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Diablo Immortal paves the way for EA and Activision’s mobile gaming expansion

Look at any announcement of an established gaming franchise going mobile and you’ll see scores of Western gamers crying foul. Look a little deeper, however, and you’ll see players in regions like India asking not why, but when.

There’s a disconnect between how the world views mobile gaming, with many in the West adamant that it’s somehow not “real” gaming. Spurred on by egregious microtransactions, misleading advertisements, and social media puzzle games popularized by their parents over the years, the vocal bunch who swear by full-price AAA blockbuster adventures are almost united in the idea that it’s a scourge to be defeated, a blight that lures greedy publishers into diluting core experiences for a lesser platform in an attempt to nickel-and-dime loyal customers.

But that’s not it at all. Games like Diablo Immortal are making a case for the mobile experience with quality gameplay for free, anywhere and at any time. Players only need to look outside of their usual gaming bubble to understand why mega publishers like EA are taking their franchises mobile.

who stopped reading here? ????????????????????

— The mf (@xipots) April 22, 2021

“Do you guys not have phones?”

Apparently, I was the only one excited by the idea of Diablo going mobile.

While the Blizzcon attendees made their disgust apparent during the now infamous reveal — envisioning only microtransactions that weren’t even mentioned — I saw engrossing gameplay. It looked like a mobile ARPG with more combat heft than any previous entry in the franchise.

And after playing it, I’m happy to report that my initial intrigue was well-founded. Even in its alpha state, it’s a quality Diablo title that’s leaps and bounds more engrossing than Diablo 3 was at launch. Its uncluttered UI is easy to understand, the brief tutorial gets straight to the addictive and weighty combat loop, and randomized dungeons have seemingly been swapped out for short four-player gauntlets with fun and varied boss battles around every corner. It’s the core Diablo experience squashed into a tiny screen, condensed to suit bite-sized play sessions for those who need them, while still being deep enough for your battery to drain before you’re ready to call it a night.

As for whether it will find an audience, players are deeply misunderstanding the mobile market if they think it’ll be anything but a major success for Activision Blizzard. In the blink of an eye, mobile gaming has gone from simple 2D titles and addictive puzzle games to 3D adventures that often rival those on modern machines. The success of Genshin Impact — a title that drew comparisons to Nintendo Switch title The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — has helped to show just how powerful today’s smart devices are to those who’ve ignored their growing gaming prowess in recent years.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Mobile sea change

Though Western, hardcore audiences aren’t rapidly warming up to the mobile experience, the computational evolution of the platform and the success of similar games has changed publishers’ tune. They’re beginning to realize the potential of putting their blockbuster titles onto the devices we all whip out of our pockets two dozen times an hour.

Even Nintendo — a company typically entrenched in its own hardware — has seen pretty consistent results by leveraging its popular franchises for mobile-only titles like Fire Emblem: Heroes, Pokemon Masters, and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. In fact, Mario Kart Tour – -a game critics were verbally disappointed with at launch — raked in $200 million in just 18 months on the back of its free-to-play format. And it’s far from the best-performing core franchise mobile title around.

Mobile gaming is big business. PUBG Mobile — the portable version of the game that lit the spark for the battle royale genre — reportedly passed the $5 billion revenue mark after just three years on the market. That’s not including its chart-topping Chinese counterpart Peacekeeper Elite. Its upcoming sequel has already amassed 10 million pre-orders on Android alone in about a month. Similarly, Genshin Impact amassed $1 billion in its first six months, racing to the top of the worldwide charts, with consistent updates likely to help it hold its position for some time to come.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Big-money tournaments across Asia make rock stars out of those who stay glued to their smartphones, with Western players often competing under the radar of the rest of the gaming world to claim big-money prizes rivaling those of mainstream titles like Dota 2 and Counter-Strike. PUBG Mobile alone held a tournament with a $100,000 prize pool in Brazil last weekend, with another taking place elsewhere in the world in just a few days, and League of Legends-like Arena of Valor/Honor of Kings is no stranger to six-figure payouts for its top teams.

If the recent revelation that nearly 40% of Minecraft Dungeons players run through the multiplatform game on their smartphones is any indication, big-name publishers may be in the right to start leveraging mobile-savvy companies like Tencent and Netease to adapt their biggest franchises for handheld play. League of Legends is in the process of releasing a mobile-specific version, Call of Duty: Mobile continues to print money for Activision Blizzard already, and EA has used the worldwide appeal of Apex Legends and the hype surrounding its next big Battlefield title to announce that mobile versions of both are in the works.

While platform manufacturers like Microsoft are attempting to tap into the mobile market with streaming services, publishers are turning to purpose-built versions of their main competitive titles to ensure issues like slow internet speeds around the world don’t hold players back from getting sucked in.

Mobile isn’t coming to steal your pastime, but it’s here to offer it to the masses, and you’re invited along for the ride.

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Josh Brown
Josh Brown is a UK-based freelancer with devoted interests in video games, tech, film, and anime/manga. Just don't talk to…
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