On November 3rd, at BlizzCon 2018 at Anaheim Convention Center, Blizzard Entertainment revealed Diablo Immortal, the new installment of the Diablo franchise that players can enjoy on mobile devices.
Diablo Immortal is currently being developed by Blizzard and NetEase and takes place during the 20 years between Diablo 2 and 3. The story will cover when Deckard Cain adopted Leah, the relationship between Maghda and Adria, how the Demon Hunter came to be, and the process of how the land was corrupted and decayed by the shards of Worldstone after it was destroyed by Tyrael and scattered across Sanctuary.
After the reveal, we had an opportunity to interview with Executive Producer Allen Adham and Principle Designer Wyatt Cheng of Blizzard Entertainment. The interview focuses on why the company decided to develop the next Diablo title as a mobile action RPG, their thoughts on the community reaction, and improvements to be made in the future.
Q. The Diablo IP has been shared with NetEase for a joint development. What’s the relationship with NetEase and how’s the development going so far?
Allen: We have been working with NetEase for the past 10 years and are maintaining our partnership with them. NetEase has developed one of the best mobile action RPGs in China and so it was natural to call them to work together. The game is not being developed by one company; instead, the Blizzard dev team and Netease dev team are working together to create a Diablo-ish RPG that encompasses both western and eastern sides.
Q. There have been many similar titles to Diablo in the mobile market and the action RPG genre itself doesn’t seem to be as trendy now; what’s the reason that you decided to release the game now?
Allen: Although the action RPG is one genre, it continued to be in the market in various forms. It’s been almost 30 years since its birth - slaying monsters, obtaining gear, and building up your characters. We believe that Diablo Immortal is going to be a game that players enjoy regardless of the current trend. The reason why we revealed the game at this time has something to do with technological advancements rather than the genre trend. Mobile devices have developed quickly and their performance is competitive with some PCs. Diablo Immortal is out because we have the right environment.
We also considered the accessibility of mobile devices. It has been developed for mobile so that more players will be able to experience the fun of Diablo. Young gamers in NA are less reluctant to play mobile games, and we were able to deliver the fun of Diablo to the generation that doesn’t know much about Diablo.
Q. The community reaction hasn’t been favorable. Did you anticipate this, and how are you feeling about this?
Cheng: We realized through this opportunity that there are many passionate players who enjoy Diablo. We also know that the information we revealed at BlizzCon this year was not something that Diablo fans wanted to hear.
However, I think that the influx of critical opinions itself proves there is interest and curiosity in the game, so I don’t see it as a 100% purely negative reception. Gamers who tried Diablo Immortal were skeptical at first and a number of them then changed their minds afterward. I’m sure that you will change yours too once you try it out.
Allen: Blizzard has been making new attempts in various genres and platforms for the last 30 years, and Immortal is one of them. Speaking of Diablo’s future, there are many dev teams working on Diablo and a number of projects are ongoing simultaneously at the moment. I promise that you will hear about new developments.
Q. Diablo Immortal lacks some features that would solidify it as a Blizzard game. Will there be any improvements?
Cheng: We are aware that the demo version at BlizzCon will need some improvements. That also means that the game is not completed yet and we’ll make more adjustments to create a satisfying game.
Q. A game developed by NetEase was once released in South Korea with a similar title to Diablo. Some are worried that it will be similar to existing mobile games on the market.
Allen: I’d like to say that the Diablo Immortal that we developed with NetEase will be a completely new game. I understand that you may find a couple of features similar to the others such as UI, but they are quite common, not only in mobile games by NetEase but those in South Korea and China as well. When you see more elements such as inventory, items, and gameplay, you will feel like playing the new Diablo.
Q. Did you focus on implementing the original system or making a completely new game?
Cheng: There’s a rule called the ⅓ rule. There are 3 elements required to make a good game; something that original fans love, one that has been improved, and something completely new that they haven’t seen before. Speaking of locations, there are those with an atmosphere similar to previous titles and there are completely new zones as well. Based on these rules, Diablo Immortal is planned to approach Diablo 2 and 3 from various perspectives.
