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How to handle entitled gamers when announcing a mobile game

Blizzard isn't the first games giant to have to manage its fans when moving to smartphones

Video game announcements are a bit like signing a top player on Football Manager.

There's is no better moment than when you've signed that super star striker. The buzz of seeing that accepted contract, all that potential... nothing matches it, even when they go onto become your best player.

The same psychology is true with video game announcements. E3, we're told, is like Christmas, if Christmas was a time when you get told what presents you're getting, rather than actually getting any.

When a game gets announced, at that point it could be the greatest thing anyone has ever played. It's exciting.

As a result, these big announcement moments come with a level of anticipation and expectation. Gamers will tune in and hype up an event for you, but you better deliver a show to remember.

Of course, you can't always announce a plethora of AAA blockbusters each time - especially if you've fallen into that trap of teasing titles years in advance. It was a situation Sony faced at E3 this year, where it had a lot of AAA products to talk about, but not a lot to announce. And it's the really 'new' things that fans want to hear about. Just like Football Manager, it's all about the promise of the next star signing, not the last one that you've not even played yet.

"Yet as these bizarre backlashes increase, you can only expect publishers to become more risk averse"

Get it right, and you can create buzz around your product and brand like no other. But likewise, the level of expectation (and indeed entitlement) can lead to the very opposite reaction if you don't hit the mark. Which was a situation that Blizzard found itself in this weekend with the reveal of Diablo Immortal for smartphones at BlizzCon.

On paper, Diablo Immortal is a major announcement. It is Blizzard continuing to push significantly into the mobile space. It's an effort to expand the franchise into Asian markets. It's likely to appeal to some of Diablo's lapsed fans, who perhaps no longer have the time to devote to the main PC series. It's not a remake or a reimagining, but a full new game based on one of its most cherished IPs for the world's biggest gaming platform.

You can see why Blizzard thought it would make a fitting closing announcement to its BlizzCon opening ceremony.

Diablo Immortal is a major new product from Blizzard

Diablo Immortal is a major new product from Blizzard

In hindsight, it was clearly not the right fit for an audience of (mostly) core PC gamers. But even so, the level of venom and anger aimed at that game has been surprising. The developers were accused by fans - while on stage - of making an out-of-season April Fools joke. Campaigns have begun to get the title cancelled, and there has even been appeals to the President of the United States to intervene.

A bit of disappointment would have been expected, but the hatred felt unjustified. Blizzard had already announced that there are other Diablo games in the works - this title isn't replacing anything else. And a successful mobile game can often benefit the core series in a significant way. Just look at the impact Super Mario Run had on Super Mario Odyssey (it's on course to become the best-selling 3D Mario game ever) and Pokémon Go had on Sun and Moon (the fastest selling games in the series history). A success in mobile can result in more revenue, more investment and, ultimately, more games.

"A successful mobile game can often benefit the core series in a significant way. Just look at the impact Super Mario Run had on Super Mario Odyssey and Pokémon Go had on Sun and Moon"

Nevertheless, anger was the response. It all comes back to that sense of expectation that surrounds these events. To a certain type of gamer, these moments are almost more exciting than when the games actually arrive. So as those eager fans sit in anticipation for the big reveal, if it's not what they want, they'll certainly let everyone know. On reflection, Immortal was never a good centrepiece for BlizzCon, no matter how significant it really is. So what else could the company have done to give this major title the airing it deserves, whilst not incensing its fans?

The solution from some others in the business is to simply announce the products away from the eyes of the fanbase. Nintendo rarely announce anything related to its mobile titles during its fan-favourite Direct videos - Super Mario Run was officially unveiled at an Apple event. This doesn't always work, however. Sony announced its Playlink range (a series of PS4 games that use smartphones as the controller) before its E3 conference in 2017, presumably because it didn't quite fit with the main show's core viewers. Unfortunately, this hasn't helped the product achieve any real cut-through, even with 14 Playlink games released in 18 months.

It's also tricky when your game does - at least partially - target the core audience. Diablo Immortal may not be aimed squarely at the core PC crowd, but nor is it built for players of Clash of Clans, either. It's for those in-between. Blizzard fans who perhaps can't afford the time to be Blizzard fans.

