Diablo 4 is Dead and Blizzard Never Had a Planby@playerauctions
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29,059 reads

Diablo 4 is Dead and Blizzard Never Had a Plan

by Player AuctionsAugust 18th, 2023
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Diablo 4 is dead as far as player-count figures are concerned. This is due to a barebones end-game itemization system and overly stingy BattlePass monetization.
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Diablo 4 was released to significant expectations. It was seen as a potential return to form for Blizzard, after the disastrous rollout of Overwatch 2, the failure of Warcraft 3 Reforged, and the spluttering decline of World of Warcraft, there has been very little in the last decade that Blizzard can point to as successes.

While the game received initial praise for its gameplay loop and itemization, it has become clear that the core gameplay loop is barebones, minimal, and cannot sustain a healthy population. Especially insofar as Blizzard’s stated motivation for maintaining Diablo 4 as a Game-as-a-Service.

Twitch viewership numbers tell a grim story.

Twitch viewership numbers support this. Diablo 4 had 937,000 peak viewers at launch and has dwindled to just 3,600 today. There is simply no appetite for long-term commitment to Diablo 4. There's nothing to watch. There's no hard content, there's no endgame, there's no loot-hunt and, as a consequence, there’s no interest anymore as seen in the player-count figures.

Diablo 4 Simply Doesn’t have the Gameplay Loop to Support a Dedicated Playerbase

It’s difficult to understand, and perhaps Diablo fans simply have to acknowledge at this point, that Blizzard never really had a plan for Diablo 4. Even according to Blizzard’s own stated objectives for the game, things have gone wrong.

We went from plans for sets, one-per-character Mythics, Runewords, relevant blue items via expanded affix ranges, low-level uniques with one-of-a-kind appearances, multiple legendaries per skill, skill/passive rank affixes that let you skip multiple nodes in the skill tree (now a twig), attributes mattering and changing how your skills behave, etc.

What happened in the last 3 years to cause everything to be stripped away and replaced with: sifting through mountains of Yellow items to find vulnerable and critical modifiers, ignoring legendaries once you have a few well-rolled aspects, barely any uniques with most being unusable. We will only know in the future after the inevitable documentary is released what went wrong behind the scenes.

According to PlayerAuctions, Diablo 4 was initially one of the most successful launches of 2023.

Diablo 4 Monetization has been Fumbled

With Diablo 4’s stated monetization model being that of a GaaS, the release of its Battle Pass, and the expectation that it would follow industry convention as far as player rewards, was hoped to stem the the decline in player interest. That has not been the case.

With the start of Season 1, and it's already not looking positive for player feedback. Players have discovered that the pass offers a Platinum payout of 666 Platinum, an amount that’s not enough to make a single purchase in the in-game store, let alone afford the next BattlePass, which is a common standard amongst all Battle Pass available games, such as Apex Legends, or Fortnite.

Blizzard's Battle Pass Tiers

Blizzard seems to fundamentally misunderstand the industrial psychology behind how Battle Passes encourage player-retention, these namely being:

  1. Sunk Cost Fallacy: The concept of sunk cost plays a significant role here. Players who have invested time and effort into a battle pass feel more compelled to continue in order to "recoup" their investment. This often leads them to spend more money to reach completion, even if it doesn't make financial sense.
  2. Perceived Value: The battle pass system's promise of getting more in-game rewards than the initial cost is a powerful incentive. Players perceive that they are getting a good deal, especially when they think they've made their money back.
  3. In-Game Currency: The use of premium in-game currency creates a psychological separation from real money. When players are spending virtual currency, they might not feel the financial impact as strongly as when they use real currency, encouraging more spending.
  4. Progression and Achievement: The sense of progression and the achievement of completing challenges or levels in a battle pass are highly motivating factors. Players often want to "finish what they started," leading them to spend money to ensure they don't miss out on rewards.
  5. Community and Social Influence: Seeing others with battle pass rewards can create a social pressure to participate and match others' progress. This drives more purchases to keep up with friends or the wider community.
  6. Predictable Revenue: The battle pass model provides gaming companies with a steady stream of revenue throughout its duration. This predictable income allows companies to plan and invest in the game's ongoing development.

All of these factors are to the company’s benefit when a player fails to complete a Battle Pass, it does not mean reducing the rewards of completing the Battle Pass itself, which simply causes players to abandon the game altogether - which is what Blizzard has done in the case of Diablo 4.

The End of the Road for Blizzard?

Diablo 4's release, amidst a backdrop of heightened expectations and eager fans, was met with initial applause but has since failed to maintain its momentum. The lack of a robust gameplay loop, coupled with controversial decisions around its monetization strategies, has raised questions regarding Blizzard's vision and direction for the game. In an era where player retention and sustained engagement are paramount, especially for games adopting the GaaS model, the dwindling numbers for Diablo 4 serve as a stark reminder of the delicate balance between player satisfaction and revenue generation. As the game finds itself in an uncertain trajectory, the gaming community and industry at large will be keenly watching Blizzard's next steps, hoping for a resurrection of its former glory or at least, a blueprint of lessons to be learned for future game developments.