Image: Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.
Microtransactions in Diablo Immortal, the recently released and mobile version of the series, are predatory, obnoxious and make the game pay to win. Diablo fans and the wider community have railed against the game’s monetization strategy. Is that person at the top of the leaderboards only there because they pumped thousands of dollars into the game? What about the person who just killed my character in a competitive match? Was the duel really fair? At first I had these questions too, but I was surprised how quickly I personally overcame them, because, and perhaps few people remember, Diablo Immortal is not the first game Diablo pay-to-win.
I’ve played Diablo a lot, and specifically Diablo 3 endgame. According to my playtime stats on my Nintendo Switch, the platform I’ve worked on many, many nights, I put nearly 400 hours into the game. I think I played about four seasons, where you level up a character from the start, through the campaign, and through to the end of the game. The fun here was to endlessly running through procedurally generated dungeons in hopes that the item or two you need to finally complete your armor set will drop. Alongside this, you also tackled increasingly difficult dungeons to see how far you could climb up the difficulty curve. I’m high enough. I liked it.
But Diablo 3 on Switch had a problem. The top of the leaderboards where you can see how you stack up against other players has been completely overrun with obvious cheaters. Players at the top kind of had items that technically didn’t even exist in the game, with obscene amounts of extra damage and bonuses that a regular player just can’t access. Of course, I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Some people have also made YouTube videos about the issue:
In Diablo 3, I had to come to terms with the fact that I would never top the leaderboard without cheating. And was it good. I pushed and pushed my characters as far as I could and found it incredibly satisfying.
Diablo Immortal is essentially identical in this respect. Replace cheating with payment, and the problem is ultimately the same. It’s harder to say, but chances are the person who killed you in a player versus player match or the person who is at the top of the ranks paid for one of the different ways the money can net you more powerful in Diablo Immortal. Also, yelling “cheat” when you lose at a video game is an age-old tradition, and one that I’m happy to carry on in Diablo Immortal.
Would it be better if Diablo Immortal’s microtransactions didn’t tap into a game mindset that lets you buy items just for the chance of another dropping from an enemy? 100 per cent. Would people be less annoyed with the game if its monetization was something closer to Path Of Exile, a Diablo-like game that focuses more on cosmetics and inventory slots? Totally. And wouldn’t Diablo Immortal probably be better without any monetization? Yes.
For me, the instant gameplay loop of pushing myself and getting new gear in Diablo Immortal is fun enough that I don’t feel the need to pay. It would be different if my explicit goal has been be at the top of the leaderboards. But once you accept that’s an unachievable goal, it’s easier to just enjoy the game. And, learning from my Diablo 3 experience, that’s fine.