9 lessons from Diablo 4
The year was 1997 and on my way home from school, I used to drop by my friend’s house to play Diablo, an action role-playing video game (ARPG) developed by Blizzard Entertainment. I quickly fell in love with the game, and ARPGs have been a big part of my life ever since.
In 6 weeks’ time, Diablo 4 will be released, and having followed its journey for many years, I wanted to touch on a few of my learnings.
Take your time
Diablo 3 was released in May 2012, meaning that Diablo 4 will arrive 11 years later. As a publisher, there is always an underlying pressure to release something quickly, but Blizzard focuses on creating the best game possible and takes their time to do so.
For over 25 years, ARPGs have been primarily a solo game experience. Most of them have the option to group up with friends and play together, but you and your group are not going to encounter other players outside of trading items and chat systems.
While many games (Last Epoch, Path of Exile, Torchlight) have iterated over the Diablo formula, and Blizzard themselves have kept it similar with Diablo 1 – 3, times have changed.
The Diablo 4 team has identified the way people interact with games has changed, what keeps people coming back to games has changed, and how companies can monetize games has changed a lot over the last decade. With the new edition, they are evolving the ARPG concept to accommodate these changes, and no one knows how it will be received – but it is very exciting to watch.
Invest in multiplayer
Multiplayer features have become a key part of creating a successful living game*, and Diablo 4 is heavily leaning on that by creating an open world where you’ll see and interact with other players constantly.
By creating a thriving community that fosters cooperation, competition, and social interaction, Diablo 4 has a stronger chance to remain relevant and continue generating money.
*A living game is one that is continually updated with new content to keep it fresh past its release date. Typically funded by in-game transactions, these types of games can last for many years and be a constant source of revenue.
Know your audience
Blizzard is an expert at knowing who their audience is, and while there are many voices making requests, they seem to know who to listen to and when.
For example, I enjoyed the Diablo 4 beta but found it too easy, and in my 30 hours of play, I only died once to an unexpected encounter with the Butcher. Online, I saw many videos and comments complaining about the difficulty and hoping the released game would be harder.
However, looking over the stats Blizzard released, I can see there were 46,924,644 deaths in 61,560,437 hours of play, averaging 1 death every 1.3 hours. As a single metric, this already suggests the difficulty of the game could be well balanced for the average gamer, who is not the same as the loud online voices.
Note: There are harder modes being released with the game to accommodate those wanting a harder challenge.
Listen to feedback
Diablo 4 has been in development since at least 2014, going through several iterations. There have been years of testing with closed alphas, betas, and only in the last few weeks were public betas run.
Despite those betas being less than 2 months from the eventual release date, Blizzard took note of many of the player’s key concerns and quickly made updates to the game. I found it surprising how willing they were to make these changes after so long with the release being so close, but it showed commitment to making the game great.
A smaller but equally valid point is the references made throughout the game that connect older characters and items from previous games to Diablo 4. Players get very excited when they see an item or character they recognize coming back.
Guide the user
Diablo 4 has done a really good job of guiding new users who are not familiar with ARPGs. Many modern ARPGs are filled with giant skill trees that immediately give you hundreds of choices to consider. Diablo 4 still has these trees, but it gradually reveals them to players, limiting the amount of information presented up front. Rather than seeing 50 options and being told you can select 1 every hour, they show you 5 options and add 5 more options every 3 hours, while still allowing you to select 1 per hour. This means your options grow faster than you can select them, but you’re gently introduced to the giant trees rather than being presented with everything upfront.
One of the biggest changes in games over the last decade has been the ability to customize characters. For many years, we were stuck with the character the game came with, but nowadays customization is essential. Diablo 4 does a great job of being inclusive and seems to have a hugely diverse set of customization options, which have been very well received.
Finally, Blizzard has done a fantastic job of interacting with the community. They have released regular blog articles focusing on key systems within the game, allowing people to learn about something and provide feedback. They have produced short in-depth videos covering individual topics, focusing on the different target audiences the game has. They have run several live streams with game designers answering questions from viewers and showcasing key game systems. This level of community interaction is becoming ever more critical in building an audience and gathering general feedback from the player base well before systems are finalized.
I’m very excited to see how well Diablo 4 is received when it releases as it has giant shoes to fill. When it was released, Diablo 3 was the top-selling PC game for a while and still sits in 4th place for best-selling PC games. Will Diablo 4 do the same? I certainly hope so and look forward to learning more from its journey.
Frank West is a gamer and designer based in Bristol, UK. He published his first board game, The City of Kings, in 2018 and now works on other games and organising events in the local area. His goal? To design and publish games focusing on immersive themes, fun mechanics and beautiful components. If you have any questions or would just like a chat, feel free to get in touch at any time!