Deal with Diablo

Age of the Geek Column:

There are a lot of video game conventions out there.

It seems every other month the major players in the industry gather together to promote their latest and upcoming projects. E3, PAX, Gamescom, and Tokyo Game Show are huge industry events that keep the community in a perpetual state of hype for the latest in console and PC gaming. Even in between dedicated gaming conventions, pop culture events like ComicCon have become destinations for developers to keep the hype-train rolling.

But of all the various conventions and trade shows, BlizzCon, is unique among the industry. Unlike other shows, BlizzCon exists purely to celebrate and promote Blizzard IPs. No other developer, not even Nintendo, does such a thing.

For the most part, this year's BlizzCon was relatively subdued. For the Warcraft franchise, everything old became new again as Blizzard released information about "World of Warcraft: Classic," which allows players to play the genre defining MMORPG as it was back in 2006. Alongside that, Warcraft fans also got a first look at "Warcraft 3: Reforged," an updated version of the 2002 classic RTS.

Outside of Warcraft, new playable characters were announced for "Heroes of the Storm," "Overwatch," and "StarCraft II," which is pretty standard procedure for the franchises.

By far, the biggest reveal from BlizzCon came from the Diablo franchise. Though one of Blizzard's oldest properties, the Diablo series generally doesn't get the attention that Blizzard's other tent poles receive. It isn't a cultural touchstone like Warcraft nor has it been a major contributor to competitive gaming like the StarCraft and Overwatch franchises.

It's been six years since the release of "Diablo III," the latest game in the series, so the rumor mill was abuzz about the chances of this year being the year they announce the next major step forward. This was Diablo's time to shine.

And, as anticipated, Blizzard did announce a new game. But it wasn't exactly what the audience expected.

"Diablo Immortal" isn't a new PC entry for the franchise. In fact, it won't be playable on PCs at all. Instead, Blizzard has partnered with a mobile game developer to bring the franchise to smart phones for the first time.

Now, there's nothing wrong with Blizzard outsourcing a mobile developer to adapt the Diablo franchise to be played on smart phones. At least not more than usual. It's a simple reality in today's world that mobile gaming vastly overshadows the dedicated gaming market in terms of user base. If you're looking to draw in new fans, and generate obscene amounts of money through exploitive microtransactions, smartphones are the place to do it.

What is unusual is announcing such a project at a convention populated by your most dedicated fans. One may think that a Blizzard convention would be the logical and natural place to make such an announcement but in this case it turned out to completely wrong.

Mobile games are, by both design and necessity, simple and shallow experiences. Low effort distractions meant to give users a portable taste of the core gameplay that can be found at home on dedicated gaming systems. They are targeted at casual gamers who aren't interested or able to dedicate time and recourses to traditional gaming, but might pick it as something to do on the commute to work.

None of those people were at BlizzCon. Casual gamers do not spend hundreds of dollars on tickets and lodgings to attend a multi-day celebration of PC games.

The decision to announce such a game to a room full of people it's not designed for is bafflingly tone-deaf and the response has been exactly what you would expect. Backlash from the game announcement has dominated the news coming out of BlizzCon. Fans are revolting, industry professionals are weighing in on the controversy, and Blizzard is deep into damage control. Whether this will have a lasting effect on the success of "Diablo Immortal" is yet to be seen, but it certainly hasn't done the game, or Blizzard, any favors.

What's strange is that's it's such an unforced error.

Had Blizzard announced this game at E3 or PAX it wouldn't have received such negative feedback. Had they made their reveal on Conan O'Brien's show they may have actually reached their intended audience. Heck, they would have been better off just making a YouTube video a week before BlizzCon. At least then expectations wouldn't have been inflated.

Somebody at Blizzard should have had enough sense to realize that a room full of some of the most hardcore PC gamers on the planet isn't the best audience for announcing a game that can't be played on PC.

There is a place for mobile games. That wasn't it.

Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and is just happy to play the new "StarCraft 2" commander.