The reveal of Diablo Immortal, a new Diablo title for iOS and Android, immediately caused controversy among fans hoping for a new PC or console release. We enjoyed our time with the demo at Blizzcon, however, and had questions about how the game will compare to previous Diablo releases. To find out, we sat down with Dan Elggren, Production Director for Diablo Immortal and Incubation, and Allen Adham, a Blizzard Co-Founder and Executive Producer of Incubation.
Digital Trends: What made you want to pursue a Diablo game on mobile?
Dan Elggren: The root of this is we’re all passionate about Diablo. We love making games. And we’re also passionate about mobile games. We talk a lot about the office as we continue to sort of grow in the industry, and while our roots come from PC and console games, we also play a lot of mobile games and see more and more what mobile can do. We see the new devices, and how they continue to advance. It seems like a worthy platform for an experience like Diablo, and we think the time is right to try and bring this experience to a new platform.
Allen Adham: And we have a long history of making new game types on new platforms. So for us, if you go back three decades, we started on Amiga, Comodore 64, Apple II, Macs, and you can just roll through history. There’s been many new devices and new platforms. We just love making games. We love playing games. It’s clear that for a large part of the world this [mobile] is now their primary gaming device. Many of us at Blizzard now spend many hours ourselves playing on mobile. It’s just a no-brainer for us to bring our IPs to this device, and Diablo really fits well.
How long has Diablo Immortal been on your minds at Blizzard?
Elggren: How long has it been on our minds? [Laughs] Well, if you think about it, we’ve had not only Diablo, but all of our franchises, we’ve been talking about mobile and what’s the right experience on a mobile platform. We’ve been working on this for awhile. And we’re continuing some broader initiatives that, Allen, if you want to talk about those.
Adham: Yea, so a few years ago with Hearthstone, it was designed originally for desktop, but as a happy sort of coincidence it worked well for mobile. That opened our eyes to a broader opportunity. Then it’s just been a question of surfacing the teams and resources and designs to make this happen.
I can say, without getting overly specific, that we have big plans for the mobile space. It’s a big initiative for us across Blizzard, and you can expect to see more mobile titles from us spanning all of our IPs at some point in the future.
Did you have any initial concerns when jumping into this decision?
Elggren: Well, you know, we know we have passionate fans too. Right? And you’ve seen some of that passion this week. We listen, you know, we hear that passion, but we also knew coming into this sort of platform would be a change for our hardcore PC and console players. So that was definitely top of mind coming into the show.
We knew this would be a challenge for us. But as we get people to play the game, we see the lightbulb go on. This feels right. This is a great game. So constantly hearing that over and over again lets us know we’re on the right path, but we’ll continue to listen to our passionate fans.
Adham: We also had concerns about execution quality. We have very high standards for ourselves at Blizzard about the quality of games we make. We wanted to be certain this game is going to be authentically Blizzard, authentically Diablo. That meant it had to have very tight controls that felt correct to Diablo. We think we’ve dialed that in, that’s the first thing we focused on. Now we focus on the broader systems and content, so we think we’re in a great place there.
Other concerns, you know, on the mobile devices there’s some heavy technology concerns relative to download sizes and install sizes. Can we make a game at the fidelity we want within those constraints? I think we’re concluding that yea, we can, and we can make an excellent game.
How’d you expect your playerbase to react? Were you prepared for the backlash?
Adham: I can take this one. We’ve been talking about this one a lot, more intensely over the past few months as we approached Blizzcon. We knew our audience coming here because we’re very engaged with our community. We knew they were expecting to see something in particular.
I can say to [core Diablo fans], we have not forgotten you.
Adham: That’s right. So we tried to get ahead of that expectation a few weeks ago, we put out a blog post a few weeks ago. What we said was we have multiple Diablo teams working on multiple projects. We want them to know this isn’t instead of other things we’re doing, and in fact we’re doing a lot, and this is additive. We hoped that would allay concerns, but we knew despite that our most engaged, most passionate fans and players here at this show would only be satisfied with one thing.
