Diablo Immortal’s pay-to-win monetization issues are corrupting the franchise

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The most enduring image from “Diablo,” the 1996 PC game, is a cathedral with red light bleeding through its doors and windows.

Places of worship are considered sacred. This is why churches are so often the scene of horror stories. The juxtaposition of purity and holiness against terror and corruption is like the contrast between two primary colors, timeless as one easily understands. But the red energy emanating from the “Diablo” cathedral highlights a recurring theme throughout the games‘ history: that anything and everything can fall victim to corruption, temptation, and evil.

The first game ends with the hero becoming Diablo, aka the Lord of Terror, himself, no matter how strong or noble the players imagined. Diablo lore humans, who live in a world ironically called Sanctuary, have demon blood in them and constantly fight their true nature. Leah, a main character from “Diablo 3” who was basically portrayed as a Disney princess, becomes the embodiment of the Lord of Terror. In the world of Diablo, anything and everything can be twisted.

Since 1996, “Diablo” has been among the most revered series in video gaming. He defined video game medium “loot hunting”, where defeating hordes of enemies means obtaining equipment to gain more power to kill monsters faster and stronger. But in 2022, many long-time gamers are seeing the sanctity of corrupt loot hunting by “Diablo Immortal,” the latest and fourth game in the series that pivoted to a free and paid monetization structure.

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It’s, in essence, the controversy and outrage surrounding the latest game from Activision Blizzard, a company with a long history of creating the world’s most beloved fantasy role-playing games that in recent years has been plagued to allegations and lawsuits regarding worker abuse and sexual harassment. Now the company has launched its most revered fantasy franchise in the mobile market, which is often criticized for its predatory consumer practices.

Don’t get me wrong: “Diablo Immortal” is a paid game, in which players can spend money to increase their power over other players, which the previous three games did not do. Through its marketing, developers Activision Blizzard attempted to stay ahead of the controversy by claiming that the game did not sell gear or level upgrades; it’s pure spin. There are plenty of ways to spend money to gain more power in front of players who engage in the game for free, much of it explained through hundreds of videos from YouTube creators capitalizing on the outrage over “Diablo immortal”.

But it’s also very true that much of the game is enjoyable without spending any money. Video game news website Kotaku recently published an article explaining how much its reporters enjoyed the game without feeling any pressure to spend any money. I have to admit I’m in the same boat, although I’m only above level 30, still hours away from any pressure around the endgame to spend money.

The different ways to spend money are very confusing, and much of YouTube’s outrage over “Diablo Immortal” hasn’t been particularly informative. Much of the focus has been on purchasing “Legendary Crests” to increase players’ chances of finding Legendary Gems. While Activision Blizzard doesn’t call for this gear per se, stronger and rarer Legendary Gems are a crucial part of leveling up your endgame gear to be as powerful as possible.

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Conversation around “Diablo Immortal” has centered around the idea that a player needs to spend around $110,000 to max out a character’s power, according to a YouTuber’s calculations. But as appalling as that figure may seem in the abstract, it’s hard to imagine anyone actually spending that much on gaming. To the point of Kotaku’s article, most gamers simply don’t care about maximize their character to that degree.

It can also be a rare case where YouTube outrage doesn’t quite capture the scale of a game’s problems, says YouTube creator Casey, who goes by the name Darth Microtransaction (Casey hid his last name for privacy and security reasons). For the past five years, Casey has specialized in playing and spending money in mobile games to guide players through these different systems. He spent hundreds of dollars on “Diablo Immortal”.

“People who pay to win think it stops at gems. It’s not,” Casey said. “There are some raw and flat stats you can earn in Sanctuary. The treasure room lets you open more chests to get upgrade materials to use on the shrine. These stats are not mitigated in player versus player.

The focus on Legendary Gems and Crests is okay, Casey said, but it’s not the only way to pay to win, and it might not even be the worst way.

“The market allows for buy-and-buy, which means you don’t have to walk through rifts,” he said, describing the modified activity using Legendary Crests for gem rewards. legendary. “You can log in and just buy stuff from other players, so we have people spending $10,000 on content, when they could spend $100 and just buy the item from another player.

This is similar in spirit to the infamous “auction house” that launched with “Diablo 3”, a feature that generated so much outrage and backlash that Activision Blizzard had to revamp everything. the game to remove the feature. But game companies will often try again to get consumers to play the game. Instead of an auction house, we have a marketplace where players can sell each other gems for “platinum”, a in-game currency that can be earned by playing or purchased directly by spending “Eternal Orbs”, a currency purchased by the real world. cash. If any of these explanations seem convoluted to you as a reader, that’s by design. Many free games hide their gameplay or monetization mechanics to hide that the game’s systems are designed to push player spending.

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And yet, despite its monetization issues, “Diablo Immortal” is still entertaining as an early-to-mid-game free-to-play product. Much like the recent disappointment of another free-to-play game, “Halo Infinite,” “Diablo Immortal” has a solid foundation for an entertaining game. It feels good to return to the world of Diablo, with the enjoyable gameplay and audiovisual feedback that made the series one of the best-selling role-playing games of all time.

The Diablo series was crafted by David Brevik, who had long dreamed of a more loot- and combat-focused role-playing game for PC. After his company teamed up and joined Blizzard North, “Diablo” in 1996 helped lay the foundation for what Blizzard is today.

Brevik said “Diablo” had to be simple enough to pass the “mom test” of whether a parent can understand the game’s concepts well enough to play it. In that sense, the streamlining of the Diablo series seems to stay in the spirit of that original design principle. “Diablo 3” received a lot of initial feedback for its streamlined skill trees, but is now considered one of the best modern examples of the action role-playing genre.

But it’s hard to see how “Diablo Immortal’s” confusing monetization schemes could pass Mom’s test. While the game is fun, it’s a more arcade-like, stripped-down version of “Diablo 3”, with very little customization of individual character skills. “Diablo 3” at least helped you change moves through level ups. “Diablo 2” had the most flexible skill tree in the series, with abilities that feed and support each other. “Immortal” just gives you moves and ranks them, and all the building variety comes from collecting and crafting gems to slot into gear. It’s just not satisfying.

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Many gamers, like Kotaku writers who don’t care about the endgame chase or those acclimated to free-to-play mobile games, will be able to overlook the looming threat of having to understand these systems. I would usually count myself among those people. I’ve already received over 15 hours of enjoyable Diablo gameplay for free, and it’s a value proposition that’s hard to argue against. The entertainment value of the game far exceeds the asking price of anything.

But it’s also a series I’ve been playing since I first laid eyes on this creepy monastery in 1996. I happily clicked on daemons for hundreds of hours. In “Diablo 2”, the endgame pursuit involved collecting items called runewords, which upgrade your gear. That meant hours of battling enemies like the Countess and going through dungeons over and over again.

In “Diablo Immortal”, these same items are now used to craft Legendary Gems to upgrade gear. It’s a mechanic built on top of a mechanic that is now monetized by purchasing Legendary Crests with real money. That would fail Brevik’s mom test.

It also fails my test. I haven’t spent as much time as I expected playing “Diablo Immortal” simply because this mechanical-on-top-mechanics mess seems too busy for a brain that just wants to see monsters popping and gold falling. Money is not the issue here; it’s how I evaluate my time that counts and what this time spent is built towards.

The biggest success of “Diablo Immortal” is that it sent me back to the purity of “Diablo 2” and “Diablo 3”. Both games offer the same fascinating gameplay of “Immortal” without a future where I try to avoid spending too much money later. It’s sadly ironic that the blood-red glow of the first game’s cathedral has become a veritable sanctuary.


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