Several months ago, a NetEase representative revealed that all the development on the side of NetEase had been completed: "With regards to the launch of Diablo Immortal, we will announce a market launch date simultaneously with Blizzard. But on our side, development is already fully prepared and invested."
It has been now 8 months since Blizzard Entertainment unveiled Diablo Immortal and no one has heard a peep about the game after that announcement -- at least from Blizzard. So what happened?
NetEase has encouraged the press to reach out to Activision Blizzard to ask the question, but certainly nothing has been heard as a follow up. Why is Activision Blizzard holding up on details or on what the status of Diablo Immortal is?
I am going to speculate here based on what we know. Diablo Immortal was not received well by the audience at BlizzCon. Blizzard did clarify at least a couple of times that we would not be hearing about Diablo 4 at BlizzCon, but that the forges of Hell were burning. That was clearly a "Don't expect Diablo 4 to be announced at BlizzCon."
What truly made the audience turn against the Diablo Immortal announcement is that it was a mobile only game. That it was not going to be ported to the PC.
It is completely understandable why people would be mad. You are told a Diablo game will be announced at BlizzCon on October. You pay for the BlizzCon tickets. You pay for a flight ticket, a Hotel, Taxi, food, and whatnot in order to attend an event where an awesome Diablo game will be announced. Being a Diablo fan, understandably a PC gamer. Then the news that it is mobile only felt like a brick to the face.
The investment to travel to BlizzCon for Diablo immediately became a waste of time. A disappointment. That's the true nature of the backlash for those who traveled to Anaheim.
Those at home, well... not everyone has a smartphone. Meaning a large portion of players won't be able to play Diablo Immortal; or might have to spend over $800 plus a monthly plan with AT&T, T-Mobile, or another carrier in order to play the game.
During their Financial Earnings Call, on February 22 (three months after BlizzCon) NetEase revealed that their involvement with the Diablo Immortal development was completed.
Obviously, as a fan, I can't wrap my mind around why Blizzard has not shared any updates on Diablo Immortal's status. But I do have questions.
What could Blizzard Entertainment possibly be waiting for to show us a single update about the Classes we haven't heard of: the Crusader, Demon Hunter, and Necromancer?
Why haven't we heard of the beta testing?
Why haven't we heard of a launch date?
Why is Blizzard holding up on talking about the game?
With lack of information, as Blizzard has gone into silence mode, all we are left is to wonder why there hasn't been any details, updates, previews, or general comments about their progress. The only words about Diablo Immortal have come from Mike Morhaime recently where he shared his thoughts on the Diablo Immortal backlash during an interview with Eurogamer; and J. Allen Brack admitting their mistake at BlizzCon to IGN. There was another Allen Brack interview with Forbes on May 2019.
But outside of these three interviews, we haven't heard anything about the game. That on itself is disconcerting.
There are a few ideas one may come up with to explain what's going on.
1. Netease confirmed, their side of the co-development is completed. Let's say that Blizzard has been working on polishing Blizzard's portion of the game the past 4-8 months. What does Blizzard usually do after finishing development of a PC game, for example? The answer is: the Mac team begins to work on porting the game to Mac OS.
In this case, the game is being developed for the Android OS, and thereafter it will be ported to iOS. So there is going to be a unspecified length of time until that port is completed.
Will Blizzard do a simultaneous Android/iOS global launch? Or will the Android come out first, with the iOS launch left for another date (when ready)?
That's definitely something to ponder about. The theory that Blizzard hasn't commented about Diablo Immortal after NetEase completed its own portion of the co-development because Blizzard is working on the iOS port before making an official launch date announcement might be plausible -- except there is a equation missing in this theory.
If you visit the DiabloImmortal website, at the very bottom there is a "Pre-Register on Google Play today" link. That link has been there since the day Diablo Immortal was announced. Presumably, this pre-registration is to participate in the Diablo Immortal Android Beta Testing.
I have never heard of a Blizzard game that has begun development of the Mac OS port before the PC Beta test. So I am not exactly sure how Blizzard would go with Diablo Immortal's Android to iOS port, but as a rule of thumb the Android beta test would have to start for a while before it gets ported to iOS.
