Diablo Immortal’s in-game store is a problem — here’s how Blizzard could fix it
I really like a lot about Diablo Immortal. I’m enjoying leveling up, seeing the story, the character customization options (with many, many sliders), and I even like the gameplay, except for a few weird moments on the PC beta where I can’t seem to get button clicks to register. I’ve been playing the game since launch, and I’ve already said that I’m not paying for anything in it — I’m level 60 (with 8 Paragon levels) and have done so entirely on stuff I got through the game, plus I have about four alts in the 50s.
Yes, they’re all Barbarians. Look, you knew who I was when you started reading this. I make Barbarians like candy, and Diablo Immortal is no different.
But even though I’m playing as a free to play player, the cash shop still manages to get in the way of enjoying the game.
Even if it’s optional, the real money shop feels like the best way to progress
I don’t like how Diablo Immortal’s shop works. I think a lot of the backlash to the shop is hyperbolic and deliberately paints it as worse than it is, but that doesn’t make the shop good. It’s not the existence of the shop itself that’s the problem: it’s that the shop offers items and rewards you can’t get any other way, and it gives you a shortcuts to achieving goals like gearing up in endgame. That makes spending at least some money almost required for players who are sincere about pushing into that endgame.
The shop doesn’t feel like it’s optional, or merely a way to progress faster — it feels almost like the only way to progress.
Eternal Orbs, a form of currency that can be spent on the shop to purchase Eternal Legendary Crests (which give you a better chance to get good loot in Rifts) and other items, are only available from purchase via the shop with cash — you can’t get them from gameplay. And things like the Boon of Plenty or the Empowered Battle Pass, two separate monthly subscriptions that offer in-game benefits to make gameplay easier, are only available for cash. The Boon of Plenty is particularly egregious here, because on top of a bundle of Crests and other goodies, it gives you extra bag slots and remote Market access — but if you want to keep that bag slot increase and market access, you have to pay every month. In Diablo 3, you can unlock extra stash tabs via Seasonal play, but in Immortal there’s currently only the Boon of Plenty.
Most of this isn’t really that bad, but it’s less than ideal that there’s no way in game to get Eternal Orbs, which means the various things that can be purchased for Orbs are either impossible to get or extremely difficult to procure without a cash purchase. It ultimately doesn’t matter if you can only get certain cosmetic sets with cash — these are cool, but you can also use cash But when you can gather heaps of Platinum and use your Elder Rift runs to get unbound Legendary Gems you can put on the market, you’ve engineered a system that will ultimately make cash purchases have a direct impact on how fast players can progress, especially once they reach the endgame. That, to me, is the problem.
Just how bad is the Diablo Immortal shop?
Let’s take a moment to compare the stores in Diablo Immortal and World of Warcraft. In the WoW store you can buy:
- Game time
- WoW Tokens, which convert into in-game gold
- Various pets and mounts
- Unique transmog apparences
- Expansions and Collector’s Editions of expansions, which include extra cosmetic rewards and level boosts
- Character level boosts, character transfer, faction change, and race change
It’s fair to say that there’s not much in the Diablo Immortal store that is much worse than any of that. The Empowered Battle Pass and Boon of Plenty are somewhat comparable to picking up an expansion’s Collector’s Edition, and the cosmetic skins available for Eternal Orbs aren’t much different from a transmog set like the Celestial Observer’s Ensemble.
In my opinion, the real difficulty is that Eternal Orbs can only be bought with real money — there’s no in-game way to earn Orbs, even at a slower rate. Eternal Orbs can buy things from simple cosmetic appearances to Crests which objectively allow players to game the Elder Rift system for more loot. By spending money on Eternal Orbs to buy Eternal Legendary Crests, players get more chances to gan Legendary gems and other powerful loot in a shorter amount of time. You can only buy Eternal Orbs with real money and you can only buy Eternal Legendary Crests with Eternal Orbs. That locks free to play players out of a significant power boost.
