How I Learned to Stop Caring About Diablo Immortal’s Pay-to-Win Mechanics

Diablo 3 was pay-to-win just like Diablo Immortal.
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Image: Blizzard Entertainment, Inc

The microtransactions in Diablo Immortal, the recently released and mobile-first iteration of the series, are predatory, obnoxious, and make the game pay-to-win. Diablo fans and the wider community have been up in arms about the game’s monetization strategy. Is that person at the top of the leaderboards only there because they pumped thousands of dollars into the game? What about the person who just killed my character in a competitive match; was the duel actually fair? Initially I had those questions too, but was surprised how quickly I overcame them personally, because, and not many people may remember this, Diablo Immortal is not the first pay-to-win Diablo game.

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I’ve played a lot of Diablo, and specifically the endgame of Diablo 3. According to my played time stats on my Nintendo Switch, the platform I grinded many, many a night on, I’ve put nearly 400 hours into the game. I think I played four or so seasons, where you level up a character from the start, through the campaign, and into the endgame. Here, the fun was in endlessly running procedurally generated dungeons in the hope that the one or two items you need to finally complete your set of armor will drop. In parallel, you also took on harder and harder dungeons to see how high in the difficulty curve you could climb. I got pretty high. I loved it.

But Diablo 3 on Switch had a problem. The top of the leaderboards where you can see how you stack up against other players were completely overrun by obvious cheaters. The players at the top somehow had items that didn’t even technically exist in the game, with obscene amounts of extra damage and bonuses that an ordinary player simply can’t access. I obviously wasn’t the only one that noticed. Some people made YouTube videos on the issue too:

In Diablo 3, I had to come to terms with the fact that I will never be at the top of the leaderboard without cheating. And that was fine. I pushed and pushed my characters as far as I could go, and found it incredibly satisfying.

Diablo Immortal is essentially identical in that regard. Replace cheating with paying, and the issue is ultimately the same. It is harder to tell, but there is a solid chance that the person who killed you in a player-versus-player match or the person who is at the top of the ranks has paid for one of the various ways that cash can make you more powerful in Diablo Immortal. Besides, crying “cheater” when you lose at a video game is a time honored tradition, and one that I am happy to continue in Diablo Immortal.

Would it be better if Diablo Immortal’s microtransactions didn’t tap into a gambling mindset which lets you buy items just for the chance of another to drop from an enemy? 100 percent. Would people be less annoyed by the game if its monetization was something closer to Path Of Exile’s, a similar game to Diablo, which focuses more on the cosmetic side and inventory slots? Totally. And wouldn’t Diablo Immortal probably just be better without any monetization at all? Yes.

For me, the moment to moment gameplay loop of pushing myself and getting new gear in Diablo Immortal is fun enough that I don’t feel the need to pay. That would be different if my explicit goal was to be on the top of the leaderboards. But once you accept that it is an unachievable goal, it’s easier to just enjoy the game. And, learning from my Diablo 3 experience, that is okay.