Opinion: Predatory monetisation is increasingly rife, but as gamers we can enact change.
What Can Be Done About Diablo Immortal Monetization Issues in the Games Industry?
Oh Diablo Immortal, where did it all go wrong? As the most recent installment in a franchise propped up by such a loyal fanbase, it could have proved the doubters oh so wrong. And it was very close to doing so, with critics in their droves jumping to the defense of its standout quality as a mobile MMORPG. Which, for the record, is a sentiment that we agree with.
Diablo Immortal is no Candy Crush Saga. The magic of being able to play an ARPG as seminal as Diablo Immortal at any time cannot be understated. Especially for a game that costs nothing to download and play. But that, perversely, is where the Diablo Immortal issues begin.
Disclaimer : Diablo Immortal is admittedly the nominated punching bag in this article. We know that it's far from the only game engaging in these practices, even if it has gone way more gung-ho in certain areas. But hopefully, by using the Diablo Immortal monetization model as a springboard, we can do our bit to help bring about an industry-wide change to consumer practices.
What's the Problem with Diablo Immortal?
Diablo Immortal now languishes in the fourth circle of hell as greed spelled its undoing, earning itself the accursed accolade of the lowest user score on Metacritic, and a steadily decreasing critic score.
But the collective ire of the review-bombers doesn't necessarily stem from the fact that it is milking the most out of its consumers. It comes from the immoral way in which Diablo Immortal monetization is wielded, with accusations of P2W mechanics being demonstrated via videos of whales dominating the competition in PvP scenarios, and loot box mechanics that would be a nightmare for anyone with a gambling addiction. Plus, won't somebody please think of the children?
But to reiterate an obvious point: the majority of the gaming industry is out to make money. And while there are plenty of outliers who make quality games out of love or passion, or the stalwart few AAA devs who subscribe to the archaic view that making a quality game with a single price tag is enough, as long as one company finds a way to make the most money for the least effort, then others will follow suit. And unfortunately, morality takes a backseat.
As many Diablo Immortal loyalists would say: if you don't like it, don't play it. And as we'll see, that is one credible solution. But gamers are now legitimately worried about the wider implications of Diablo Immortal monetization.
We're in the midst of a gaming industry goldrush, and the mobile gaming market represents the unplumbed depths of the gold-rich West. Unsurprisingly, resources are now being diverted from creating rich, fleshed out, pay-to-play games to a more casual, and lucrative, platform.
The immediate implications of this are obvious: Diablo Immortal has set a new standard in creating a AAA mobile game that can be played on PC. It's no secret that most of the Diablo Immortal hate is borne by PC gamers who feel like they are now an afterthought, and that casual mobile users are the new golden child of their favorite studios.
So it's time for us to enter our rebellious phase, and start acting out. And whilst dying our hair and getting a tattoo might be a little drastic (for now, at least), we might have some more salient solutions in the meantime.
Harassing any individual involved in the making of a product as vast as a AAA video game is tantamount to protesting your latest tax bill by punching the postman.
What Can We Do?
While Diablo Immortal's most vocal critics point out that the damage is done, and that Blizzard have made enough whale money to entice other studios to do the same, we believe that there's still hope. After all, what's the worst that could happen?
Don't Harass The Devs
It's fine to be angry. It's even better to channel that anger into constructive criticism. But when making public statements, let's not turn it into something personal.
For one thing, the visceral reaction that some fans are wont to carry out when disappointed by their favorite franchise is anything but productive. But for another, it shouldn't have to be said that harassing or abusing any individual involved in the making of a product as vast as a AAA video game is tantamount to protesting your latest tax bill by punching the postman.
Here's a revelation for you: making a video game is hard. But it's also multifaceted, with many people involved in every level of the process. Unfortunately, some people are chosen to be the 'face' of a product as it is rolled out, regardless of how they think fans will react. And these devs are rarely the ones at fault for the business decisions that ultimately end up hurting the consumer the most. For the most part, the real money grubbers are higher up the corporate ladder, far out of reach of even your most vitriolic tweets.
Don't Pay a Penny
A tried-and-tested solution dubbed 'voting with your wallet', joining throngs of equally disappointed gamers in withholding your cash is one of the most obvious ways we can prove that following this model isn't viable. The whales out there only have so much blubber to spare, and once the hype has died we've no doubt they'll swim to more plankton-rich oceans.
Despite Diablo Immortal raking in $24 million in just the first fortnight alone, the nature of the beast is that one big payout at launch was never the target. And you can bet your bottom dollar (or, you know, don't) that Blizzard will be looking to continue milking the cash cow for some time yet. And maybe, just maybe, withholding just enough cash will affect that bottom line just enough to make an impact.
