On Friday, mega-developer Blizzard surprised fans—and not in a good way—at its annual BlizzCon event by announcing “Diablo Immortal,” a mobile spinoff game set in the “Diablo” franchise’s setting.
“Diablo” is a long-running role-playing series for the PC and consoles in which you play as warriors fighting off legions of demons in a quest to save a fantasy world. It’s a franchise some individual fans have poured literally thousands of hours into; in other words, they’re pretty passionate about it.
After a Blizzard blog post teased there would be some “Diablo”-related news at BlizzCon, fans grew hopeful they would hear word of the long-awaited “Diablo IV,” the sequel to 2012’s “Diablo III.” Instead, Blizzard announced to those loyal followers “Diablo Immortal,” a game so simple it can be played only on phones and tablets.
Naturally, “Diablo” fans were upset by the revelation.
One fan asked developers during a question-and-answer session not long after the reveal if “Diablo Immortal” was an “out-of-season April Fool’s joke,” much to the audience’s amusement. Developers assured him it was not, and fans started decrying the game and downvoting its YouTube trailer.
Not long after the backlash began, games journalists, on their endless quest to prove how disconnected they are from their own audience, began condemning “Diablo” fans’ complaints as examples of “toxic entitlement.”
“I can’t wait to see what other games come to smartphones, enraging manchildren who weren’t alive when the original came out,” tweeted one prominent games journalist.
Similar comments came from other notable people within the industry.
One representative from a gaming PR company actually had the gall to say the reason “Diablo” fans were upset was because they’re sexists who associate mobile games with a female audience. It’s a take so dumb I probably shouldn’t dignify it with a response, but here’s one anyway: To say “Diablo” fans who are angry they have to wait longer for the next main entry in their favorite series is actually because they dislike women is utterly ridiculous.
While I don’t condone the guy who asked the developers if “Diablo Immortal” is a joke (though you have to admit, it’s a pretty funny way to summarize fans’ ire for the project), I think it’s pretty foolish to dismiss fans’ criticisms as “entitlement.”
First of all, Blizzard teased “Diablo” news to hardcore fans who love the company enough to pay to go to a convention about its products. When those fans have been expecting news on the next main entry in a longstanding series, bait-and-switching them with a mobile game is going to tick them off. Blizzard walked right into that one, and they have no one to blame but themselves.
But beyond some fans feeling they were tricked, I doubt there is little crossover between fans of “Diablo” and those who play mobile games. By their very nature, mobile games are overly simple and scaled down to be playable on phones. To give that treatment to a hardcore series with tons of depth I’m sure is a slap in the face to many fans who have been playing the series for years. It’s clear “Diablo Immortal” is trying to reach an entirely different market than the one that gave the series its success in the first place.
Mobile games also tend to be cash grabs, which has given some gamers pause about the direction Blizzard is going. In an industry that is already rife with developers trying to squeeze every penny out of players with microtransactions and loot boxes, some are rightly worried Blizzard is now following that same path.
Whether you agree with fans’ concerns or not, they are valid, reasonable, understandable criticisms, and it’s dangerous to dismiss them. Blizzard is a company that relies completely on having a market to which it can sell its games, and when that core market is loudly saying it doesn't like something the company is doing, the company better listen for its own sake.
That’s not “entitlement”—that’s basic business.
Of course, Blizzard is independent and can do as it pleases. But if it ignores its market’s concern and complaints, it does so at great risk to itself.
Gamers aren’t wrong to vocalize their disappointment or criticism, either. That’s their right as fans and consumers. In fact, Blizzard should consider it a blessing it has an audience passionate enough to let the company know when it’s not satisfying fans. That gives Blizzard the opportunity to correct its course before it makes more mistakes.
Games journalists should know better than anyone that criticism is mutually beneficial: It allows artists to improve their work to make more money by selling a more satisfying product to happier consumers.
I wouldn’t consider myself a “Diablo” fan. I’ve played a bit of “Diablo II” and plenty of “Diablo III,” but it’s certainly not a series for which I’m anxiously awaiting a sequel. However, as a gamer, I understand the passion fans have for the games they love, and it’s that understanding that makes me sympathize with their disappointment and frustration.
Here’s hoping Blizzard can mend fences and at least give gamers a taste of “Diablo IV” before it loses the fans it has had for years.