This is going to probably be a bit of an odd post, and additionally I am typing it up the night before I intend to post it. It also went significantly longer than I had intended… but once it started rolling I just kinda went with it. May god have mercy on your souls. However there has been a topic that I have been kicking around in my head for some time now and I am not sure quite how to pull it out. To say this post is inspired by the Diablo Immortal reveal by Blizzard is true, but I feel like I am going to go off in a different direction, more specifically about the culture surrounding Blizzcon in general.
I can’t claim to have been a Blizzard fan forever. I am pretty certain that I played Lost Vikings, Blackthorne and Rock and Roll Racing… but in truth none of them really imprinted hard on my psyche. I was aware of the existence of Warcraft: Orcs and Humans but did not really buy into Blizzard games as a whole until I picked up a copy of the Warcraft Battle Chest. In fact I remember exactly when and where I purchased it… it was at the now defunct Sam’s Club in Springdale Arkansas.
Playing through the campaign of Warcraft II was really fun, but honestly that game probably would not have imprinted so hard on my psyche were it not for the fact that the college computer lab effectively had a copy installed on every computer with a CD Crack applied so we could have massive LAN battles. At home I even crafted my very first network to play the game, connecting two PCs together with Coax and running the native windows NetBEUI protocol to get them talking to each other.
Blizzard really got a seemingly lifelong fan in me when Starcraft was released, and with it I finally had the way to play a simulacrum of my beloved Warhammer 40,000 on my PC. Essentially each time Blizzard released a game I got into it, and I remember being in the beta test for Diablo and playing it connected to the campus network on one of the desktops in the very small and very fast Fine Arts building computer lab that I managed.
I was completely hooked… much like Starcraft is Warhammer 40k… Diablo was essentially the D&D game I always wanted to play, since I tend to be a “roll player” not a “role player”. I remember when Diablo 2 released I had to make the choice… do I get it… or did I get Icewind Dale since they released on exactly the same day in 2000. I followed my real passion to Diablo 2 and was once again amazed at just how cool the game was in its second outing. Years later we were still playing it in a lan environment and keeping a computer running at friends house just to serve as a way of keeping the game open… and preserving our makeshift guild stash.
When Blizzard dipped its toes into the fledgling MMORPG genre I was also on board. At that point I was already an Everquest junkie, and had moved on to Dark Age of Camelot, Horizon and then was playing City of Heroes when I got into one of the stress tests. It was that first weekend somewhere during the summer of 2004 that I was completely smitten, and found myself unable to return to playing City of Heroes after experiencing what the MMO genre could be.
BlizzCon was the convention that World of Warcraft built, and it became the premiere event for WoW fans to attend each year. For those of us sitting on the sidelines it became the primary feed of information about what was coming down the pipe. Over the years I watched with bated breath as each new expansion was announced, and similarly watched as new products were released.
Not all of which were necessarily targeted towards me, but that was okay… because the primary focus of the convention seemed to focus on the things I was interested in… namely World of Warcraft and eventually Diablo 3 was added to that mix. Then somewhere along the way things started to shift focus, and events like the live raid were replaced with more competitive esports coverage. I was still completely on board for the release of StarCraft II, because it would pick up and continue the story of the first game. Then after beating the story mode… realized that I just didn’t quite like RTS games the way I used to.
I was largely on board with Hearthstone initially… but then I realized that I didn’t like it quite as much as I did Magic the Gathering. Overwatch seemed really cool, but apart from the cinematics… I realized that it was largely Blizzard does Team Fortress 2… and I never really played much of that game either. Heroes of the Storm seemed like a really cool take on League of Legends… but again I remembered that MOBAs never really hooked me.
However through all of it I had World of Warcraft and Diablo to care about, because those franchises always spoke to my beating heart. The problem there is that World of Warcraft is in a constant state of flux and chaos and there are expansion that I love… like Wrath and Legion… and expansions that I would rather forget like Cataclysm, Warlords and the current Battle for Azeroth. Once the spell was initially broken in 2011… my interest in the game purely depended on whether or not the content spoke to me.
Diablo on the other hand had become a ritual with some of my friends as we log in every new season and grind up a set of characters to collect the cosmetic rewards… only to disappear for another three months until the next seasonal launch. The Necromancer pack gave me a lot of hope that maybe just maybe they would start releasing class packs and give us the Assassin, Druid or Amazon along with lots of other potentially cool characters that I am certain they could dream up along the way.
However Diablo 3 has largely been in maintenance mode for a very long time, and the fan base has been running on fumes. During the 2017 Opening Ceremonies of Blizzcon they didn’t even acknowledge the existence of the game. It had been a long six years since the release of the game, and with so many people leaving that team… it felt more or less like the game that Blizzard forgot. For the past three years my Diablo friends and I have spent the weeks ahead of the convention daydreaming about what a possible announcement might look like… only to get our hopes dashed and eventually adopt a resigned attitude of “maybe next year”.
