Diablo 3 feels like the Blizzard game that’s the most stuck in time.
That’s not to say the game hasn’t evolved through the years; remember the much-despised, real-money auction house and the dark times before Adventure Mode? But even StarCraft 2 offers updated visuals these days, and World of Warcraft, Hearthstone and Overwatch are continually updated with new content that changes the games significantly.
Meanwhile, Diablo 3 updates often feel like they are being bolted onto a creaking frame; Diablo is the Blizzard franchise that could benefit the most from a full overhaul, from the visuals to the way new content is presented.
So what would a modern Diablo look like?
Blizzard’s business could give us clues
The first thing I’d love to see is a reworked version of Diablo 3 with high-resolution character models and environments. It would likely be a much larger job than we saw with the StarCraft 2 refresh, but it’s a project I would be happy to pay for.
The more interesting topic, however, and the more pressing one, is sequels.
A sequel isn’t that farfetched, either. We know that Blizzard has multiple Diablo projects in the works.
The bad news is that the story-based campaign of Diablo would possibly either go away completely or, more likely, just be de-emphasized significantly in a Diablo 4. The focus would instead be put on systems that could constantly be refreshed and kept new. These would keep people playing and offer Blizzard Entertainment an ongoing revenue stream, much like the rest of its lineup and other current games.
Think of it this way: Blizzard may give new Overwatch heroes away, but from a business perspective, these characters also drive interest in new skins and emotes. The game comes with an ongoing, relatively non-predatory monetization system that fans seem to enjoy; that’s a huge accomplishment when it already costs $59.99 to purchase.
Other Blizzard games have similar systems: Hearthstone has new cards, World of Warcraft has expansions and WoW Tokens, and Heroes of the Storm has new heroes and skins. Blizzard isn’t going to release a new Diablo that doesn’t have some form of potential ongoing purchase.
Diablo 3, despite its continued popularity with players, only has a single expansion and one new character class to buy. You can spend ridiculous sums of money on Blizzard’s other games, but the heaviest Diablo 3 player will only give Blizzard $45 if they buy the game’s Battle Chest on PC and the Necromancer class. The only other way Blizzard is monetizing the game is by selling it on multiple platforms. Hello, Switch port.
Is this good for the players?
I’m not saying this is good or bad, by the way. But the best way to speculate about where Diablo could be going is to look at how its core play could support the ongoing sales of content. That business reality is going to shape any potential sequels much more than anything else will.
Diablo 3 already has seasons that come and go and offer a few new pieces of gear, but the content itself has been mostly recycled for years. This is what it makes it so easy to return to the game after a long absence, but it’s also what makes it so easy to put back down. Blizzard must want to have a way for Diablo players to remain Diablo players for more than a week or two every few years.
Diablo is never going to turn into a multiplayer game, where players battle each other — at least, not primarily. That means Blizzard has to find a way to offer new areas for teams to fight through and new gear for them to earn relatively frequently while also figuring out how players would like to pay for it without feeling ripped off.
The secret could be found in Fortnite’s Battle Pass system, which might be one of the most effective monetization schemes in the history of gaming. Imagine a high-resolution version of Diablo with a huge variety of gear earned in quarterly released new areas, supported by a season pass that doesn’t nickel and dime you for each loot box.
The core of Diablo is the grind and the gear, and offering that gear for sale directly felt horrible when Diablo 3 attempted it. Monetizing Diablo 3’s existing season structure and then justifying it by adding much more custom content per season sounds like the best way for Blizzard to rake in money without the players feeling like they’re being robbed by loot boxes.
Blizzard has already proven to be flexible when it comes to Diablo’s monetization; there has been a free-to-play version of Diablo 3 available in China for years now.
Current Diablo 3 players are likely to beat me up in the comments; the idea of a buy-once, get-everything Diablo 4 is much more optimistic, but also almost completely out of the question. I’d like for Blizzard to bring back the ability to clone copies of their games for LAN play — remember the original StarCraft? — but that ain’t happening either.
Besides, the only reason that seasons are free now is that there is almost no new content in them. Monetized seasons with fresh gear and levels wouldn’t just make sense in terms of business; I would also love to be able to pay for new, monthly, high-quality Diablo content. I’d just as happily throw cash at a Diablo 3 expansion, if Blizzard wanted to move in that direction.
Which puts Blizzard in a great position, because fans seem ready to pay for more Diablo, however it’s delivered. Paying a bit more often to get a lot more new Diablo content doesn’t feel like being taken advantage of — it feels like the dream.