Blizzard Entertainment has been a staple in the PC gaming community for decades. If you’ve ever remotely interacted with video games in the past two decades, specifically on PC, there’s probably a greater than not chance you’ve crossed paths with one of Blizzard’s series. From their humble beginnings on the SNES, Genesis and MS-DOS platforms with games like the Lost Vikings and Blackthorne, to perennial juggernauts like Warcraft, Diablo and most recently Overwatch, Blizzard has amassed a library of original IPs that topple almost any other developer/publisher. But with so many accolades and decades of experience, why do they seem so disconnected with their fanbase?
This past weekend was Blizzard’s annual fan and consumer convention, BlizzCon, with the main event taking place on November 2nd and 3rd at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California. Thousands of the company’s faithful fans gathered to see what new and exciting news Blizzard had to share with them, and to take in the atmosphere with friends, new and old.
But this year’s BlizzCon felt different than past years. There was a hint of extra excitement floating throughout the air in Anaheim, and whispers of one of gaming’s most popular franchises getting a sequel were abundant.
On August 8th, Brandy Camel, Associate Community Manager of Blizzard’s Diablo team, posted a short video on various social media platforms that briefly covered a few things, including various changes to the upcoming Season 14 of Diablo 3. Most importantly though she announced that multiple Diablo projects were in the works for the team. “The forges here at Blizzard are burning hot, and we have multiple Diablo projects in the works. Some of them are going to take longer than others, but we may have some things to show you later this year. We hope you stay tuned while we work to bring these Diablo experiences to life”, Camel positively stated in the post, while also thanking fans for their continued commitment to the series, and that “none of it would be possible without them”. There’s a lot to unpack with a statement like that, especially when you state that multiple Diablo projects are in the pipeline. Fans’ minds do start to wander, imagination starts to flourish, and hopes (both new and nostalgic) take over. Could this mean the long hoped for Diablo 2 HD Remaster/Remake long time fans have been clamoring for? Or is this the first acknowledgement of the inevitable Diablo 4 sequel being in development?
Well, turns out those thoughts were wrong, at least for the time being. On Friday, November 2nd, Blizzard announce one of those new Diablo experiences, Diablo Immortal; a new mobile MMO ARPG in the Diablo series, taking place between the events of Diablo II: Lord of Destruction and Diablo III.
To say fans didn’t warmly welcome it, is quite the understatement.
Now before I continue, I know, I know, I just quoted a senior member of Blizzard’s staff saying they have MULTIPLE Diablo projects in the pipeline to come. That means a Diablo 2 remake/remaster is still a possibility, and a new mainline Diablo sequel is all but directly confirmed to be in development. On top of that, can you blame Blizzard for entering the mobile gaming market? It’s one of the most lucrative entities in all of entertainment, not to mention the insane install base it has (aka almost anyone who has a smart phone).
But this is the PC gaming community we’re talking about. They are a whole different breed of gamer (and I do not mean than in a negative connotation); The passion and loyalty to their sect of gaming is unrivaled comparative to any console war debate, along with the PC gaming community easily being the largest install base in gaming as a whole (not including mobile).
While some of the reactions to Immortal have been over exaggerated, this is a clear case of a company saying to its consumer “you don’t know what you want. I know what you want, and you want this.”
The PC crowd is Blizzard’s bread and butter. Without them, there arguable would be no Blizzard today, or at least not in the prominent capacity they are viewed in now. With no PC gaming community, there is no World of Warcraft, which up until recently was one of the most recognizable and profitable entertainment entities in the world (Grand Theft Auto 5 recently took that crown), and still to this day one of the biggest revenue generators for the company. Without the PC crowd, there is no Starcraft, a series which is still one of the largest real time strategy games in the world today.
Most importantly to this situation though, without the PC audience, there would be no Diablo. This is a series built from the ground up for PC. While the console ports of Diablo 3 are awesome, the game was designed for the PC crowd; and I don’t mean that from a control aspect. I mean that from a design aspect. The simplicity of clicking a mouse button to move and target simple attacks feel at home comparative to a controller (not to mention casting special abilities with the various number key or custom key binds).
To be fair, the game doesn’t look half bad. The gameplay doesn’t seem to be too convoluted, with the HUD having a simply layout of one basic attack on a large face button surrounded by four smaller ability buttons, along with two even smaller buttons for your various potions. It gives the look of depth, but also doesn’t send out vibes of over complexity that could scare the casual audience they are trying to reach. I’m going to try it when it comes out, but we all know how this narrative will end, just like the narrative of all mobile games. Immortal will drop on iOS and the Google Play Store with a price tag of “FREE”, to garner a large player base early on, and provide them with simple and repetitive gameplay, and then prompt the player that they are out of “crystals” or some generic item and they need more to continue. They can do so by paying $10 for 100 crystals, or wait 48 hours to get 10 more to continue. While there are logical people who can see where this is a blatant cash grab, there are even more who poor thousands upon thousands of dollars into this model continuously.
But you know what, if that’s the audience you’re aiming for, and you think you can get them? Great! Super! Good for you! Attack that casual audience, and milk them; but this isn’t aimed at the casual audience, this is aimed at the PC audience. Who knows the value of quality, considering the average amount spent on a gaming-centered PC is $500 (tower alone), and know what an investment into this sect of gaming is financially.
The worst part about all of this? Blizzard is at the point as a company where they are too big to fail (at least in the short term). Take into account their merger with Activision in 2008, and the cash cows that they bring to the table, almost every decision Blizzard makes can be looked at as a win. They can take this PR nightmare that is Immortal and roll with the punches, because guess what? They have the cash to roll the dice on something like, which equates to a open palm slap to their PC faithful. In 2008, when World of Warcraft was at its arguable peak in terms of relevance to gaming, it alone makes an estimated $150 million dollars a month, equating to around $1.7 billion a year. Looking at the annual report from this past year, Activision-Blizzard, revenue was up an estimated $409 million dollars compared to 2016, and up $2.353 billion since 2015 (largely thanks to the popularity of the hero shooter Overwatch). It’s a sad reality, that Diablo faithful must wrap their heads around.
Who knows, January may roll around and we get a surprise reveal of a Diablo 2 remake/remaster, or a teaser of Diablo 4. While very unlikely, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. A lot of this boils down to mismanagement of information. Releasing a video alluding to a major Diablo announcement on the horizon, then revealing it to be a mobile phone iteration of the series, and then expecting your core audience (who is primarily vocally against mobile gaming) to instantaneously love it, is down right bizarre, and quite frankly idiotic. But when you’re one of the most lucrative gaming entities in the world, with one of the biggest entertainment companies backing you, why should you care? I mean, doesn’t everyone have a phone?
Update (11/5/18 8:28 PM): Upon release of this opinion piece, Kotaku’s Jason Schreier reported that sources from within Blizzard confirmed to him that Diablo 4 was supposed to be confirmed at the end of the BlizzCon presentation. The original plan for Blizzard’s BlizzCon Diablo presentation was to have Diablo Immortal presented as it was, but then to followed by a short video in which Blizzard co-founder Allen Adham was to tell the audience that a proper Diablo 4 was currently in development, but was not in a state to be shown yet. Per Schreier’s sources, Blizzard changed its BlizzCon plans for Diablo at one point within the last week or two, and that the Diablo team wasn’t ready to commit with an announcement. This would fit with the rumors of multiple director changes, following drastic changes to the game in general over the past four years. If more info is to come, I will continue to update this piece.