As a matter of fact, the Diablo Immortal website has a grayed out Apple App Store image with the text: "Coming soon to the App Store for iPhone."
So that pretty much says there won't be a App Store Pre-registration (no iOS beta testing). So how can Blizzard be currently working on a iOS port, without the Diablo Immortal Android beta test started yet? That's my internal dilemma.
So, back to the drawing board. Why is Blizzard holding up on talking about the game?
In the first link, at the end there was a mini-Q&A (not the World and Q&A panel), where Wyatt Cheng said the infamous words that infuriated the crowd. But probably, most certainly, people might have forgotten what Kris Zierhut said immediately after:
[bluepost]Wyatt: Do you guys not have a phone?
Kris: Yeah! Do you guys all have phones? You can play it on your tablet, too. Yes. It’s also on the Nintendo Switch[/bluepost]
So... here we have potentially one reason why Blizzard hasn't announced a launch date for Diablo Immortal after NetEase completed development. The port to a Android Tablets might require some extra fine-tuning. I am not sure Blizzard would hold back the Android launch to complete the Nintendo Switch version. Even for PC, the Nintendo Switch announcement was made long long after Diablo III: Reaper of Souls launched.
I don't even think Nintendo Switch was on Blizzard's radar back in March 2014 (when Reaper of Souls came out). Nintendo officially announced the Nintendo Switch (by name) on October 20, 2016 -- though it had been mentioned as codename NX as early as March 17, 2015.
The Diablo III Console version launched in August 19, 2014; and the Diablo III Nintendo Switch on November 2, 2018. I won't gamble on a Diablo Immortal Android/iOS/Nintendo Switch simultaneous launch date, but I can see how making sure the game works well in Android smartphones and Android Tablets on different screen sizes might be holding them back behind-the-scenes.
On top of that, Tablets have a nice extras such as bluetooth keyboard and mice, HDMI ports (some), and the ability to connect to TVs. So... that would be interesting if Blizzard is considering support for that.
From past job openings, we know that the Diablo Immortal team was recruited based on having knowledge of UNITY (a cross-platform game engine) widely used for mobile games -- written in C++ (runtime) and C# (Unity Scripting API).
If you visit the UNITY website, there is a quote by Blizzard Entertainment production director Jason Chayes: "A thing that is really great about Unity is that it has native support for the tools that our artists like to use -- Photoshop and Maya." Hearthstone is listed among the games developed with Unity.
Here is an article by Prototypr about the difference between Tablets vs Smartphones; which explains why Blizzard might, partially, be taking time with sharing updates about Diablo Immortal -- if they were actually developing Diablo Immortal to work on Tablets (as revealed by Kris Zierhut at BlizzCon). There is some extra work required by Blizzard to accomodate Diablo Immortal Android to work properly on Android Tablets.
Smartphones are considered "mobile devices," while Tablets are considered as Entertainment devices. Mobile devices are mostly used as communication devices and for social media. Gaming on the go for short periods of time while waiting in traffic, on a bus, train or airplane; or elsewhere. Tablets are for production, entertainment, and gaming for longer periods of time. Usually at home or the office.
The main thing is UI design, and configuring the game to be compatible with the different screen sizes of each tablet out there in the market for specific Android versions supported. Can developing for Tablets be a reason for Blizzard to be silent at the moment on plans for the Diablo Immortal beta testing? Sure it might.
3. Another wild possibility for Blizzard to be holding back details on Diablo Immortal is that they listened to the tsunami of feedback. What if Blizzard was secretly working on a PC version of Diablo Immortal to gain all those fans that got irritated with the Mobile only announcement?
Blizzard made a big mistake. It hasn't been the first one, nor the only one they have made over the past 20+ years. But one thing has remained a constant. Blizzard listens to fan feedback. We might not always get what each person individually wants... but Blizzard has made adjustments to correct their games.
So I am left to wonder whether Blizzard Entertainment took to heart the crowd feedback at BlizzCon, and decided to change course -- making Diablo Immortal not only for Mobile, but for PC/Mac too. That would certainly justify the lack of updates.