At BlizzcCon this year, Blizzard unveiled Diablo: Immortal for the first time and it got a huge reaction. It just wasn’t exactly the kind of reaction they were expecting. This new game was met with loads of negative attention, starting with mentions of silence in the crowd at BlizzcCon, and followed by pushback in their Q&A session, massive dislikes on the YouTube trailer for the game, and Reddit posts aplenty suggesting that marketing around the game is already a full-blown conspiracy.
I watched the full trailer for Diablo: Immortal, and I’ve got to say: This reaction is kind of confusing. The game looks… fine? I don’t know. There’s just not a whole lot of information about the game in general, and definitely not enough to feel like I could have strong feelings about it at all, whether they be positive or negative.
With that in mind, I decided to try and investigate all the reasons why people are so down on Diablo: Immortal, and I can’t really find one that makes sense. Below are the reasons I see most often cited for all this Diablo: Immortal hate, along with some thoughts on why these just feel like excuses to get mad about something online.
It’s for phones only
This is a true statement, but it hardly seems like something to get worked up about. Phone games are a thing, after all, so much so that they drive the growth of the video game industry more than any other platform. Keeping this in mind (and the fact that just about everyone owns a smartphone), it makes a tremendous amount of sense for Blizzard to bring a marquee franchise like Diablo to smaller screens.
Being mobile only, in some critics’ minds, means that Diablo: Immortal will be some simplified version of previous Diablo games or will be hard to control with a touchscreen. Unless you actually got a chance to play it at BlizzCon, there’s not a real way to get a sense that either of these things are true, though I have a hard time believing either are.
This is because Diablo is already a super-streamlined action rpg where you spend the bulk of your time just clicking on stuff till it dies. A touchscreen seems like it would only make controlling this kind of game easier, and Diablo clones on mobile have existed for years that have been able to replicate this basic gameplay formula just fine. Granted, these cloners haven’t really brought the same amount of polish or principled design to the table that Blizzard has become known for, but they make a strong case that a phone version of Diablo can be good.
It’ll be a F2P nightmare
Some of the backlash around Diablo: Immortal’s phone-only nature also involves pre-supposing the game will be a predatory free-to-play mess loaded with microtransactions and perhaps even ads. Again, there’s no real evidence this is true.
I’ll admit, hearing that NetEase–a development house I associate most with making a rushed PUBG clone for mobile–is working in part on Diablo: Immortal gives me some legitimate pause when it comes to the game’s quality, but the idea that Blizzard is looking to make a cheap mobile cash-in on the Diablo name seems very unlikely. You see, Blizzard has already made a mobile game. It’s a little thing called Hearthstone, and it’s free-to-play, yet manages to be a highly polished and wildly popular with a monetization scheme that many consider fine.
This whole line of reasoning just seems to be operating on the widely held belief that all mobile games are free-to-play garbage. I won’t waste time explaining how this isn’t true (either you know this or you don’t understand the platform), but I will take a moment to point out that monetization schemes are on the rise across all game platforms. Destiny 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and the vast majority of all the most popular games in the world right now have microtransactions, but those somehow seem easy to overlook while in-app purchses in a mobile game are somehow unacceptable, even when we don’t know what they are yet. This is all to say I won’t be surprised if Diablo: Immortal has in-app purchases, but a) their mere existence isn't a reliable way to determine the game’s quality, b) their presence shouldn’t be a surprise, and c) if you're mad that a game has purchaseable content in it, there are many, many more games you should be angrier about than Diablo: Immortal.
This means we aren’t getting Diablo 4
Some folks seem concerned that Diablo: Immortal is somehow the future for the entire Diablo franchise. This simply isn’t true.
Before the reveal of Diablo: Immortal, Diablo 4 had been teased for a long time prior to BlizzCon. This fact is perhaps the reason I’m most befuddled by the negative backlash to Diablo: Immortal. Knowing that a new, numbered sequel for Diablo is coming, isn’t it easy to ignore Diablo: Immortal if you don’t think it’s a game you’ll want to play? I just don’t get it.
The real reason for the backlash
Given these cited reasons and how they don’t really seem to add up, I’ve come to the conclusion that this kerfuffle isn’t actually about whether Diablo: Immortal will be any good or not. It’s actually about what games get to count as “real” and which ones don't. Because Diablo: Immortal doesn’t cater directly to the “core” audience that shows up to something like BlizzCon, it’s not a “real” game, and because Blizzard has made “real” games for so long, internet babies are mad that the company chose to focus on that game rather than something that more directly appeals to their sense of what the hobby should be.
This loud, public outcry follows the same pattern of behavior we've seen in reaction to things like a women being prominently represented in Battlefield V, anti-Nazi marketing being used to advertise a game about killing Nazis, and even Blizzard's last Diablo game, which was criticized for being “too colorful” when it was first unveiled. It's criticism that seems to come from corners of the game-playing community who have solidified an image of what it means to be a gamer, to the point that they feel they have to oppose every single attempt anyone makes to create a game that falls outside of their rigid portrait. It's not enough that Diablo 4 is coming, and it won't be enough if Diablo: Immortal is actually good. Diablo: Immortal doesn't appeal to people who have decided that--for whatever reason--mobile games aren't for “true gamers,” just like games that try to broaden their representation, games that dare to make even the most basic political statements, and games that try to do anything remotely different, so therefore they shouldn't exist.
At a time where it feels like video games and the people who play them are as diverse and inclusive as ever, the response to Diablo: Immortal proves we still have a long way to go. The silly gatekeeping around what separates a "true" fan of video games from "casuals" continues, but hopefully not for very much longer.