Q. We’d like to know about the business plans and release date.
Allen: You may already know if you’ve played many Blizzard games, but we aim to emphasize outstanding gaming elements and value. We are currently focusing more on accomplishing these two, and then we’ll figure out when to release it.
Q. There have been a number of incidents where a game has been called off after its reveal just like StarCraft Ghost. Is it possible that Diablo Immortal may also be canceled if you bring it to a satisfying quality?
Allen: Many people still don’t know this, but half of all Blizzard projects are canceled. Examples are Project Titan, StarCraft Ghost, Nomad, and more.
We believe that a failed game becomes a stepping stone for the next success. In fact, Titan influenced the making of Overwatch, just as Nomad did with World of Warcraft. That’s why you don’t need to look at them pessimistically even if they were not released.
Moreover, I believe that Diablo Immortal has enough potential to take on some advanced gaming elements. I think that it’ll be a great game with the features that were shown in the demo booth and those that are not yet in the game. So, the chances of Diablo Immortal being canceled is unlikely.
Q. Will NetEase be in charge of publishing the game?
Blizzard Immortal will be published by NetEase in China, and the rest will be done by us.
Q. Let’s say that the completed version of the game is 100 points. How many points would you give to the current demo version in terms of the development process?
Cheng: It’s hard to say by number. However, the complete version will have various zones of the Diablo franchise. The Sanctuary in the complete version has many locations so the demo version of Diablo Immortal is not going to have everything you will see.
Q. The core element of Diablo content is grinding for gear. Is the title going to be similar to Diablo 2, or Diablo 3?
Cheng: It’s hard to say which one it will be more similar to. But, the game has main quests and players will be able to travel through different zones. Each zone has its own sidequests and some quests require specific places to be visited as well.
Q. Immortal covers the story between Lord of Destruction and Diablo 3. Will this be part of the official storyline?
Cheng: The story of Diablo Immortal will also be part of the official story. The game takes place during the 20-year gap between the Lord of Destruction expansion and Diablo series. There are many things that happened in those 20 years, which the dev team needs to think about and also show to players.
Allen: If you like Diablo 2 the most, this will be the sequel, and if you like Diablo 3 the most, this will be the prequel.
Q. There’s no Auto Combat in the demo version. Will it be added?
Allen: We don’t have plans for that yet. We are doing our best to complete the gameplay of Diablo Immortal. We’ll complete the core aspects of classes and gameplay first, check what more the game needs, and add them accordingly.
Q. It was a little disappointing to see that there’s no Witch Doctor among the revealed classes.
Cheng: I was in charge of designing the Witch Doctor in Diablo 3 so I too love the class. But, we thought the currently revealed 6 classes will be able to deliver more diverse gameplay. We plan to add more content periodically and I think the Witch Doctor will be a part of that.
Q. The heroes’ appearances are similar to Diablo 3, which doesn’t really seem to follow the story.
Cheng: Diablo Immortal is not just a game combining Diablo 2 and 3. I’d like to emphasize that Diablo Immortal is a completely new Diablo.
Q. Many gamers expressed their aversion to the pay-to-win system. What does Blizzard think about that?
Allen: It’s difficult to say exactly how we’ll approach this issue from a business perspective, but the past Blizzard games will be a good reference for you to understand it.
Q. There are a number of people that believe Blizzard lacks the right development capabilities for mobile games.
Allen: Many developers in Blizzard created PC and mobile games during the past few years. Mobile-related games, in particular, are being developed with all IPs. Some are being developed together with others like Diablo Immortal, but most of them are in development solely by Blizzard Entertainment.
Q. Will we be able to try the beta test of Diablo Immortal this year?
Allen: Our top priority is to complete the game first, so it’s difficult to say exactly when it will be beta tested.