Remember Diablo Immortal?

The announcement of a mobile version of the hit Diablo series was met by a chorus of boos and anger at last year’s Blizzcon. Hardcore gamers in the West took Diablo Immortal as a sign that Blizzard was focusing on China’s mobile market instead of them.

A year on, and Blizzard is apparently set to unveil an update on the game’s development, according to gaming analyst Daniel Ahmad. So far, so normal -- except the game’s co-developer, China’s NetEase, said in an earnings call back in February that it had finished developing the game.

With there still being no hint of a release date, fans in China are perplexed. Some see it as a good sign that Blizzard is taking the time to improve the game, after its disastrous debut; at one point, the game’s trailer had over a million dislikes on YouTube. But the long wait could also be hurting what’s seen as Diablo Immortal’s target market.

Blizzard recently admitted that its original Diablo Immortal announcement misled a lot of fans. (Picture: Blizzard)

Western gamers slammed Blizzard for making a mobile Diablo game because they were expecting a new mainline Diablo game on PC. Instead, the mobile game and partnership with NetEase was seen as pandering to China, where most gamers are mobile gamers.

China Internet Report

But Blizzard could also be facing pressure because multiple Diablo-like mobile games have already cropped up in China. NetEase’s Endless of God, which many Western fans accuse Diablo Immortal of copying, and Tencent’s Raziel both struggled to find an audience in China.

Endless of God generated a burst of interest when it launched in 2016, but it quickly slipped out of mainstream consciousness. Raziel didn’t even get that much excitement, quickly falling away as gamers complained about its heavy emphasis on pay-to-win gameplay and a terrible loot drop rate.

Since the UI resembles the one in NetEase’s own Endless of God, many say that Diablo Immortal looks like a reskin of the previous NetEase game. (Picture: Blizzard)

With clones floundering, it’s unclear how much more people will like an official mobile Diablo game. But many gamers in China love Blizzard . It has several games that have found success in the country, but none more so than the Warcraft franchise. 

When World of Warcraft Classic launched, more than 1 million people logged in to relive the glory days of the original game. And the Warcraft movie that was seen as a massive flop in the West brought in US$225 million at the box office in China.

Blizzard’s reputation was also recently boosted in China when the company decided to punish Hearthstone tournament player Blitzchung for yelling out a Hong Kong protest slogan at the end of an interview.

With this controversy fresh on people’s minds, perhaps Blizzcon will garner Blizzard some extra goodwill in China even as rumors swirl about the possibility that attendees will protest on behalf of Blitzchung and Hong Kong.

But Diablo Immortal might not end up being a big draw. The company appears to be gearing up for a new Overwatch game -- the original also saw some surprising success in China -- and at last, the long-rumored Diablo 4 for PC.