Diablo Immortal delayed in China days before launch, amid furore over loot boxes

Diablo ImmortalBlizzard’s controversial mobile game entry in its famous action-RPG series was delayed in China just days before launch.

The launch was scheduled for June 23, but a post on June 19 by the game’s co-developer and local publisher NetEase said it needed to make further “optimizations”, including support for more devices and network and performance improvements. This is despite the game had a seemingly technically smooth rollout in early June in western territories, Japan and South Korea.

A further update by Blizzard said the launch had been postponed to July 7. “We believe our players will benefit from optimization that would make the download and play experience much smoother,” it said, describing a few changes that would be made. These include changes to the order in which mobile devices download data as you install and play, and optimizations to support the “very diverse” installation base of Android phones in China. Players in the region will receive a compensating pack of equipment and crafting materials.

However, questions will certainly be raised about other possible reasons for this delay. Industry analyst Daniel Ahmad pointed out that the move will come a few days later Diablo Immortal‘s account on China’s main social media platform, Weibo, was banned of creating new messages. Weibo said the ban was for “violation of related laws and regulations”.

It’s reasonable to wonder if the game is headed for China’s regulating hot water. Diablo Immortal has come under intense criticism for its monetization design, which some say is exploitative. There are reports that it would cost between $50,000 and $110,000 to fully exploit a character through microtransactions. Streamer Quin69 $15,000 spent to acquire a single Legendary gem with a 5-star rating (there are six Legendary gem slots per character), before destroying in protest† The game has not been launched in the Netherlands or Belgiumwhere strict laws classify loot boxes in online games as gambling.

China currently has strict video game regulations, with the government actively campaigning against the games industry. Freeze on the granting of new licenses and restrictions on the time minors can spend playing games many gaming companies have declared bankruptcy† However, the Chinese laws on loot boxes are not as strict as the Dutch and Belgian laws – they only require the drop rates to be disclosed and put a limit on the number of daily purchases.

Diablo Immortal is largely designed with China in mind. This huge market is dominated by free-to-play games for mobile phones, and Blizzard enlisted the Chinese company NetEase as a co-developer to adapt Diablo’s core gameplay to these devices and this business model. It would be both ironic and a serious blow to the game if the game didn’t get released there.

Yet the signs are that Diablo Immortal is already a big hit. Dates from app magic (through Pocket Gamer) suggests it made $24 million in revenue in its first two weeks on cellphones — not counting the PC version. Blizzard claims it has been downloaded 10 million times, making it the biggest launch in the history of the Diablo series.

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