Diablo 4: Can Blizzard Redeem Itself?
Blizzard was once an infallible pillar of the video game industry. The company is known for titans of gaming like Starcraft, Warcraft and its MMO spinoff, and, of course, Diablo. The sheer quality of these franchises has sustained Blizzard for almost 30 years, and when they added the hero shooter Overwatch to their roster, things seemed good for the company.
But all good things come to an end eventually.
There was a slight stumble at the original launch of Diablo 3 back in 2012. The game used an auction house system that allowed players to buy, sell, and trade their in-game goods with other players. Many took issue with this feature, and it was eventually removed from the game a few years later. In hindsight, the auction house can be seen as a sort of precursor to the NFT systems that are trying to break into the industry now.
Goodwill was restored with the Diablo 3 console releases in 2013 and 2014, and it all seemed like smooth sailing after Overwatch hit the scene in 2016. Unfortunately, the high-flying success of Overwatch appeared to have made Blizzard think they could do no wrong in the eyes of their biggest fans.
Fast forward to Blizzcon 2018, and there were rumblings of a new Diablo game being announced at the event. Crowds of adoring PC and console gaming die-hards were abuzz as members of the Diablo development team took the stage, allegedly bringing big news.
A mobile-exclusive Diablo game being developed by Chinese mobile developer NetEase, a developer conveniently known for making Diablo clones on mobile platforms.
Blizzard could not have possibly predicted the sudden, swift backlash from that announcement. To a crowd of booing fans, Wyatt Cheng (principal designer on Diablo Immortal) uttered a question that would elicit an even more powerful wave of boos and derision: “Do you guys not have phones?”
It took a long while for Blizzard to claw their way back from that debacle, and the eventual release in July 2022 was a mixed bag. It did well in terms of metrics, getting over 30 million downloads a few short weeks after launch. It’s worth noting though, that Diablo Immortal is a free-to-play game, and downloading a free game doesn’t say much about the game’s actual quality.
Diablo Immortal did receive some acclaim for its adaptation to mobile platforms as well as its graphics and gameplay, but the hideous elephant in the room sunk the experience for most players. An elephant that is present in just about every free-to-play mobile title: microtransactions.
The microtransactions present in Diablo Immortal were (and might still be) considered bad to the point of being predatory. Calculations were made following the game’s launch, and in order to purchase enough materials to fully upgrade a single character, the cost could be anywhere in the range of $100,000 to $600,000. The egregious microtransactions are obviously optional, but in order to achieve the same level of progress solely through play, you would need to play the game for multiple decades.
On top of the Diablo Immortal mishap, Blizzard is also dealing with multiple sexual harassment lawsuits, one from July 2021 (which was settled for $18 million), and another which was just filed in October 2022. Both lawsuits are on the basis of Activision/Blizzard’s “frat boy” work culture and gender discrimination toward women at the company. All of which was allegedly known and permitted by Activision/Blizzard’s CEO and resident Human Slime Ball, Bobby Kotick.
These revelations have caused multiple upheavals for the company, including top employees leaving the company (such as Overwatch’s director Jeff Kaplan), and an additional investigation by the SEC regarding the rampant workplace misconduct.
Activision/Blizzard is also in the process of being purchased by Microsoft in an acquisition that made headlines in January 2022. The deal is the biggest in history, to the tune of $69 billion dollars, but it is yet to be completed almost a year later due to heavy opposition. Many parties fear a monopoly of the video game industry should this deal go through, but Activision/Blizzard could use some good press and a… let’s call it a “restructuring” under Microsoft.
All of that brings us to the impending launch of Diablo 4 in Summer 2023. Can this game make up for past faults and bring Blizzard back to the top of the industry? Early hands-on impressions with the game from notable influencers seem to think so, but the same was said of Overwatch 2, and that game has largely fallen flat since its release. Diablo 4 itself has also had kind of a tumultuous development with its director departing the company back in 2021 after the first lawsuit.
Only time will tell, but hopefully Diablo 4 will be the Diablo game fans were hoping for at that Diablo Immortal announcement.