“Is this an out of season April Fools joke?” was probably the last question that representatives from Blizzard Entertainment expected to hear at their company’s annual fan event, BlizzCon 2018.
But that’s exactly the question they got from a fan during a question-and-answer session over the weekend about the new “Diablo” game, “Diablo Immortal,” a free-to-play game coming to smartphones.
Lead designer Wyatt Cheng laughed it off as the massive crowd of attendees loudly applauded the question – a physical manifestation of the frustration many “Diablo” fans expressed over the new game.
Online, the reaction was far worse.
“Has Diablo Immortal killed your hope for the future of Diablo?” reads one popular thread on the “Diablo” Reddit forum.
And the backlash may have spooked Wall Street, too: For those keeping score at home, shares in Activision Blizzard were down almost 7% in trading on Monday.
What in the world is going on? It’s complicated.
Things started out politely enough:
“Hello BlizzCon!” Wyatt Cheng said last Friday. He was speaking to a massive crowd of attendees at BlizzCon 2018, the annual fan event held by Blizzard Entertainment in Anaheim, California.
The room for the keynote was packed, and fans were there specifically for announcements. A new “Overwatch” hero, perhaps? Maybe – finally – the long-anticipated announcement of “Diablo 4”?
It wasn’t to be. Cheng was indeed there to announce a new game in the “Diablo” franchise…it just wasn’t the one that fans wanted.
“We love Diablo!” Cheng enthusiastically shouted at attendees. “We love the way ‘Diablo’ has brought millions of players around the world together to slay demons.” That’s when Cheng started to reveal the new game.
“Our modern world is an increasingly connected one,” he said. “Our mobile devices keep us closer than ever to our friends, family, and loved ones. So we knew that we wanted to use mobile devices as the platform for a new ‘Diablo’ game – because nothing brings together the family like slaying demons!”
It was with this subtle distinction that Cheng announced “Diablo Immortal,” a smartphone-only entry in the “Diablo” franchise. “We are making a full-fledged action-RPG you can play everywhere with everyone,” he said. The game looks and plays similarly to traditional “Diablo” games, except it’s tailored for smartphones’ touch controls and smaller screen.
The announcement was met with applause – not roaring applause, necessarily, but applause nonetheless. That enthusiasm didn’t last long.
From polite enthusiasm to outrage in just one night:
By Saturday, less than 24 hours later, the attitude toward “Diablo Immortal’ at BlizzCon 2018 changed.
Fans were taking to the internet to decry the game – a mobile-only entry in a beloved PC gaming series – as the beginning of the end of the franchise. People turned the “Diablo” subreddit into a litany of grievances. Twitter is still awash with aggrieved fans, days later, as is the subreddit.
“Hey @Blizzard_Ent and @BlizzardCS I know you don’t care, but today I uninstalled @PlayOverwatch @PlayHearthstone @Diablo and I cancelled my @Warcraft subscription. I stopped supporting @EA years ago when they killed franchises and now I will say good bye to you as well,” one Twitter user wrote on Monday.
Cheng and his coworkers at Blizzard were clearly aware of this backlash, as Cheng opened Saturday afternoon’s question-and-answer session for “Diablo Immortal” with a reassurance that several other “Diablo” projects are currently in the works at Blizzard.
Attendees cheered this announcement, but ultimately the reassurance wasn’t enough.
“Do you guys not have phones?”
Though several different people asked questions about the smartphone focus of “Diablo Immortal” during the Q&A, it was one particular straw that seemingly broke the camel’s back.
The camel in this situation is Wyatt Cheng, and it was a seemingly banal question about “Diablo Immortal” that got to him. Will the game ever come to other platforms, or is it smartphone exclusive? It was this that resulted in Cheng asking a question of attendees: “Do you guys not have phones?”
That didn’t go over so well. He rhetorically asked attendees as much in a moment of mild frustration, and he accidentally became a meme.
The question was asked in jest, but it served as a perfect embodiment of the contention between Blizzard’s announcement and its community: In Blizzard’s eyes, “Diablo Immortal” is one of several new games in the “Diablo” franchise; In the community’s eyes, “Diablo Immortal” is another move toward turning “Diablo” into a series focused on profit over gameplay.
More specifically, it’s seen by the community – many of which have been playing the “Diablo” franchise for decades – as a step away from the franchise’s past as a PC game, and a step toward the profit-focused world of mobile game design. Though Blizzard hasn’t said as much explicitly, the “Diablo” mobile game appears to be free-to-play: a model of game pricing that’s notorious for optimising profit over gameplay.
Worse still, Blizzard seemingly doesn’t understand why fans are upset.
“Do you guys not have phones?” posits that people are only upset because “Diablo” is getting a new game on mobile. Of course “Diablo” fans have smartphones. That’s not really the point.
Expectation versus reality.
It’s been six years since “Diablo 3” launched on PC to critical and commercial acclaim. Since then, it’s come to a variety of game consoles; just recently, the game launched on Nintendo’s Switch.
Fans of the series aren’t merely anxious for a new main entry – they are aggressively interested in news about “Diablo 4.” Such a sequel is almost certainly deep into development, but Blizzard has yet to say anything officially about it.
Blizzard’s annual fan convention is exactly the type of place where such a game would be announced. Instead, Blizzard chose that moment to announce “Diablo Immortal” – a smartphone-only game that most certainly isn’t “Diablo 4.”
Blizzard had its most loyal, most diehard “Diablo” fans all in one room, and demonstrated an example of their favourite franchise being made for a different group of people.
Blizzard expected a positive response. Attendees expected information or a tease about a major new “Diablo” game. The reality for everyone was a let down, albeit for different reasons.