Blizzard defends Diablo Immortal microtransactions as it hits 15M downloads

Diablo Immortal
(Image credit: Blizzard)

Diablo Immortal has, perhaps unfairly, courted controversy ever since it was first announced. The very idea that Blizzard would put this most PC-ass of PC games on a mobile phone was enough to have some Necromancers spitting frogs, and the game's recent release saw nearly all the discussion focus on its microtransactions.

The monetisation model sparked a brutal backlash, and things got more serious when its loot boxes prevented the game from being released in Belgium and the Netherlands. Blizzard got spooked enough that it rushed out to promise Diablo 4 won't be monetized the same way.

And yet... Diablo Immortal seems to have been a huge success so far. It earned around $24 million in its first two weeks on sale, and has been downloaded by over 15 million players.

Blizzard president Mike Ybarra recently spoke to the L.A. Times and, amidst a wider discussion about Blizzard's culture, addressed Diablo Immortal's monetisation, and said criticism of it was not reflective of the wider reaction to the game.

"When we think about monetization, at the very highest level it was, 'How do we give a free Diablo experience to hundreds of millions of people, where they can literally do 99.5% of everything in the game?'" says Ybarra.

"The monetization comes in at the end game. 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."

Blizzard refused to offer stats but told the paper that the "vast majority" of players haven't spent money on the game, while Ybarra points towards its high rating and 110,00 user reviews on the App Store. Blizzard also says that 50% of Immortal's players are new to Blizzard games.

Diablo Immortal conversation about gems

(Image credit: Blizzard)

The important question being: well, is Diablo Immortal any good then? PCG's Tyler Colp took a look and described it as a game designed to exploit your love of Diablo: "It's built around the dopamine that comes from whacking demon piñatas for loot, meticulously designed to give you a jolt of satisfaction every 30 seconds—and then, when that's not enough anymore, it charges you for it. For Diablo Immortal and games like it, the fun parts of games are money extraction devices."

That being said, Ybarra may have a wider point (though that certainly won't stop Immortal's critics). Mobile game monetization is an easy piñata for us all to take swings at, but microtransactions remain the dominant business model for mobile games: and there's a lot worse out there than Diablo Immortal. It has also seemed, at times, that critics were going to extreme lengths to make arguments against the game, throwing around over-inflated numbers that don't really reflect how any normal person would play (a quick youtube search for the topic finds one content creator claiming the game has $110,000 worth of microtransactions).

Some Diablo fans may not be happy with Diablo Immortal, in other words, but Blizzard certainly seems to be. For more on the game, check out this story that's even better than the headline: Diablo Immortal player uses premium currency shenanigans to turn old WoW tokens into a whale-killing Necromancer.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."