The hardest part of this step is steeling oneself against the mind games wielded to urge a cash shop visit. And the easiest way to do that is to not play the game. So if you're in need of an alternative distraction…
Support Other Games
If the fatalistic viewpoint of Blizzard critics are to be believed, then Diablo 4 will be just as predatory as its predecessor. But the gaming industry is huge, and for that matter replete with passionate indie devs creating similar, and even superior, games.
To name just a few alternatives to Diablo Immortal, Titan Quest, Path of Exile and Warhammer: Chaosbane are solid alternatives to scratch that ARPG itch. And that's only scratching the surface. They may not have that same AAA sheen, but offer solace when we find ourselves raging over what could have been when it comes to our favorite title missing the mark.
So instead of waiting for the next big title to screw you over, why not head over to itch.io and browse some of their latest releases and show the indie devs out there some of that excess support. Who knows, perhaps the Diablo Immortal issues will end up spurring an indie game renaissance.
Speak Out (And Don't Lose Steam)
PR matters. People are already muddying the marketing campaign of Diablo 4 by voicing their concerns over the Diablo Immortal monetization model, and how that may translate. And the solution for Blizzard is simple: prove them wrong.
If Blizzard decides to release Diablo 4 as a game that can be played in its entirety with just one price tag, then they may just redeem themselves No Man's Sky-style. And if that happens, then we might have proven that being vocal gets results.
But if it's further proof you want, then we need look no further than the Battlefront 2 loot box debacle. When players rallied against the loot boxes that amounted to a pay-to-win scenario pre-launch, EA made a hard u-turn just one day before launch. And what do you know, people were happy with that decision. And Battlefront 2 became a hugely successful game. But the devs believe it could have been even moreso.
"We hit rock bottom in terms of player sentiment," said Battlefront 2 Design Director Dennis Brännvall in an interview with Gamesindustry.biz. "Not a week goes by without us thinking, 'Imagine if we hadn't launched with loot boxes the way we did.'"
By using whatever platform we have (or supporting those that have them) to vocalize our dissatisfaction with the current situation, there's a real chance to bring about change. And if we don't let that conversation die down, then we reduce the chances of studios being willing to take that initial PR hit for the sweet, sweet profit it generates in the long run.
For a more hands-off approach, content creators like Josh Strife Hayes have found their Diablo Immortal videos raking in some of the highest viewing numbers on their channel. And they'll only be incentivized to keep talking about it if the subject as a whole keeps raking in the views.
Talk To Local Powers
By far the most widely decried of the Diablo Immortal issues is rooted in the gamble surrounding five-star Legendary Gems. And while there is a level of plausible deniability in the cash shop mechanics, there is evidently enough lootboxiness to warrant a Belgian ban of Diablo Immortal thanks to its anti-lootbox laws.
That's an idea that is seemingly about to catch on. A recent report commissioned by the Norwegian Consumer Council resulted in 20 consumer protection agencies in 18 European countries backing tighter restrictions on games that include gacha mechanics like Raid: Shadow Legends and FIFA 22.
If this were to happen, then putting loot box mechanics into a game would be a senseless move from any studio. Europe, you may be aware, is a huge part of the market after all. So if you're feeling extra proactive: get in touch with your local politician, and express your concerns.
Reaching out to politicians is already having a very public effect. Vocal Diablo Immortal critic and prolific streamer, Asmongold, recently reached out to his state Senator about regulating the 'gambling for kids' that is loot boxes. And what do you know, the senator publicly responded, saying he'd like to talk about it.
Unfortunately that senator was Ted Cruz. And there really aren't many people alive who would balk harder at the idea of regulating a corporation's biggest cash cow. Also his response included "it is more fun if suddenly your character has a lot more great stuff that would take you six months or a year to build up." Which is kind of the perfect summary of the rift between casual and 'serious' gamers.
But if Asmongold could get this particular senator to come out on YouTube to say he's all ears when it comes to talking about it, then that's gotta mean something.
The fight to stop insidious practices in their tracks isn't against those gamers who love to gamble, and relish in the sights and sounds of a lucky roll. It's not to stop gambling altogether. It is instead a fight for the rights of those gamers to not have their preferences abused by an industry that, whether we like it or not, largely exists to make money.
Is it archaic to wistfully long for the days when a single price tag would warrant a full product? Or are we resigned to a future of gaming that will see us sinking our disposable incomes into a single title just to get close to finding that sense of accomplishment, or otherwise dip our toes into multiple titles without ever coming close to completing any? We'd like to think that the future of gaming is brighter than that.