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CASES | Mobile Game Diablo Immortal's Brand Image Dilemma

Double V. Consulting has been working with clients from the gaming industry and provides branding strategies and marketing solutions to maximize online exposure and acquire new gamers.

In October, we analysed the performance of Diablo Immortal, a Blizzard mobile game and what it did right or wrong in localization.

Diablo Immortal: From PC to Mobile

Diablo, one of Blizzard Entertainment's most iconic IPs, created memories of post-80s and 90s gamers. Its mobile version, Diablo Immortal, co-developed by Blizzard Entertainment and NetEase Games, was released in mid-2022.

Video via @暗黑破坏神-不朽 (Bilibili)

Highly Engaged: Content Marketing Strategy

As a Diablo fan, I was personally amazed by its social media marketing strategies in China at the time of the game release:

  • On Himalaya FM, the top 1 Chinese podcast APP, Diablo creates audio dramas and voice acting activities.

Image via @暗黑破坏神不朽 (WeChat Official Account)

  • On Douyu, a leading gaming live streaming platform, Diablo invited popular influencers to live stream the game, reaching the No. 2 trending topic of the day on Douyu's live stream.

Image via @斗鱼直播平台 (Weibo)

On NetEase Cloud Music, one of the most popular online music platforms in China, singer Air composed a song called Undefined and encouraged players to face life with a brave and sober attitude, just as they do when defeating Boss in Diablo.

Image via @网易云音乐 (Weibo)

These activities highly encouraged engagement from both core and casual gamers.

As a game with over 20 years of history, Diablo's early gamers have now grown up. Diablo understands the transformation of gamers' tastes and preferences and uses content marketing to resonate with them, which is what marketers can learn from the campaign.

Controversial Brand Image: Insane Money Grabber

However, despite the excellent marketing, Diablo's brand image has been tarnished and accused of insanely grabbing money.

At BlizzCon 2018, Diablo core gamers expected Blizzard Entertainment to announce a version with better game design and experience, such as a Diablo II Remastered or Diablo IV. However, all they got was just an announcement of the mobile game - Diablo Immortal. Diablo's core gamers are PC gamers who like Buy-to-Play (B2P) games and do not love Free-to-Play (F2P) games. So the game designer, Wyatt Cheng's speech on BlizzCon 2018, "Do you guys not have phones?" caused great controversy.

Video via @is_lain_being (Bilibili)

The damage done to the brand image by an arrogant speech and the announcement of a game that did not meet gamers' expectations could not be saved by a single marketing campaign after the release of Diablo Immortal.

Gamers have sensed that Blizzard Entertainment is up to no good, so after Diablo Immortal was released, it has among the lowest Metacritic user review scores of all time: 0.4 on iOS and 0.3 on PC. "Disgustingly designed," one typical comment mentioned.

Image via @metacritic

Game Mechanics: e-Gambling

Although Diablo Immortal followed the past game design and old IP, it is very different from the former versions in the game mechanics.

Diablo Immortal designed 22 in-game currency systems to make as much money from gamers as possible and introduced the Gacha game mechanic (a toy vending machine mechanic). If the gamers want to get the desired items in the loot box, they need to pay. The Gacha mechanic makes gamers with poor self-control more likely to be addicted to the game. It is essentially e-Gambling.

Market Reaction: Resistance or Tolerance

Gacha mechanic is in breach of the local loot box laws in the Netherlands and Belgium; therefore, the mobile version cannot be launched in these two countries.

Image via @The Verge

In addition, Maxroll, the largest Diablo fansite, decided to discontinue its Diablo Immortal branch, and many YouTube game influencers refused to promote Diablo Immortal, boycotting pay-to-win mechanics.

Image via @VICE

While gamers in Europe and the US are outraged by pay-to-win mechanics, F2P games are prevalent in China. Such a phenomenon reflects the social issues behind the country.

Unlike the rhythm of work and rest in the Western world, Chinese gamers, from teenagers to young adults, do not have as much spare time as gamers from the Western world. They usually play games in fragmented time, rather than having full time to enjoy a game. It has resulted in Chinese gamers aiming to win the boss fight rather than enjoying the emergent narrative and world-building of the game process.

Thus, when Chinese gamers want to gain levels more efficiently, they are more likely to choose pay-to-win games.

Responsibility of Game Developers

As a partner of Blizzard for many years, NetEase Games, which has rich experience in mobile game development, may know how to make profits. However, a better game mechanic should be that gamers pay for their appreciation towards game developers, not for their human weaknesses.

The brand will win back the good reputation only when the game developers treat gamers as equals rather than play them for suckers.

May the game world be filled with goodwill and responsibility.


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