Blizzard Targets Chinese Market with Mobile Spin-Off

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Naturally, Blizzard’s reveal of Diablo Immortal has spread like wildfire. Far and wide, there’s almost no one in the PC gaming crowd that hasn’t at least heard the news, and almost everyone has had plenty of time to take in the news, digest it, and form a reaction. It’s worth saying for the uninformed that Diablo Immortal is a mobile game, and as the first big Diablo announcement in years came as a huge disappointment to the fanbase–for a variety of reasons. While there are supporters in the general Blizzard gaming population, for the most part, the game’s announcement has fallen on deaf, angry ears, creating a huge outrage that’s even helped to tank Activision-Blizzard stock down to around ten percent lower than usual for this time of the year.

The main reason people will tell you that the announcement failed is simple. It was the only one Diablo got this year. Since Diablo III came out in 2012, Blizzard’s staple series has been through a lot of trouble. The game itself was horribly broken on release, with constant crashes and save issues. There was a player-driven market that encouraged spending and choked the life out of game rules and in-game loot drops to drive itself. There was a controversial expansion release smoothed out by a snappy release date and a quality new class. And of course, the game was and still is said to have been dumbed down or casualified for a new, less-skilled audience–something supported by the weaker difficulty, if nothing else. But in the end, Diablo III was released and has become another Blizzard success, driving the franchise to modern times, to console platforms once more, and bringing great new characters to the Diablo universe, as well as Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm all-stars MOBA.

But that was six years ago. Since then, though the game has had a few updates, introduced seasonal play, and even been re-released a few times, six years is a long time in game development. A long time, with nary a spotting of Diablo IV and no chance of a big announcement… until this year. With Diablo taking a center stage at BlizzCon this year, and with several games in the works and a new announcement confirmed and in the wind by Diablo staff, expectations were high. Even the early press reveal that this wouldn’t be a Diablo IV announcement couldn’t stem the tide of hope. Diablo fans had been waiting years for something new and good, maybe another expansion or side game, or perhaps just an HD remaster of Diablo II, which is still considered a gaming classic. It was to this crowd and these expectations that Blizzard revealed a mobile Diablo game. But not just any Diablo game.

While not Diablo III, Diablo Immortal shares its graphics and some of its classes. It is a mobile game through and through, with more simplified controls to work around the lack of a keyboard and graphics that wouldn’t have looked out of place back when Diablo III was released. And as mentioned above, not only does it fail to bring any new classes to the series but it also doesn’t even bring back everything from DIII, leaving the Witch Doctor in the dust. And what many claim is the worst part of it all, it’s not even 100% a Blizzard game, being largely made by a small Chinese developer known for working with Blizzard to license their games in China. Their only developed game is a mobile Diablo clone itself and is extensively riddled with microtransactions to the degree of being designed as a pay-to-win game. Needless to say, it’s hard to find a Diablo player that isn’t worried about this.

All told, however, Activision-Blizzard has been doubling-down on this stance ever since the reveal. On stage, Wyatt Cheng is famously known for asking his fans, “Do you guys not have phones?”, a move that’s become the anthem of those touting the disconnect between Blizzard’s leadership and the players they represent, but it’s a stance the conglomerate stands by, likely due in no small part to the Activision heritage, with the announcement today that they have some of their best designers across all of their IPs working on or with mobile games going forwards. The move for Diablo Immortal is easy to map; while fans were crushed that the Diablo team has spent six years seemingly working on nothing major, it is known that several Diablo projects are in the works. So why reveal the weakest possible entry?

To put it simply, it’s a shareholder thing. Diablo Immortal being made by a Chinese company is no coincidence–the mobile market in China is tremendously huge, allowing companies like Tencent to make extreme amounts of easy money off of gamers as they take long commutes to and from work, and squeeze gaming in off of their phone or tablet whenever they get the time. Revealing a mobile game in today’s climate was the worst move to make to a crowd of dedicated PC gamers that have been supporting Blizzard and Diablo for generations, and that in most cases paid money to be there or to even watch the stream… but at the end of the day, despite the outcry, Activision-Blizzard is still set to potentially make reams of money going forward. And maybe that’s all that matters to them.

Hopefully, Diablo IV really is in the works, and maybe next year Diablo fans can finally get a little bit of justice. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for, after six years–or rather, after seven. Good luck, players.

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