Microsoft, Bethesda, and Nintendo have shown that mobile games don’t need to be a controversial announcement.
Blizzard announced Diablo: Immortal at BlizzCon last Friday, spurring one of the angriest backlashes to a video game reveal I’ve ever seen. The Diablo community was expecting big news for the series (despite Blizzard’s attempts to temper those expectations) and instead it got a look at a mobile-only spinoff that didn’t do much to satisfy that hunger.
The actual quality of Immortal is irrelevant to the anger surrounding it – although, we got a chance to play it at BlizzCon and aren’t sold yet. This was a marketing disaster more than anything else, and it’s one that developers like Microsoft, Bethesda, and Nintendo have shown can be avoided.
When Bethesda announced The Elder Scrolls mobile spinoff Blades at E3, it quickly followed it up with a brief, 30-second reveal teaser for The Elder Scrolls 6. The studio even used similar phrasing as Blizzard’s mobile game announcement, touting Blades as a full Elder Scrolls experience and talking about how far phone technology has come. But they did so while acknowledging that their fan base has expectations for a game more in line with the core series they’re familiar with.
Bethesda and Nintendo didn’t have much to show, but knowing something else was coming was enough.
Microsoft had a similar moment at E3, announcing the Gears POP! mobile game right before Gears 5. Even Nintendo used this tactic last year, showing nothing more than a logo for Metroid Prime 4 before announcing the 3DS remake Metroid: Samus Returns – and we haven’t heard anything about Metroid Prime 4 since then, but fans at least know it’s coming.
Like Bethesda, Nintendo had essentially nothing to show for that announcement, but the knowledge that bigger games existed at all was apparently enough. People weren’t exactly thrilled about Gears POP! or Blades, but they also didn’t get mad about them because they weren’t being presented as the main event. Blizzard could have shown a blank screen with “DIABLO 4” spelled out in Comic Sans and said “we have no idea how long this will take to make” during the BlizzCon opening ceremony and it would likely have let people swallow the Immortal pill much easier.
Strangely, a recent Kotaku report suggests the studio may have been planning some kind of teaser announcement video for Diablo 4 before deciding to hold it. It certainly felt like the main course was missing from dinner after Diablo: Immortal was given top billing at BlizzCon, but it’s a claim Blizzard denies – which is the equivalent of being thrown a rope to pull yourself out of quicksand, but instead choosing to light the rope on fire.
The problem here isn’t even really that it’s a mobile game, it’s the improper context Immortal came with. Blizzard showed it off in style, with two big trailers, a dev on stage breaking it down, and a Q&A panel usually reserved for that year’s biggest reveal immediately after. The studio spent so much time talking about how Immortal will be a full game with an expansive story to convince us it’s more than just a mobile game, but it didn’t stop to think about how that might make it look like this is the future of the Diablo series as a whole.
Blizzard has been vocal about having multiple Diablo projects in the works, but we don’t know whether or not Immortal is an indication of the future of the series.
And we still don’t know. Maybe Immortal is a perfect indication of what’s to come, or maybe it’s not at all. Back in August Blizzard put out a video called The Future of Diablo, but even that just said the same thing we’ve heard elsewhere about there being “multiple Diablo projects” in the works – which, to its credit, Blizzard has been very vocal about.
But that’s not much comfort when Immortal’s mobile spinoff announcement opens surprising new doors for what we should potentially expect from those other projects. A developer has no obligation to tell people what it’s working on before it’s ready to, but Blizzard’s central focus on a mobile Diablo failed to recognize how that affects the perception, however inaccurate it may prove to be, of projects that haven’t yet been shown.
The backlash is, to a degree, an anger I understand. Diablo: Immortal was a massively disappointing reveal for me too, and it’s one that felt borderline tone deaf to a primarily PC community when given the spotlight at BlizzCon – an event that historically caters to Blizzard’s most dedicated fans – without even a casual mention of what else might be coming. Though, notably, there was a time when Diablo 3 coming to console sounded like a terrible idea to this same community, and it ended up being one of the best places to play it.
That disappointment doesn’t give human beings the right to be toxic to other human beings just for trying to make games, but it does make that feeling of dismissal understandable. It seems simple, but Blizzard likely could have diminished a lot of that anger by padding Immortal’s announcement out with the confirmation that a more traditional Diablo game was on the way, similar to how Bethesda, Microsoft, and Nintendo introduced their mobile titles. Forcing developers to rush the timeline of a game never helps anything, but those studios have proved even just an unfinished logo is enough.
The safe bet says that Diablo 4 is being made, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s still many years away. I also think Diablo: Immortal has the potential to actually be a pretty neat mobile game, if undoubtedly not a replacement for a proper sequel. But right now, I just feel bad for everyone involved – both the fans who had their hopes dashed and the developers who had their work trashed, all thanks to a combination of bad timing and a bad marketing decision.
Tom Marks is IGN’s PC Editor and pie maker. You can follow him on Twitter.