I can say to them, we have not forgotten you. We’ll have more news to share at some point in the future. We’re also hardcore Diablo PC and console fans. Diablo is a tentpole franchise at Blizzard and we continue to work on many things in the Diablo franchise.
We played the demo yesterday, and it felt authentic, but I was concerned the gameplay might be too simplistic. What systems do you have to keep players coming back and keep playing?
Adham: The demo you tried on the show floor is a very tightly controlled Blizzcon experience. It’s more of a sneak peak. In some ways its representative of the moment-to-moment gameplay, but in others its not representative of the scale of the world or the systems the game will have. So when we think of everything we know from 20 years of Diablo and World of Warcraft, and the many systems that go into making a long-lasting lifestyle MMO, we intend to bring all of that knowledge and many of those systems into Diablo, and more.
So, the inventory system you saw yesterday? It’s locked on purpose. We’re still working on what that will look like and we weren’t quite ready to show it yet. Similar with level progression. Similar with itemization. Similar with skill systems. But I can tell you when we do ship the project in good time it will be a true Diablo experience and a true, we hope, Blizzard lifestyle game people will play for many, many years.
Legendaries are hugely important to players in Diablo 3. They’re used to craft end-game builds. Will that still be true in Immortal?
Elggren: We’re still working on those systems. Which class did you play?
I played two, the monk and the wizard.
Elggren: They’re a little different on each. We have drops in the demo, and as Allen was saying, those are tailored for this experience. You’ll see some of the same drops multiple times. But those are systems we’ll continue to iterate and make sure they’re right.
Adham: Yea. And I might go so far as to say legendaries changing the way you play is pretty central to the Diablo experience. So yea, I think it’s a good bet the final product will see that.
I might go so far as to say legendaries changing the way you play is pretty central to the Diablo experience.
In Diablo 3, the end-game is all about doing Bounties and Rifts. Should we expect something similar in Immortal, or should we expect a different kind of end-game tailored to the MMO style?
Adham: Both. I think you’ll see some of the systems that work well in previous Diablo iterations return. We’ve got some pretty exciting new ideas. And we didn’t show guild play, but we’ve talked about guild play in some of our materials. That’s another interesting area open for exploration of how that works, and how the social systems work to encourage long-term gameplay.
Diablo 3 launched with an auction house. Diablo Immortal is an MMO, and MMOs often have auction houses. Will we see that return in Immortal?
Adham: I don’t think we’ve given details around that, but we’ve done auction houses well. World of Warcraft has an auction house that has stood the test of time. And we’ve done it not well. The real money auction house in Diablo 3 was one of our, I’ll own it, one of our few catastrophes over the last three decades. We’ve learned a lot of lessons positive and negative from both Wow and Diablo 3. And so, I think that as we think about a multiplayer game at MMO scale, with guilds, we’re interested in exploring how to do some of those systems into that space. And we’ve learned a lot of lessons on how to do that correctly.
Elggren: And I think, you know, we’ve listened then. We’re going to listen as we continue to build this out too. We’re always listening to how people react and engage with our systems, and we’ll make modifications based on that feedback.
[…] we’ve talked about guild play in some of our materials.
What do you want to say to players who are skeptical about Diablo Immortal?
Elggren: You know, I know not everybody can be here at Blizzcon, but I want people to get their hands on it and to play it. I hope people are seeing some of the streams of people playing it and some of the material we’ve been able to share. Hopefully as we get further along in development we’ll be able to share with more and more people. We really do think that playing is believing.
Adham: I’ll plus one that. I think that was very eloquently said.
Is Diablo 4 still on the table and if so, when can players expect to hear about it?
Adham: Well, we have nothing to say at the show, but I’ll reiterate our message from the blog. Diablo is a key, core franchise for us at Blizzard, it always will be. And we continue to have multiple teams work on multiple unannounced Diablo projects.
Check out our full Blizzcon 2018 coverage for more about Diablo Immortal.
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