Of course there are still ways to gear up in game without spending cash. There are completely in-game systems like Hilts that let you buy random Legendary items, Legendary Gems, and so on, letting you gear up as you like, though it may take you more time to do so. You can run Rifts with less powerful Crests you can acquire in-game and get good loot from Rifts (if not as good or as much). There are also things like Reforge Stones, which let you preroll stats on gear, which you can buy in-game for Hilts… but you can still get better ones in the in-game shop.
Monetization is an unfortunate fact of life in modern gaming
A lot of players I’ve seen discussing this are hostile to the very idea of monetization in Diablo Immortal and want the whole system ripped out. But let’s be real here: that’s not going to happen.
Diablo Immortal is a free to play game designed and built from the group up to be a free to play game. There is no chance it’s going to go to a default purchase model like WoW where you pay $50 for the base game, $70 for a better version with some perks (like the Boon of Plenty or the Empowered Battle Pass), and then a crazy expensive $130 version that has all the cosmetics, all the bells and whistles, the Empowered Battle Pass, Boon of Plenty, and more. The game was never designed to work that way.
And this is an increasingly common feature in all games — mobile and otherwise. Games have been been adding more and more microtransaction monetization for years. Remember the horse armor in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion? This cosmetic armor was released in 2006 for a cost of $2.5o, and caused huge community outcry. But since then, we’ve only seen more microtransactions showing up in games of every sort. More recently, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is one of my favorite games, but both it and its successor Assassin’s Creed Valhalla have some terrible monetization where can spend real money to buy crafting materials, higher XP gain, and even weapons and armor.
It’s now unusual for a major game not to have some kind of microtransaction, subscription, or DLC content — and Diablo Immortal isn’t likely to completely abandon its current model. But the Immortal system could be modified. And I think it should be, because no gameplay benefit should be available purely for currency that can only be bought for cash, not earned in game.
Games should have things you can buy, but nothing you must buy
The easiest solution would be to make it possible to earn Eternal Orbs through some or all in game activities. That way you could simply earn them through gameplay and use them in the existing shop for existing items without ever spending a cent. Many free to play games use a similar model, with in-game currency that can be earned or purchased. The purchase is simply a convenience, and players who want to progress as quickly as possible will likely still use it.
Diablo Immortal could also borrow an idea from World of Warcraft, with a system similar to Tokens. You could buy Tokens (or Eternal Orbs directly) from the Market for gold, while other players would buy them for cash and sell them for gold. This system may not be quite as appealing as it is in WoW, where Tokens can be used to get gold or gametime, but perhaps it could be modified in some way to make the system useable in Immortal.
Or maybe the game could simply remove the items that can only be purchased with Eternal Orbs that provide significant gameplay benefits. Just remove Eternal Legendary Crests and other purchases that you can only buy with Orbs (and thus can only buy with cash), or straight-up make them something you can earn purely through gameplay. Blizzard stripping the store down this much seems unlikely, but this move would completely remove must-have transactions from the shop and give the game a more level playing field. A number of games use a similar model, with stores that focus purely on cosmetic items that are truly optional — Hearthstone Battlegrounds already uses a system like this.
One thing I haven’t personally been able to confirm but have seen discussed is that the game may have hidden soft caps, which limit the number of drops you can get without spending money on things like Crests. If true — and I must repeat, I cannot confirm this — it’s completely unacceptable. Diablo is a game series that rewards grinding, and limits like would be antithetical to that gameplay loop. If it’s true, it makes the problems with the shop far more egregious. To make the game fair, any systems like this must be removed.
It’s possible to make Diablo Immortal a successful game with in-game purchases without making it feel stilted against players who don’t (or can’t) spend real money. Free to play games can offer convenience features or cosmetic features for cash, letting players spend if they want to, but not preventing other players from achieving the same goals — even if it takes them a bit longer.
And I believe it would be for the health and longevity of the game for Blizzard to investigate some ways to achieve that.
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