This weekend, Blizzard Entertainment hosted their annual fan event, Blizzcon, in Anaheim, California. The weekend long event traditionally holds new game announcements and content reveals for many of Blizzard’s beloved catalogue of games, such as Overwatch and Starcraft. This year was no exception, but while Overwatch fans were presented with a new hero and Warcraft fans were promised a remaster of Warcraft 3, Diablo fans were not so fortunate.
In the months leading up to Blizzcon, rumors circulated that Blizzcon would hold a major announcement regarding the Diablo franchise. These were fueled by the awkwardly worded announcement that Netflix was in talks to produce a Diablo animated series, the release of a trailer for the Diablo 3 Nintendo Switch port which prematurely announced the Treasure Goblin amiibo, and Blizzard’s own admission that Diablo-related news would be featured at Blizzcon. Many fans held hopes for Diablo 4, or at the very least a new expansion for Diablo III.
What fans instead received was a trailer for Diablo: Immortal, a mobile ARPG/MMO:
The trailer was met with massive backlash from fans. The presentation was booed by fans in attendance, demo booths on the Blizzcon floor were empty, the trailer faced a massively negative ratio on YouTube (9.3k positive, 295k negative at the time of writing), and a fan even asks during a Blizzcon Q&A session if the announcement was “an out of season April Fool’s joke.” Almost no one was excited about this announcement.
Be sure to get into the line for Diablo: Immortal on mobile early tomorrow at Blizzcon the lines have been crazy! pic.twitter.com/OZUFeRLlKb
— DansGaming (@Dansgaming) November 3, 2018
To fans, this announcement signaled that Activision was setting Diablo down the same forced monetization path that led EA to release watered-down versions of Dungeon Keeper and Command & Conquer. The game isn’t even being made by Blizzard, but instead by Chinese game developer NetEase. This has led to fans noticing that Diablo: Immortal may simply be a reskin of a previous NetEase mobile game, Crusader of Light.
Many took to Twitter, YouTube, and other social media platforms to express their criticisms, disappointment, and outrage. However, instead of addressing the backlash directly, Blizzard instead began deleting negative comments from the Diablo: Immortal trailer.
Another good comment that was deleted from one of their trailers. I harbor no ill toward Blizzard or the Diablo team, but to constantly be deleting comments that many people agree with is just not right. Take the criticism, don’t delete it and pretend it doesn’t exist. #Diablo pic.twitter.com/DwUbdF5Zpr
— RadL Apparel & Prints (@PrintsRadl) November 3, 2018
they’re playing the shell game in the #Diablo comments section over at YouTube in the Blizzard announcement. you can watch comments get deleted in real time.
i’m never buying another #BlizzardEntertainment product again. i’ll keep my fond memories of Blackthorne and WOW though pic.twitter.com/wWHp9Houh7
— ?leazy ?æ (@SleazyBae) November 3, 2018
According to the social media statistics website Social Blade, the Diablo: Immortal trailer currently displays engagement numbers that are wildly different from screenshots taken by other users. While the likes remain consistent, comments and dislikes appear to fluctuate. The most recent video uploaded by Blizzard is the premiere trailer, thus showing that the video was not deleted and reuploaded. This leads to the conclusion that Blizzard is indeed deleting negative feedback in an attempt to manipulate approval optics.
These attempts to achieve better optics did not go unnoticed, as some fans began to spam the trailer with variants of a singular comment, “Hey, Blizzard. Delete this ( °͜ʖ͡°)╭∩”
Blizzard has responded to the backlash. Blizzard co-founder Allen Adham and production director Dan Elggren responded to the Diablo” Immortal response. Adham noted, “We have said that we have multiple Diablo teams working on multiple Diablo projects and that remains true, even after releasing [Diablo 3 for Nintendo] Switch and announcing Diablo: Immortal.” He added, “We still have multiple Diablo teams working on multiple unannounced Diablo projects. Diablo is a tentpole franchise for us. And it always will be. We love it. We hope our fans understand what we’re saying when we say that.”
He would explain that mobile gaming is the primary gaming method for many players, “The world is evolving both geographically and demographically. Younger folks now, many of them, mobile is their primary gaming device. And then around the world in many regions it’s their primary gaming device, and so it’s always been our aspiration [to bring games to them].”
Elggren would specifically talk about Diablo: Immortal:
“[Diablo: Immortal] was created from the ground up — from the initial get-go [our intention] was to create that Diablo experience on mobile. So the feel, the UI and everything around this game is built with the philosophy to make the best Diablo experience we can on a mobile platform.”
Finally, Adham was confident Diablo fans would change their tune when they actually began playing the mobile game:
“We definitely feel that playing is believing and we definitely value our fans. We feel that they’re passionate about the franchise … and they put their heart into it just as we put our heart into it. And we hope that as they get opportunities to see people play, see more of the gameplay, they’ll see that passion that’s in this game… What we see is anybody who actually holds it and plays it feels great about it.”
He would go on to specifically address the fan reaction to the announcement:
“The way I’ve been kind of looking at the mixed comments is what those folks are really saying is they desperately, passionately want the next big thing. So I actually think that those two items are being conflated. So I don’t think that the mixed comments are necessarily anything other than when a really passionate audience that desperately wants to see what they hope to see one day … It’s pretty clear to us that there is a huge audience around the world that is gonna love this title. So hopefully we’ll get there.”
But many feel that the words are empty. Mobile games are notorious for being lower quality experiences than their console or PC counterparts, and for all the talk of multiple Diablo projects being in development, Blizzard could have just as easily presented a teaser for another project alongside Diablo: Immortal to satisfy Diablo fans. The fact that Blizzard chose to end Blizzcon’s opening ceremony by debuting a watered-down entry in a beloved franchise, along with their erasure of negative responses, signals to many that, for better or worse, this mobile entry is the top priority of the Diablo franchise.