Another solution is to set expectations prior to the event. Blizzard sort-of did this by suggesting that it might be a bit early for the next mainline Diablo game, but clearly that message didn't quite reach everybody. Sony did a similar thing before its E3 conference this year, when it warned fans that the focus will be (primarily) on previously announced products. This set the tone for some, but in both cases there were still a huge number of people expecting the earth, who were then left underwhelmed when it didn't materialise.

One other method adopted by a few companies is the 'reassuring tease'. When Nintendo announced Metroid: Federation Force for 3DS in 2015, the reaction was similar to what Blizzard has faced here - it wasn't what fans wanted and a campaign to get it cancelled took place. This made Nintendo nervous when announcing last year's Metroid: Samus Returns - a 3DS remake of a 1991 Game Boy game. Would fans be similarly disappointed that this wasn't a brand new 3D Switch title? So Nintendo did something it rarely does, it teased a future title - in this case Metroid Prime 4 - with little more than a logo.

It's quite possible that the logo was the only thing that existed of the game at that point, but it did the trick. Indeed, Bethesda followed in Nintendo's footsteps this year at one of its E3 presentations. A bit like Blizzard, Bethesda announced an iOS and Android Elder Scrolls game (Elder Scrolls: Blades) and immediately followed that with a glorified logo for Elder Scrolls VI (the next main title in the long-running series).

Perhaps if Blizzard had flashed up a Diablo 4 logo at the end of its event, that may well have been enough.

Blizzard has a passionate fanbase, which is the envy of the industry

Blizzard has a passionate fanbase, which is the envy of the industry

Again, this has its drawbacks. Announcing a game too early is risky, because who knows what development challenges might arise over the following years. And then there's the years of questions the developers and publishers will have to face as fans await that first actual trailer. Bethesda Game Studios will be fending off questions about the next Elder Scrolls for what might feel like an eternity.

The level of expectation and entitlement that surrounds these big conferences has made it almost impossible for developers to deviate from the script. They have to focus on big AAA projects, there's little room to talk about things that are new and different. It's no wonder Sony decided against holding its European and Experience conferences this year. Why put on an expensive event if you're only going to get criticism for it?

That's actually quite sad. When the AAA sequels are not quite ready yet, why not put on a show to promote different things? A conference dedicated to experimental concepts or new platforms would actually be quite interesting. Yet as these bizarre backlashes increase, you can only expect publishers to become more risk averse. They'll just have to put on predictable conferences speaking to the same audience about the same old things.

And when the reception can get this nasty, who can blame them?

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Latest comments (10)

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 13 days ago
If a football team shoots a goal, they get cheered. If they play badly, they get booed relentlessly.

Blizzcon is no different from a sporting event. You pay money to attend in person, you pay money to see the stream online. In essence, Blizzard monetizes the emotional brand investment of their fans; which is not a dirty thing. But emotions go both ways, so it is a bit disingenuous to expect cheering robots as your audience. It is cynical to brush off 98% of viewers downvoting your Youtube comments as a vocal minority. Single downvote button clicks are far from vocal, even if they add up to send a clear message, even if heavily downvoted game trailers still resulted in profitable games.

Treat people as fools and they will put on a show of just how foolishly they can get back at you. People asking for PC getting told the game will only be on mobile do not care how often somebody claims Blizzard's strategy was 'gameplay first'. They were just told 10 seconds ago that it is actually 'platform first'. It is not tough to imagine how fans feel being played like this. Especially when they are one Internet search away from finding out that there is another Netease game which is the spitting image of Diablo: Immortal.

Play with the emotions of fans and you play with fire. Blizzard is just the latest company to assume a reaction of fans and get burned. The will get back up, score a goal, get some cheers, the end. Remember how the rainbow colored Diablo 3 level filled with magical unicorns and cuddly bears came to be?
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Christopher Dring Publisher, GamesIndustry.biz13 days ago
As I say, I am not surprised anyone is disappointed. Obviously you want to avoid that if you can, but sometimes you are going to make something that's designed to appeal more broadly - and fans just aren't going to care. The hope is that there are some people out there that do care, which made the announcement worthwhile.

But there's a difference between tweeting 'that wasn't great' and setting up campaigns to getting a game cancelled. There's a difference to saying: "I am not interested in that" and "Blizzard no longer represents us, where's Donald Trump's email address." One response is reasonable, the other is unnecessary.

As I say, that reaction comes from the excitement and anticipation surrounding these events. But it isn't healthy for either party. And the solutions to countering this sort of hyperbolic response are not simple.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.13 days ago
Know your audience.

