Blizzard’s controversial Diablo Immortal launched to big numbers and high revenue. It also set off an ongoing debate about in-game purchases, digital gambling, free-to-play mobile games, and addiction. The massive publisher has mostly remained silent amid the negative headlines and criticism. But in a new interview, Blizzard boss Mike Ybarra has defended the game’s launch and its controversial monetization, citing high app store reviews to claim that most players enjoy the game.
In yesterday’s wide-ranging interview with the LA Times, Blizzard President Mike Ybarra talked about numerous topics, including the many issues Blizzard faces as it navigates the fallout from last year’s explosive lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the ensuing flood of harassment and discrimination lawsuits directed at Activision Blizzard.
He also talked about the company’s most recent game, the mobile free-to-play action-RPG spin-off Diablo Immortal. While many have criticized the game’s in-app purchases, low drop rates, and possibly exploitative mechanics, Ybarra defended the game, saying Blizzard built it so players could “literally do 99.5% of everything in the game” for free while still getting a full “Diablo experience.”
“The monetization comes in at the end game,” Ybarra told the outlet. “The philosophy was always to lead with great gameplay and make sure that hundreds of millions of people can go through the whole campaign without any costs. From that standpoint, I feel really good about it as an introduction to Diablo.”
Ybarra also told the LA Times that he and others at the company are well aware of the online complaints and concerns. But he still defended the mobile ARPG by pointing toward its high rating on the Apple App Store, the implication seemingly being that the broader community of people playing Immortal don’t have a problem with the game or its in-app purchases.
According to the LA Times, Blizzard explained in a follow-up email that the “vast majority” of players are not spending money in the game, but wouldn’t share any specific details. Ybarra seems to suggest that’s a feature and not a bug, but let’s be clear: If this game ever stops racking up millions of dollars, it’s unlikely Blizzard will keep it running out of the kindness of its heart.
Of course, while many players (myself included) continue to play and enjoy Diablo Immortal, there is no denying that it is possible to spend a lot of money on it if you wish to reach the top of the leaderboards and/or want to max out your character’s gear or stats. Blizzard doesn’t seem to have created any real protections to save people from sinking thousands of dollars into the game to get high-ranking gems, and with the game’s abysmal drop rates, it can become a dangerous situation for people unable to control themselves.
Based on what Ybarra has said, and how much money Immortal is bringing in daily, it seems very unlikely that the game will be changed anytime soon to address concerns players have with it and its economy.
Many players are now worried about what to expect from next year’s big entry into the series, Diablo IV. According to Blizzard, it won’t be anything like Immortal and will only include “cosmetic” microtransactions, but even that might feel like too much for some observers.