September 24, 2021

So, Let’s Talk Mobile (And Diablo)


Well, what a mess that Diablo Immortal reveal was.

Let me be upfront on this; I am not some all-or-nothing purist here. There is a mobile gaming market out there. They deserve good games (actually, they deserve better games that treat them with some respect but that’s a rant for another time). They should be catered for. The genie for mobile/smartphone gaming is out of the bottle, it’s never truly going back in and with the continued march of mobile technology, moving at a rate faster than traditional hardware architecture, future consoles will likely grow to be more and more… well, like the Nintendo Switch. The Switch had demonstrated this is now doable. We can’t go back now.

That said, crossing the streams as it were is a terrible idea on the whole. Traditional Gaming and Mobile Gaming are very different beasts, and neither side is that appreciative of the other.

We know this from Super Mario Run: a game which you could buy outright on smartphones for not much money, but it wasn’t free-to-play and so it was one-star reviewed to oblivion and back. We know this also from last years massive Loot Crate Implosion, which got traditional gamers all angry and annoyed and cost EA and WB Interactive a considerable sum and a lot of Public Relations headaches. Both sides of this issue have very distinct and very strong opinions on what a game should be; and that’s fine, as long as you respect and understand the audience you’re trying to pitch to.

I mean, no-one is going to be stupid enough to take a long-standing PC gaming series and turn it into a largely smartphone-driven app with microtransactions, right?

EA Logo
Oh. Right. I forgot. EA is stupid.

That’s where things get… complicated.

Blizzard got the same dud reaction to showcasing a mobile version of one of their most beloved properties as EA did during E3 2018, where the most gameplay devoted to a single game… was a smartphone version of Command & Conquer, subtitled Rivals. These are series with very devoted fanbases, and they’re crying out for more traditional content on platforms they’re accustomed to using. So seeing their beloved series being wheeled out for smartphones, and having heavy emphasis on microtransactions, is going to sting.

It doesn’t help that in the past, this has gone really badly. Dungeon Keeper Mobile, for example, was an egregious mess of a game. Slow, sluggish and desperate to rinse us of our money, the only way to win was to… not play, really. We’ve also had Harry Potter this year showcase another terrible example, getting you through the tutorial to use up all your stuff then taking your protagonist and choking them with vines – wait 24 hours to continue or stump up some cash, constantly haunted by the horrified face of a child being strangled.

Mobile gamers may be more used to this; but many more are not. And it annoys a lot of people.

The exception to the rule is Pokémon Go!, but that was experimental. AR Technology was still a niche thing when that happened. And the game was heavily balanced to avoid any major MTX scandals, as Nintendo was terrified it would impinge on their reputation. It worked, it’s fine, it’s not my cup of tea. But that’s okay. But it’s a one-off; a fluke occurrence, like World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto V. Most games don’t end up that way, making so much money it is embarrassing. And developers and publishers really need to start working out where the flukes are, rather than piling in and finding out that lightning doesn’t strike twice there.

Dark Souls: Remastered
I really should never have gone back here…

And that should be obvious. These are two very distinct markets with two very distinct kinds of clientele. There isn’t a massive amount of crossover, unless you somehow have the word “Pokémon” in your title, in which case you can do no wrong for whatever reason.

Ending on Diablo Immortal is the same as Command & Conquer: Rivals getting the most focus at an E3 Show. There’s probably a market for it. But it’s not something so amazing that, with the words gaming press and avid fans attending and watching and often having PAID to go to some of these shows, it can really be considered acceptable. It can feel disappointing. It can feel out-of-touch, again, particularly when EA and WB Interactive have already this year annoyed people on this front.

Of course, Blizzard said they have “other” Diablo projects in the works. That’s good. And chances are Blizzard haven’t spent a penny on what people are already saying is a reskin of another NeTease game released last year, so this likely hasn’t cost anyone much in the grand scheme of things. And I don’t know anything about what MTX it will use, so that’s a discussion for another day. Maybe they’ll not suck. I mean, they probably will. But there’s the off-chance this won’t be a smash-and-grab on your wallet.

But the industry needs to realise that there is far less cross-over appeal on these markets than they believe there to be. People like video game series, and they hold onto them for a very long time.

Eternal Darkness Screenshot
I’m. Still. WAITING.

Managing expectations and understanding where the cross-over appeal may be is important and critical if you’re to avoid the kind of mess Blizzard has found itself in this weekend (also Train? TRAIN?! Come on, as musical acts go, I wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire… ahem… sorry…). There are very distinctly-drawn lines in the sand, and to date I think only a single game series has managed to breach that line with any notable success.

And importantly, if you’re not catering to the original market at the same time, or it’s been a while, this comes off as doubly-insulting.

Is that right? I don’t know. But I’m as guilty as any gamer. I made a few jokes about it this weekend. I’m not angry or anything. Disappointed? Sure. But Diablo 3 Switch is a decent game. Maybe Immortal should have been a Switch-exclusive. I don’t know. Not sure if NeTease has any real experience there. I don’t see the appeal in a mobile Diablo. But that’s because I’m used to playing it in a very particular way. People are quite rigid in that regard. They prefer familiarity, and often shun that which suggests change. Hence Resident Evil 7 sold like bottled farts. Amongst other reasons.

I understand having something that generates revenue long-term is an ideal card to have in your deck. But Blizzard has more than enough already I think. The problem is I just don’t think they have the staff numbers to maintain all of their series at the same time.

And trying to fix a logistical issue with a smartphone app is really stupid.


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