Blizzard's popular action role-playing game, Diablo 4, seems to be gearing up for an expansive journey. And, no, we're not just talking about the studio's initial laid out plans to do multiple seasons a year with at least two post-launch expansion already in development.
In a recent interview with Dexerto, Rod Fergusson, the General Manager of the Diablo franchise, spilled the beans on Blizzard's ambitious plans for the game. Notably, Fergusson confirmed that Diablo 4 will receive annual expansions, a feature often found in massively multiplayer online games like its stablemate, World of Warcraft, but less so in ARPGs. In addition, the game will continue to see seasonal updates every quarter.
This announcement marks a significant shift in the design philosophy for Diablo, a franchise traditionally known for its more sporadic content updates. The past Diablo titles like Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 had one major expansion each. Case in point, Diablo 3's "Reaper of Souls" expansion essentially reinvigorated the game, adding several long-term features that fans appreciated. Diablo 4 already has two expansions in the works, as previously mentioned.
Unlike its predecessors, the plan is to release the expansions annually by the end of 2025. What these expansions will include is still unknown, but it's likely we'll see new locations, a raised level cap, and additional playable classes, akin to previous Diablo games.
Fergusson admitted that the lengthy 11-year gap between Diablo 3 and Diablo 4 was a disservice to their player base. To rectify that, the new approach aims to keep the game's community engaged and excited with consistent and substantial updates. The Diablo 4 development team is building what Fergusson described as a "foundation" that will sustain long-term plans and storylines. This includes seasonal updates like Diablo 4's recently announced Season 2, Season of Blood, which will bring vampiric powers and quality-of-life improvements when it launches on October 17, coinciding with the end of the first season.
However, this big news didn't arrive without its share of controversy. The community has raised concerns about the high frequency of paid expansions. Not only are players expected to keep up with four seasonal passes each year, but they'll also have to purchase full-priced expansions to gain access to fresh content like new classes. This is a costly venture and the justification for such a pricing model is questionable, especially if the game's core issues remain unaddressed. There is concern that the game's development is being driven more by financial goals than by the aim of delivering a polished product, an opinion bolstered by the current state of the game, which some consider to be below par.
While it's worth noting that the cost of producing games has skyrocketed, the convenience of digital distribution offsets the need for physical manufacturing, leaving plenty of room for speculation that the annual paid expansions are a part of a greedier and more aggressive monetization strategy. Thus, it's hard to argue that Blizzard's latest decision, like its most recent moves, is a poor PR move, and at worst, an attempt to exploit loyal fans.
Diablo 4's current state, with Twitch viewership declining to dangerously low levels, represents a crossroads for Blizzard. The company is showing an unprecedented commitment to the game's long-term development, promising ongoing updates and new content for years. But, it risks alienating its fan base with a potentially expensive and divisive pricing model. Still, it's clear that Blizzard's plans for Diablo 4 are nothing short of ambitious, mirroring the Prime Evils' never-ending quest to corrupt the citizens of Sanctuary and continue the Eternal Conflict.
It's unclear if this strategy will pay off in the long run for Blizzard. But, with a history of titles that have become cultural phenomena, the studio can make it work. Balancing fan expectations with business imperatives will be the true test, especially in a landscape where the debate over game monetization rages on.