Over the weekend at BlizzCon, Blizzard announced a brand-new Diablo title for mobile devices, Diablo Immortal. The reveal was met with some degree of backlash, as a portion of the fanbase hoped for an announcement of the next core Diablo instead. On Monday, when the New York Stock Exchange opened for the first time this week, shares of Activision Blizzard dropped significantly.
The company’s stock value dropped by close to 7 percent on Monday (via Sarah Needleman of WSJ). Shares closed at $64.34, which is down from the previous day’s close at $68.99.
In a note to investors, research firm Cowen & Company said “Blizzard severely miscalculated how their fans would respond, which suggests they aren’t in touch with their players as maybe they should be.”
Blizzard has not yet announced if Diablo Immortal will be a free or a paid title, though Blizzard developing the title with free-to-play veteran NetEase might offer a clue. Cowen & Company said whatever business model the game uses, it might be difficult for the game to make money in the western market because expectations for extra payments are different than in other parts of the world such as China. The report also mentioned that the game’s control scheme might feel clunky to the western audience but perfectly normal in China.
The general sentiment coming out of BlizzCon surrounding Diablo Immortal was negative, and this theoretically presents an optics problem and it likely explains why investors might have been spooked. The game is likely to make buckets of money, but the drop in share price suggests that the way games are presented and messaged is more important than some might have believed.
The Cowen & Company note mentioned that Blizzard might have avoided giving gamers the perception that it was changing direction to focus on mobile games by offering core fans a tease or a glimpse of the next core Diablo title. According to Kotaku, Diablo 4 is in development, and Blizzard recorded a video where co-founder Allen Adham talks about a new Diablo projects. Whether or not this video was planned to be shown at BlizzCon is in question, but Blizzard said in a statement that it “didn’t pull any announcements from BlizzCon this year or have plans for other announcements.”
Around two weeks before BlizzCon, Blizzard released a statement telling fans not to expect any major Diablo announcements during the show.
Diablo Immortal principal game designer Wyatt Cheng told GameSpot at BlizzCon that being skeptical is perfectly fair and reasonable, but he hopes people stay open-minded about Diablo Immortal.
“I think that’s reasonable in today’s world, our modern world, to be a little skeptical,” he said. “But then for the people who play it, if they can go out and say, ‘No, no, no, seriously, guys. I was at BlizzCon. I played the demo. It was awesome.’ Hopefully that word of mouth spreads.”
Adham, the co-founder of Blizzard, told Kotaku that the company expected some amount of backlash around Diablo Immortal but not to the degree that actually occurred. If you don’t recognise Adham’s name, that might be because he left Blizzard in 2004 and only just returned in 2016. Another Blizzard founder, Mike Morhaime, quit the company in October.
GameSpot played Diablo Immortal at BlizzCon, and you can read our initial impressions of the mobile game here. No release date has been announced, but Cowen & Company said in its note to investors that it expects the title to launch in 2020.