When will Diablo 4 launch? Not in 2021, but probably in 2022
Okay, I know what you’re going to say.
Matt, you’re going to say, why did so many of the Therapsids die out when the Cynodonts lived on and became the forerunners to all extant mammal groups and, you know, it’s a fair question.
Wait, I’ve just been informed that this is not even remotely what you were going to say. You were in fact going to ask me how I could possibly know the release date for Diablo 4 when said release date has not been announced yet. That is also a fair question. The thing is, I honestly can’t know, but I can speculate based on what we know about Blizzard, previous game announcements, and development cycles. This post will of course be updated when we actually get a release date, but in the meantime, like a wily Cynodont we can burrow to the heart of the issue.
Blizzard has said that Diablo 4 isn’t coming soon… but how long are we likely to wait for a release date? Well, if you were a betting person, you hopefully didn’t bet on 2021. Because according to the Activision-Blizzard’s latest earnings call, we aren’t going to see Diablo 4 in 2021. It’s possible — even likely — that the game will be released in 2022, but for now all we know for sure is it won’t be released in 2021.
Looking to franchise history for clues to Diablo 4’s release date
The original Diablo came out on December 31st, 1996. The sequel, Diablo 2, came out on June 29th, 2000. That’s about three years of development between the two — and apparently the sequel was originally intended to be released even sooner. Blizzard wanted to launch it after two years, in 1999, after a demo at E3 1998.
But the fact is that Diablo 2 was made by Blizzard North in the 1990’s, and the company that created and published that game doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s been more than 20 years and Blizzard Entertainment is a wholly different animal than it was in the late 90’s, so we can’t directly draw much grist for the speculation mill from that.
Still, one thing we can learn is that Diablo 2 took longer than they expected to complete and release.
Going back to look at Diablo is even less helpful — the game was originally conceived in 1995 by Condor Games, the studio that would become Blizzard North and later be absorbed into Blizzard Entertainment — which was, at that time, Silicon and Synapse — and it took barely a year to go from the original conception to a shipped game. Again, we’re talking 23 years ago.
We can’t learn a lot about how long it would take to go from an announcement to a release from looking at how Diablo came to be. Different industry, different demands on game publishing — plus Blizzard has already set us up for a long wait. We know Diablo 4 won’t be released within a year.
But those significant dates could hold a clue.
Diablo 3’s long dev cycle may offer a realistic estimate
Looking instead at Diablo 3, we get some interesting points to consider. Diablo 3 was first announced in 2008, nearly a decade after Diablo 2 was released. From that announcement, the game itself wasn’t released for another four years, in 2012.
The thing was, between 2001 and 2008, Diablo 3 was in continuous development at Blizzard — it was even in development when Blizzard North was still a thing, and went through multiple versions and redesigns before the announcement in 2008. That’s seven years of scrapped designs and new approaches before Blizzard finally reached a design they were happy with. If you count from that 2001 start, Diablo 3 was in continuous development for eleven years before it finally shipped in 2012.
Is Diablo 4, which was announced at BlizzCon 2019, in the “ready to show” category that took Diablo 3 seven tears to reach? That would mean that it’s taken them roughly five years — 2014 when Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls was released to 2019 when Diablo 4 was announced — to reach that stage. That’s slightly faster than it took to get Diablo 3 ready.
What does that mean for an actual release date?
The Diablo 4 release date may aim for a milestone
My thinking is this: if at all possible, I believe Blizzard will want to release Diablo 4 on a significant date, just as they did when they released World of Warcraft on the same date as the original Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. So I expect either December 31st or June 29th, which mark significant anniversaries for the original games.
The 20th anniversary of the release of Diablo 2 is June of 2020, and though I believe that Blizzard would certainly like to release Diablo 4 on June 29th of 2020, I see no way that could be possible. I played the demo at BlizzCon 2019, and while it was extremely fun, it was also clearly not even close to being ready to release.
But the 25th anniversary of the release of Diablo 1 — and the entire Diablo franchise — is December 31st, 2021. It’s two years from a 2019 Diablo 4 announcement to a 2021 release, which could be enough to polish up the early version I saw at BlizzCon. And while Diablo 3 took longer to come out, I think this two year timeline fits with the slightly faster pace of development we’ve seen from Blizzard lately.
However, while I think all of this supposition is sound — or would be sound, if we hadn’t just gone through a pandemic that disrupted everyone’s lives for almost a year now and counting and caused Blizzard to shift to work at home — the Earnings Call makes me think we won’t be seeing the game at my originally projected date of December 31st, 2021. Yes, it’s the 25th Anniversary of the franchise, but no means no, and you don’t tell the investors on an Earnings Call that you’re not releasing a game that year if you intend to do so.
Blizzard has demonstrated they like doing anniversary releases, but after issues with Warcraft 3 Reforged they’re absolutely not likely to release the game before they’re ready to do so — delays are part of the business, and the pandemic created serious challenges for every game developer. At present, my speculation is that they may release on the anniversary of the release of Diablo 2, namely June 29, 2000. If the game releases in 2022, a June 29, 2022 release date would be exactly 22 years apart — not as significant as a December 31 2021 release date would have been, but still pretty significant.
Originally published 5/28/2020, updated 2/9/2021
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