You don't announce a mobile game at a hardcore gamer oriented event.
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Show all comments (10)
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 13 days ago
The entire games industry is built on the foundation of providing people with something that exceeds reason as its core justification. The games themselves do not try to appeal by catering to the players' reason. Donald Trump's Reasonable Policy Making Simulator 2018 is not an EA game, being a light-sabre wielding space wizard in 4k is and not just for the reason that EA could not afford DJT licensing costs or people skip on the 4k GPU.

If Blizzard gets caught up in fan reactions that may seem unreasonable, excessive, and insane bordering on self-parody, then that is just par for the course. People are a lot of things at the same time, gamers, car owners, museum visitors, parents, etc. But while most people consistently react reasonably across most of their aspects, all bets are off when people react as gamers. Because games are when you can have fun and be unreasonable.

The more Blizzard reacts with carefully crafted and highly businessy statements addressing the situation and trying to defuse them like an elder statesmen on a diplomatic mission, the more they will be taken for a ride by people celebrating their most unreasonable hobby.
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Michael Harrell Studying CS, University of Utah13 days ago
I keep being surprised by industry journalists chiding gamers for not wanting this game. Yes, the most-rational response is a simple "Well, I guess I won't be playing that." But BlizzCon (not to mention, the entire entertainment industry) wouldn't exist if it depended on fans acting rationally. The amount of money fans spend to go to BlizzCon including travel, admission, merch, and so on, amounts to thousands of dollars, far exceeding any amount they would ever spend on Blizzard's actual products.

So for Blizzard to try and pass what may just be a money grab for the Asian mobile market as a major announcement on par with the long-waited WarCraft 3 remake is absurd. If Blizzard wants to make some quick bucks outside their major base of players, more power to them. But presenting it as more than that, pretending that it isn't a departure from their previous games, being offended that their most-devoted customers rejected it, and THEN trying to say people should play it anyway because it's not like they don't have a smart phone, is tantamount to betrayal.

And yes, there's always a vocal minority of morons that the internet empowers to do moronic things. Appealing to the POTUS is a dumb response. But the response to Diablo: Immortal is not a vocal minority. Western gamers have made it very clear that they're not interested in a free-to-play phone version of Diablo. Instead of blaming the customer, let's blame the company for bad strategy, marketing, or whatever process that led to this debacle.
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Stoyan Trendafilov QA Lead, GameLoft13 days ago
The biggest disappointment was that Blizzard are not making that game at all. So why was it presented at Blizzcon, no one knows. ;)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by a moderator on 9th November 2018 6:08am

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Daniel Trezub QA Analyst, Ludia13 days ago
They'll just have to put on predictable conferences speaking to the same audience about the same old things.
And once again the trolls win. Looks like this is the norm these days.
I am excited about a mobile Diablo game.But again, I am not Blizzard's main audience (anymore).
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Ron Dippold Software/Firmware Engineer 13 days ago
These are highly dedicated superfans who paid $199 each for the tickets to be there and who knows how many hundreds of dollars on transportation and lodging. That is going to engender some sense of entitlement, yes. When you go out of your way, as Blizzard has, to create an, uh, 'highly opinionated and loyal' fanbase sometimes it will bite you. They were there for meat and Blizz gave them circus peanuts.

I think your first option was the best one - pick a better venue for this particular game.
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Oscar Escamilla Perez Game Designer 12 days ago
Nothing wrong with announcing a mobile F2P diablo at Blizzcon. Just don't make it the star of a paid event (plus travel and expenses). Probably ending Blizzcon with the W3 remake and a Diablo 4 logo would have saved the day. At least that would have put the attendants in the mindset of playing the mobile game while they wait for D4 release.
I wasn't even watching the live event, and when the final announcements appeared on my twitter feed, the first thought that came to my mind was "uh, bland year". For those who paid to attend, It must have been like paying a shitload of money to go to the Camp Nou to see some Messi magic, and the match ends 0-0 with Messi benched and Barcelona loosing time to keep the draw. Expectations are some dangerous shit.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Oscar Escamilla Perez on 7th November 2018 10:15am

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Michael Harrell Studying CS, University of Utah12 days ago
@Oscar Escamilla Perez: Overall, it still wasn't as bad as the "Geek Is..." year. That was weird.
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