As far as the Diablo Immortal announcement… and the fan reaction… it comes from a place of desperation and heartache as we have watched the franchise we love, get ignored… in spite of having a super dedicated and passionate community. The core problem is that Blizzard never figured out how to itemize it… after the massive failure that was the real money auction house. Its like with that defeat they just stopped trying, and instead moved on to other games that they could easily shim in a regular stream of micro transactions to fill the coffers.
There is a similar thread running through the last three games that Blizzard released… Hearthstone in 2014, Heroes of the Storm in 2015, and Overwatch in 2016. Each of them has a heavy esports focus with lots of bite sized ways to spend money with Blizzard to acquire nifty ways to set yourself apart from the other players. Diablo doesn’t have this, and while I would love to literally throw money at my screen to help fund this game that I love… Blizzard has given us no way of doing this. Starcraft at least has a thriving esports scene which at a minimum keeps that game alive and kicking, or at least guarantees that fan base some air time when it comes to Blizzcon.
I think Diablo Immortal is an attempt to take a model that is well researched… microtransaction driven mobile games… and apply a design pattern that has already been copied in literally hundreds of diablo clones. I am sure it will be enjoyable enough, and I am sure I will likely play it… given that I have seemingly recently discovered that I don’t hate playing games on my phone. However it will never feel anywhere as good because the concept of controlling a game with a touch screen interface just feels awful.
What will end up happening is that if I play it… I will play it through one of the many Android emulators like BlueStacks and try my best to map the touch screen controls to something that doesn’t feel awful to play with. I wish I could do this with Dragalia Lost to be honest, but unfortunately Nintendo is actively blocking access to the game when connecting through an emulator… and the only way you can make it work is to do a bunch of shenanigans that probably risk an account ban to make it happen.
The other thing that I have realized is that I am not a Blizzard Gamer anymore, and quite honestly I am not sure if anyone really is. There was a time when I legitimately felt like I was equally interested in everything coming out of Blizzard as a games studio. There is no denying the pedigree of quality, and I thought if they were doing it… I wanted in on the action. The problem being that I am just not that interested in a bunch of the games that they have in their active stable.
I love the setting of Overwatch… but would have loved the game as an MMO or story driven ARPG. The competitive nature of it just doesn’t appeal to me, nor does grinding bots… so it sits there as a game I am willing to play with a full group of friends but have zero interest at any other time. Heroes of the Storm is much the same way, where I like the concept and feel like they nailed the execution of the MOBA genre… but I would far rather have a dungeon crawler with MOBA character design. Similarly I am willing to play it with a full group of friends.
Hearthstone seemed like a game that I would really love, but I never really reached a point where I found my groove with it. I have Hunter and Warrior decks, and they are both tolerable, but nothing that game is doing ever feels anywhere near as good as Magic the Gathering did to me. Magic the Gathering Arena on the other hand is the game I always wanted to exist and with its release, any desire to play or follow Hearthstone eclipsed.
The diversity of product offering essentially precludes someone from deeply caring about literally everything in their stable of games. As a result it also makes BlizzCon feel really weird to watch. To listen to Blizzard they are addressing a group of people supposedly equally interested in every single thing they are making… and that facade has been crumbling over the last few years. I remember the first BlizzCon in which World of Warcraft was not center stage, and the generally negative reaction I saw among the community.
If you go to a PAX you know you are going to be seeing a lot of games that fit different demographics, and as such you have no reasonable expectation that they should ALL interest you. However for some reason BlizzCon feels a little different, and if you aren’t equally devoted to all things Blizzard it feels like you are somehow faking your fandom. Now if you are at the convention on the show floor it probably does not feel this way at all… but as a perineal viewer of the virtual ticket… the hardcore perky sales pitch being delivered by the announcers makes it seem like they expect everyone to care about everything.
I feel like Blizzard has maybe outgrown BlizzCon. It was originally the convention that World of Warcraft built, but that game is no longer the cash king that it once was and has been eclipsed by several other titles with significantly cheaper to produce content. I feel like maybe we would be better off with a sequence of smaller events with a more specific purpose. I feel like FFXIV and Fanfest maybe has it right… whereas they hold a sequence of events in the same year they are announcing a big expansion to the game. In this idea I would absolutely try my damnedest to travel to a DiabloCon if it existed.
Ultimately I think at this point Blizzard is no longer one cohesive group of gamers, aligned with similar goals and motivations. There are instead a group devoted to each one of their games with fairly limited crossover between them. The problem with this is that it sets up the feel of a zero sum game, where if one group of fans is getting content… then the other groups of fans aren’t. It is hard to see the children from the new marriage getting all of the attention, while the aging kids are largely left to fend for themselves.
So while I felt all of the outrage and frustration that the rest of the community did… I chose to take it in a different direction. Instead of writing a hateful post about how Blizzard has wronged me… I wound up writing this nonsensically long ballad of how I am just now realizing that I just am not the gamer Blizzard is really courting anymore. My blog is often my way of dealing with things… and this is me working through those frustrations in a written form. I sincerely doubt anyone will actually make it to end of this one… but if you did I thank you for indulging me.