HomeTechnologyDiablo Immortal's exploitative monetization and loot systems are at war with each...

Diablo Immortal’s exploitative monetization and loot systems are at war with each other

One month after its launch, Diablo Immortal has one of the lowest Metacritic user review scores of all time: 0.4 on iOS and 0.3 on PC. “Disgustingly designed,” reads a typical comment.

On the Apple App Store, however, Diablo Immortal has a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5. “Finally, a mobile game done right!” commented one user.

In their own way, both of these notes are on point.

Diablo Immortal isn’t just a new entry in Blizzard’s action role-playing game series, it puts Diablo in a new context. Several new contexts, in fact: it’s designed primarily for mobile devices with touchscreen controls. It’s a massively multiplayer online game with a shared world, where you see other players running around. It’s co-developed with a Chinese company, NetEase, and more than any Blizzard game before it, it’s been designed with an eye on Asian markets. It is free to play. These are all huge changes for Diablo.

On the other hand, for any Diablo player – especially any Diablo 3 player – Diablo Immortal will feel comfortably familiar. The series’ signature isometric perspective, frantic fights with swarms of monsters and fountains of loot are all present. Beyond that, Immortal was clearly built on Diablo 3 engine and uses the strengths of this game, retaining the feel and atmosphere of Blizzard’s 2012 game. ImmortalThe artwork has the same richly colored golden glow, the combat is the same exhilarating fireworks, and the thud and splash of sound effects deliver the same deep, Pavlovian satisfaction.

It’s because Immortal is the same game in a new context that the opinions of different components of its audience can vary so widely. Existing Diablo fans hate how their favorite game has been monetized in its new free-to-play incarnation, while mobile gamers, who are more accustomed to this business model, are impressed with the polish, depth, and scope that Immortal inherited from its predecessors. Neither group is wrong, so should we just attribute this to different moves and move on? Unfortunately not, because Diablo Immortal isn’t just at the center of a video game culture war. He is also at war with himself.

A barbarian fights the monarch of Shassar in a screenshot from Diablo Immortal

Image: Blizzard Entertainment

You wouldn’t know it when you start playing the game. First, Diablo Immortal is as fun to play as it sounds: a lightweight, portable, social, and fast-paced version of Diablo 3. It’s also more generous and open in its design than many of its free peers. There is no energy-style mechanic limiting how long you can play without paying, and none of its activities reside behind a paywall. The campaign is long, luxurious, and largely free of the grind. On the rare occasions when you need to level up to progress, you’ll find a plethora of activities outside of the main quest – including bounties, replayable dungeons and random “rifts” – to help you fill the gap. . In-game guides, achievements, and activity trackers give you rewards while helping you navigate the game’s bewildering array of systems. There’s even innovation here that mainstream Diablo games would do well to copy, like the build guide that suggests loadouts of skills and gear you can work on.

Only if you’re familiar with Diablo, and in particular its devouring item set, will you notice anything going on. It becomes apparent that loot – the equippable items that can transform your character’s power, even to the point of altering how skills work – has been subtly moved out of center stage.

On the one hand, equipment can be ranked, and its rank then transferred to another item in the same slot. This means that a significant portion of your character progression has shifted from getting exciting drops from monsters to an incremental, colorless grind, in which you pick up large amounts of unwanted loot for scraps to feed into the machine. of upgrade.

On the other hand, your items are now greatly enhanced by incorporating them into legendary gems of enormous power, and this is where most of the complaints about Diablo Immortalmonetization of have been concentrated.

A screenshot from Diablo Immortal showing a witch's equip screen

Image: Blizzard Entertainment

A Diablo Immortal the character has six legendary gem slots. Each gem has a rating, from one to five stars, which cannot be changed, and which greatly impacts its power; five-star gems are much rarer than one-star gems. Legendary Gems can be upgraded, and the easiest way to do this is to consume other legendary gems. A fully upgraded gem can then be further upgraded through a “Gem Resonance” system that requires – you guessed it – more Legendary Gems, up to five more per Gem slot.

If you want to max out your character – and maxing out your character is really what Diablo is – you need a ton of Legendary Gems: to find the ones that match your build, to get good star ratings, to upgrade the gems you have, and optionally inserting each gem’s additional resonance slots. It’s endless.

