It has been well over two weeks since the furor surrounding the announcement of Diablo Immortal. Perhaps it’s already quite late to give my two cents on the whole thing, but I’ve had some brain farts lately that may be worth pondering on. I’m not sure if I’ll play Diablo Immortal when it comes out, but the events surrounding it are pretty interesting thus far.
I made a video about the whole fiasco, and then took my sweet time writing this blog post to support it. The good thing about that time gap is I got to think about it more, read more things coming out about it, and then write about it in greater detail. I could’ve just taken two hours to post a knee-jerk reaction to it, but that’s not how I do things around here.
Taking my sweet time is my standard operating procedure. I can’t be completely right, but I’d like to be “more right” than I could’ve been earlier.
Initial Reaction to Diablo Immortal Announcement
Watching that all the way through may be difficult at first, but listening to some Serbian army music may help.
It’s not their first foray into mobile development, but this announcement surely is the first time they had one as a major presentation in their own event. Hearthstone Mobile was a supplementary announcement and simply a mobile port, so that was understandable.
Diablo Immortal is a separate title in a long-standing franchise and was presented to a predominantly PC-gaming audience that was expecting a PC game from a company known for PC games.
Of course, they’d be flabbergasted. It’s like biting into a cookie while expecting it to be chocolate chip, then it turns out to be raisins. If that has ever happened to you and you hated being duped like that, then this is kind of the same thing.
Subsequent Reaction to the Fallout
Not Fallout 76, mind you. That’s a different topic altogether. It’s alright if you’re one of the minority who likes that game because it does have great potential, but execution is what matters.
After that whole thing in BlizzCon, there were talks about the planned Diablo IV announcement being pulled back due to the developers’ lack of certainty. However, they could’ve at least dropped a short teaser like what Bethesda did with The Elder Scrolls VI in E3 to assure the public that it’s being worked on.
It must be said that the overblown negative reaction to the presentation is not completely about being entitled. Blizzard did indeed exhibit a miscalculation at a scale previously not seen before from them. They indeed have been slipping quite a bit through the 2010s with the Diablo III launch and their handling of StarCraft II every now and then, but they’ve never missed out on catching a hype train as badly as this.
This response by ex-Blizzard producer Mark Kern says as much.
Blizzard Changing of the Guard
After the fallout, David Brevik, Blizzard co-founder and president of the long-defunct Blizzard North, speculated on Mike Morhaime being forced out as Blizzard president in an internal coup d’etat. He also mentioned how employees now have their salaries cut by having profit-sharing taken out.
It was later confirmed to be simply speculation, which was clear anyway in the video with Brevik prefacing his statements with “I highly suspect, though I have no insider information and no factual knowledge.”
David Brevik was talking out of his ass. This is why it’s important to view a source of information completely before making judgment calls. Everyone who didn’t got duped (myself included, I admit). He left the company before the release of World of Warcraft.
Of course, most people aren’t willing to watch half-hour videos, especially if they’re in Twitch video archives. In pro wrestling parlance, this is called “being worked,” and I myself was worked. It’s easy to believe that a publicly traded company can turn evil at the drop of a hat. With Activision having a fairly bad reputation, this could indeed be Blizzard’s eventual downfall.
Especially with its current president being J. Allen Brack, who once said, “You think you do, but you don’t,” in response to the demand for an official vanilla World of Warcraft server. He is the man who many fans believe had eventually driven the long-standing MMO giant to the ground. Then again, WoW nerds aren’t exactly the most perceptive and long-term thinking of people.
Even if they say things won’t be that much different in Blizzard, it will be. A regime change both necessitates and results in change, from the internal culture to how projects are handled by development teams. Perhaps they now wish to prove that they indeed know better?
There are some things floating around regarding what Blizzard employees are saying about what’s going on in the company right now, the work conditions, and the money they earn for their work.
Prioritizing Mobile Development
With their drive for mobile game development, I do have to question their choice of giving some of their projects to third-party developers like NetEase. With word spreading of Diablo Immortal (the demo, at least) being simply a clone of another NetEase game, even if it’s seen as a good practice, it will still rub most people the wrong way.
Perhaps if things go well, Blizzard will get to make the big leaps many other companies before them weren’t able to do all the way through over the years. It once held promise, with some big titles (that I know of) like Infinity Blade, Republique, and others that attempted to bring AAA quality to the platform. But then, the problems with the business model led them to device ridiculous ways to milk cash out of players through microtransactions and such.
I’m not saying right now that Blizzard is definitely going down the same path. However, with them using mostly third party developers to handle their mobile titles and having Activision whispering in their ear, whatever intentions they may have to shape the industry in a different mold may be short-lived at best.
They took a risk and fell in their face. Two things can make this less of a painful memory–Diablo Immortal being really good and a definite Diablo IV announcement. Unfortunately, these two things clash. Why would you buy Diablo Immortal if Diablo IV is on the way?
They’re now at their second attempt at making Diablo IV as of this writing, so at least we know they’re still trying. This is common, even outside Blizzard, but it does cost more money to start from scratch. Will they keep up this non-compromising culture now that Blizzard is under new executive management or will this be the last time they’d restart projects for the sake of compromise?
They apparently had Dark Souls-like gameplay with an over-the-shoulder view in the previous project, while the current one is back to a Diablo II-inspired isometric perspective. They’re still open to experimentation, but maybe at the expense of their employees’ sanity.
But remember how Diablo III turned out–always online, auto stats, changeable skills, and crappy writing. That also went through multiple iterations, and it still took several post-launch updates to get right, yet is still sure to not be able to fill Diablo II’s massive greaves.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have on the comment section below.
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Also published on Medium.