What Diablo Immortal Tells Us About Value Proposition

by DHAdmin on June 17th, 2024 at 2:17 pm

diablo immortal screenshot

Two years ago, Diablo fans finally got to experience Diablo Immortal on mobile. As is so often the case with major releases from behemoth companies like Blizzard, we got plenty of previews and teasers in the lead-up to the June 2nd release date. The announcement for Diablo Immortal came at Blizzard Con 2018, meaning there were almost four years of knowing it was coming. Many of us were hugely excited about a game that would bridge the events and storyline between Diablo II and Diablo III, and there was the added attraction of experiencing the game on mobile.

Nonetheless, Diablo Immortal arrived, and, well, it is fair to say that it splits opinion, particularly between players and critics. Consider this juxtaposition: Diablo Immortal won Mobile Game of the Year 2023 from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences; it also has a score of 0.5 on Metacritic today, and it was once at 0.2 (a record low for that review aggregator platform). We aren’t going to pursue another review of Diablo Immortal, as you can find a ton of them online. Yet, we wanted to focus on the one area where Diablo Immortal really failed - “value proposition”.

Games must meet expectations

A value proposition is a complex term in business, but in this sense, we can simplify it by saying it is the social contract between a business and customer, meeting the expectations of what you pay for or afford your time to play. Regardless of whether it is free, freemium, or paid for, every game has a value proposition. It does not matter if it is the latest in the God of War series for the PS5 or a casual online title like Pragmatic Play’s Ultra Hold & Win; there is always a value proposition that must be met. And when the publisher fails, players get angry.

In the case of Diablo Immortal, the failure of the value proposition was clearly in what players received when they made the jump from free-play to paying. Many felt it was a cash grab, and rightly so. But it went a little further than that. There is usually some expectation of paying to unlock features and microtransactions when a game is initially offered for free - the modern gaming industry is largely built on that premise. But the phrase that continuously popped up among the negative reviews of Diablo Immortal was “Pay-to-Win”, and it is with that premise that they felt cheated.

Pay-to-Win is not uncommon

Diablo Immortal certainly did not invent the concept of pay-to-win - far from it. Dungeon Keeper, Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes, Iron Force, and many others came before it and infuriated players with the advantages given to paying players over non-playing ones. Nor is the concept of pay-to-win necessarily negative to every game, but the backlash against Diablo Immortal came with the sheer weight of purchases necessary to experience the full game and be adept at playing it.

When looking at the critics’ reviews, which were broadly more positive, there was often a sense of the microtransactions being “invasive” (the word invasive nicely sums up much of our feeling about them), yet they were mostly able to get around that fact to give it good scores. The reason for that is simple: Critics - although not all of them - will prioritize aesthetics over experience. They will score the game on different categories without giving enough weight to the overall player journey, and that’s important. The misconstrued value proposition of Diablo Immortal ruined the player journey, and everything else became incidental in light of that.

For many Diablo players, Blizzard broke the rules of value propositions when it first announced Diablo Immortal in 2018. There are some elements of the game that are very good. But many players believe that what was delivered did not meet the expectations of what was promised unless, of course, you pay for the privilege.

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