Among Diablo ImmortalWith the plethora of currencies, upgrade paths, and reward systems, Legendary Gems are where the business model bites the hardest. Blizzard and NetEase haven’t been gross enough to sell them directly through a loot box or gacha mechanic, but what they’ve come up with is, in a way, even more unsettling. Legendary Gems only drop from bosses in random Elder Rift dungeons, and you can only guarantee a Legendary Gem drop by applying a Legendary Crest modifier to the dungeon before starting it. Otherwise, the drop rates for legendary gems are very low.

Without spending money on the game, you can only get one legendary crest per month, and even buying a Battle Pass will only reward you with an extra Legendary Crest or two each month. Beyond that, you have to buy them directly. Legendary crests cost between $2 and $3 each. The sheer number of gems you’ll need to max out your character’s gear, especially given the extremely low five-star gem drop rates, is why the cost of maxing out your character in Diablo Immortal has been estimated between $50,000 and $100,000 – potentially even more, if you dig deeper into the gemstone resonance system. (Rock Paper Shotgun has a very detailed cost breakdown that’s on the more conservative end of that scale.)

A screenshot from Diablo Immortal showing a cross woman's gem inventory

Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Diablo Immortal has been exceptionally rough for this business model – perhaps disproportionately, given popular free rivals like Genshin Impact and lost ark are barely free of similar gacha mechanics to attract spendthrift “whale” players. Diablo’s fame and reputation with an audience of core PC gamers, earned over a quarter of a century, is certainly a factor. But it’s also true that this system is particularly problematic, and the very nature of Diablo games has something to do with it.

When you buy Legendary Crests, you’re not buying a roll of the dice, like you do when buying a FIFA Ultimate Team card pack, for example. You are buying a chance to load the dice, gain access to the game engine, and alter the drop rates (slightly) in your favor. Addictive game mechanics are not separate from addictive game mechanics, but directly related to in-game combat and loot. Diablo is terrifically well placed to do this; as my colleague Maddy Myers has pointed out, these heavily loot-focused games have always had a slot quality to them, which Diablo ImmortalThe business model makes it literal.

Blizzard was careful to point out that ImmortalThe monetization of can be safely ignored until the end of the game, which is true, and it claims that the majority of players enjoy the game without spending a dime, which is plausible. But it’s dishonest to suggest that the main fun of Diablo games is playing through the story, rather than maxing out your character. It would be equally dishonest to deny that these games were always designed to engender a craving for the power cap in their players. For people with a tendency toward gambling addiction or the addictive qualities of Diablo’s item play – or, even worse, both – the legendary crest system is exploitative and potentially very damaging.

For everyone else, it just makes Diablo less fun.

A monk battles the Warden of the Tear boss in a frozen dungeon in a screenshot from Diablo Immortal

Image: Blizzard Entertainment

We’ve been here before, or somewhere like that. When Diablo 3 launched in 2012, it had a real-money auction house where players could buy and sell their items. In theory, this existed to prevent the cheating and swindling that besets the commodity trade in Diablo 2. But in order to steer players towards the auction house, Blizzard reduced in-game loot rates to such an extent that equipping your character became a thankless task, and the game as a whole was thankless. to play. When the unpopular auction house was removed and drop rates increased in 2014, Diablo 3 instantly became more fun, even before the innovations of the Reaper of Souls the expansion elevated it to classic status.

The Lesson: It might make sense on paper to try to monetize Diablo loot, but as soon as you do, you lose the fun of the game. It’s the same with Diablo Immortaland that is noticeable before reaching the endgame, as it’s embedded deep into the game’s design. Loot drops have less impact, while character progression is artificially throttled and thinly spread across too many systems, which are too cranky and too granular. It was more cleverly disguised than it was at the launch of Diablo 3, but it is an equally thankless job. Buying a battle pass or spending big on legendary crests hardly helps, because paying for a good item will never be as exciting as getting one.

I don’t know if there’s a way to isolate the core of what makes Diablo fun from the free-to-play monetization mechanics. If so, Blizzard and NetEase haven’t found it. They’ve created a mobile Diablo that’s slick, enjoyable, and even bountiful at first. But if you put enough time into it, there’s no escaping the fact that the heart of the game has been cut, sliced ​​and resold piecemeal.

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