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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Diablo Immortal microtransactions have sparked a brutal backlash

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It’s been less than a week since Diablo Immortal launched on mobile devices and PC (in open beta), and the game is already facing a furious backlash from players over its in-game purchases. Numerous threads criticizing the monetization have appeared in the Diablo Immortal subreddit, while the iOS version languishes with an abysmal 0.6 score across nearly 1,700 user reviews on Metacritic.

Diablo Immortal was originally conceived as a mobile game (in fact, a PC release wasn’t confirmed until April 2022), and its F2P monetization is fairly typical for the platform. Among the items on offer are “crests,” which add gameplay modifiers and guarantee certain item drops; crafting materials, which impact combat and drops in various ways; and services, like Boon of Plenty and Prodigy’s Path, which offer bonus rewards for various actions and task completions. There are plenty of cosmetic items as well, of course.

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To be clear, none of this stuff is absolutely essential, and principal designer Joe Grubb told PCGamesN in May that microtransactions are for “optional purchases [that] are always a bonus, they never circumvent core gameplay.” Nonetheless, the extent of the microtransactional push has sparked a powerful blowback. Diablo Immortal isn’t on Steam, so gamers are expressing their frustrations with reviews elsewhere, particularly Reddit and Metacritic. The iOS version of Diablo Immortal holds a very respectable aggregate score of 76 on the site, but user reviews are a very different story. (The PC version doesn’t have any user reviews because it hasn’t officially launched yet.)

“Gambling simulator with a Diablo skin. Blatant cash grab filled to the brim with egregious micro transactions so bad it is literally against the law in some countries,” Metacritic user ranncore wrote (that’s in reference to Diablo Immortal not launching in Belgium and The Netherlands). Another, paulieslim, described the game as a “loot box filled money waster,” adding, “You’re better off going to 7-11 and buying lottery tickets.”

Jee00 took a more measured approach. “There’s part of a good game in here but it’s unfortunately all spoiled by the numerous ways the game tries to exploit people who are vulnerable to casino-like tactics,” they wrote. “This could’ve been great but instead it just feels like the game is playing you, even more so than what is already expected out of Blizzard.”

Similar opinions are common on the front page of the Diablo Immortal subreddit: Plenty of posts say the core game is fun, but that it’s spoiled by the push to sell stuff, particularly in the endgame. 

“I had no fun grinding, elder rifts are so unrewarding if you don’t spend a lot cash to buy more legendary crests,” redditro megablue wrote. “Set pieces are paragon level gated, so in a sense your progression is also time & money gated. bounties are also time gated, all activities pretty much… so there is nothing to grind either… everything is just designed to lure you into spending a ton of money.”

Redditor daymeeuhn crunched some numbers and determined that it currently costs around $50,000 to equip a character with a full set of maxed-out Legendary Gems, a very rare item that boosts stats and grants passive effects. I can’t vouch for that number (and other sources have reported even higher costs), but we did find in our own investigation that Diablo Immortal pushes players hard toward spending money, saying that it “isn’t quite pay-to-win, but it’s close.”

“The pile of real money systems in Diablo Immortal, which tilt the odds of exciting random drops, at least present the risk of turning predatory, if they aren’t already,” associate editor Tyler Colp concluded. “It might take some time to recognize how much these microtransactions matter as players make their way to the endgame, but it’s a real possibility that they’ll feel like they’re required once you’ve sunk enough hours into the game.”

Based on widespread reactions a week after release, I’d say it’s become more than just a possibility.

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