this trend was a mobile game. A game that was Command & Conquer in name only, it didn’t have any of the features fans of the series know and love nor was it a model that respected a players time and money. It was a shell of the former series.
Judging by the start of this article, you might believe that I have an issue with mobile games as a whole or don’t wish more people to experience the Diablo franchise; this is simply not true. Truthfully, I have very little issue with playing games on phones (something me and Mitch recently had a big debate over regarding his latest article) and I believe that if developers can bring a quality game to a larger audience, why not? We live in a world where everything is dominated by mobile and within a short reach of your phone, so why not games as well? This trend is already obvious in the non-Western where mobile games play a much bigger role in gaming overall, so it is only natural that developers would want to push into these territories in the West to hope corner that potential market. But the problem when it comes to mobile isn’t the games existing on that platform, the problem is with how these games monetize their products in an environment that has little to no rules, creating a very unfriendly marketplace.
Most mobile games are either high in price (comparatively) or free to play supplemented by ads for microtransactions. For that latter, this consequently makes a certain group of them feel unplayable or unenjoyable as so much of the game becomes focused around spending rather than playing. Mobile games also suffer from not being able to offer a full experience compared to other games. They lack controls from a traditional controller, being forced to rely on touch controls or an additional controller (something not easily available when on the go). In addition to this, they lack power as well, some phones may be powerful themselves but when creating a game for a large swath of consumers, designing for the lowest common denominator is key. While these may be negatives, this doesn’t mean that it’s to every games detriment, in the case of Diablo: Immortal, however, that isn’t the story with such a long-running franchise.
In the case of Diablo, you have an established base of fans that have been itching for a new piece of content on the platforms they expect: PCs and consoles. For these fans, they have been waiting for years and years at this point for something new, be it a new game or additional expansion for Diablo III. To hear that a mobile game is the next Diablo product after all these years, it feels like a slap in the face to fans. They need something to sink their teeth into, not just another platform port with a few small changes but something that takes more development effort and adds a substantial amount of content. Are they owed anything, no, but they have been loyal since 2012 and aside from the latest Necromancer DLC, they feel cheated and forgotten, so why not pander to your loyal fans a little more rather than spit in their face?
Let’s take for example the Mana series, more specifically Final Fantasy: Adventure and Sword of Mana. Originally Final Fantasy: Adventure was the first of the Mana series, however, once the series became its own, the first game was initially remade into Sword of Mana, a remake of the first game that takes the advancements of the later entries and spliced it into the original. Some time afterward, the original was remade again to keep more in line with the Gameboy release, releasing the name Adventures of Mana. In each of these remastered, each stayed true to the original in their own way, combining something familiar but also adding a new dash of fresh that makes it worth playing again. This is a contrast from what looks to be Diablo: Immortal, essentially taking parts of Diablo III and cutting it up into a freemium mobile game.
A few years ago we had two good examples of mobile games that launched who served as a best-case scenario that Diablo: Immortal should take note of, Witcher Battle Arena and Heroes of Dragon Age.
- They took an existing franchise while it was still alive and being supported to offer a very different style of gameplay.
- It was accessible for all markets right out the gate.
- They were free and micro-transactions didn’t bother the experience much (at least not in Witcher Battle Arena)
- They came as something additional while the fans were already satisfied with what they had at the moment (Witcher 3 and Dragon Age Inquisition).
These are the major differences that give Diablo: Immortal such a base taste. The community has been quite loyal to Blizzard over the year, and even over the shaky Diablo 3 release. After all the ups and downs, people are still playing this game, waiting for a proper expansion or sequel. Phone games are fine when the franchise is alive and well, but when its the only release in years, people are going to be bitter and as a company is bound to get flak.
Time and time again we have seen companies try to resurrect dead or nearly dead franchises by introducing a new mobile title, only see the community lash out. That lashing out is a product of fans feeling betrayed, but this time around it isn’t just Diablo fans feeling betrayed, but Blizzards fans as a whole. This chicken has finally come home to roost.