Fool Me Once

I removed all my Blizzard-specific feeds a while ago, there are sanity limits. When Immortal came out, it was all but impossible to not hear about the F2P / lootbox shenanigans. Clearly there are people willing to dump oodles of money, and Blizz is doing a fine job of sucking up every last possible penny. They are doing a great job competing with EA’s FUT system.

The shadow of Immortal casts a long way, and Diablo 4 (the actual game the “fans” wanted) is having to make due with that. The real money action house (RMAH) that launched with Diablo 3 was meant to deal with the less-than-honorable 3rd party sellers, but ended up being a massive blight on the game’s fundamental incentives. A lot of the responsibility of those decisions is rightfully put at Jay Wilson’s feet (that’s the job of a game director), and Reaper of Souls’ removal of all those bits is ample evidence the “meta” of Diablo 3 needed a full re-work. Overwatch 2 is pure F2P, and is coming with what appears to be insanely large cost structures for cosmetics (the price of a full priced game).

AAA studios are all trying to milk every dollar out of a game, while gamers are trying to find value for that dollar. It’s competing priorities. The Season Pass is a staple of the F2P genre now, where it combines the drive of FOMO with the incentives of small payments. It’s inversely driven though, as you’re paying to have FOMO… instead of getting to the end of the track and then purchasing all the additional items…

Diablo 4 therefore has a hell of a mountain to climb. The need to generate mountains of cash, an industry model that is more effective than drug dealers, and a rabid fanbase that has both expectations and has been ignored for large stretches.

The quarterly update is an attempt at this. It will have a season pass, but only for cosmetics. It’s very clear that it doesn’t want to have any “power” that can be purchased, which is quite fascinating to me. First, that there’s somehow going to be enough cosmetic content to support this mindset (WoW is a good example of challenges with cosmetic design). Diablo 3 seasons have cosmetic rewards, but they are extremely minimal… not sure how that turns into an actual generator of funding.

Second, everyone has their own opinion of what “power” means. Buying a gem directly is certainly power. Buying something that increases your odds of getting a gem… that’s convenience and the core model of Immortal. I am quite curious as to how this particular system works out, both at launch and long term. People expected a dumpster fire with Immortal. Diablo 4 is where the ARPG crowd has been holding their breath. I have very low expectations here, so it should be quite hard to disappoint.

2 thoughts on “Fool Me Once

  1. I don’t think it’s impossible to fund a successful game on cosmetics only.

    Imho the mistake that’s often made by developers/publishers is that they just don’t offer enough cosmetics. They have like three armor sets and then complain that they don’t make enough cash off of those. That’s obviously not how it works.

    Look at Path of Exile. Yes, they sell stash tabs too, but ever since the game was playable they’ve also released new cosmetics pretty much every week (at least that’s what it felt like when I was playing), and most of them looked amazing. There must be hundreds and hundreds of different cosmetics on offer by now.

    Speaking of stash tabs, I would be ok with Blizz selling those for Diablo IV too (and also for DII Resurrected, for that matter), as long as they price them accordingly – as PoE is free to play while Blizzard’s games are not, and the prices for additional stuff must reflect that of course.

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  2. My major issue with cosmetics being sold is the tendency to not then include such good-looking options available from play-to-obtain mechanisms.

    So it was interesting to see them address this specifically in the quarterly update, although still colour me skeptical in the meantime.

    I still have no idea whether I’ll end up playing D4 or not. I’d like to, but will still be waiting and seeing how everything goes — not just with the game, but the company making it, too.

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