While the first two Diablo games have a classic monetization model, Diablo III broke new ground by introducing the real-money auction house — which caused its share of problems until it was removed just before the release of the Reaper of Souls expansion.
As a mobile game, Diablo Immortal is likely to be a big hit this year as well. But what about Diablo IV? According to comments made following its announcement at BlizzCon, it should take a more traditional approach to monetization, at least in general terms.
Diablo IV: Expected Monetization
To elaborate, let's quote what the development team said at the press conference following the announcement. Joe Shely, the Lead Game Designer, said that they plan to sell the base game as well as expansions. Cosmetic microtransactions are also planned, but they won't sell anything that will affect the strength of players.
Diablo IV: Price Estimate
The price of the base game is likely to be set at the standard $59.99 to $69.99 range, to which will eventually be added $15 to $30 for a Deluxe Edition, and much more for a Collector's Edition. Note that these are simply speculative prices on our part, based on industry practices and Activision Blizzard's track record.
Since the game is far from finished, we don't yet know how regularly the expansions will come, their price and content, and whether or not they will come with free content updates. This can represent $30 to $40 every one-to-two years, or smaller but more regular amounts.
Microtransactions, on the other hand, are more likely to be in the form of a conventional online store, with its share of portraits, pets, outfits and dyes, rather than the popular (and heavily criticized) Overwatch version of lootboxes in competitive games.
The Chinese Diablo III store could serve as a model in this regard, although, once again, we're just exploring different hypotheses. It's a monetization method adopted by many major titles, which are intended to be games-as-service.
A good example is Monster Hunter: World, with its Iceborne extension. Its shop contains a lot of paid - but dispensable - cosmetic DLC, such as stickers or costumes for the handler. This doesn't prevent Monster Hunter: World from getting regular content updates.
The financial dilemma of modern games
From Activision Blizzard's point of view, the big problem with Diablo III is that it doesn't bring a steady income to the West. The group can only rely on the sales of game boxes, the expansion, and the Necromancer DLC to bring in money since the removal of the auction house.
As the base game dates back to 2012, the number of units sold per month must be quite low now. However, the servers are maintained and, modest as they are, content patches arrive about every three months — which implies maintaining even a minimal development team. Both cost money, so it's not surprising that the studio is looking for a way to make its next title profitable in the long run.
Cosmetics obtained in the form of paid microtransactions could probably be the most widespread answer, as well as the one best tolerated by the players, since they would not feel forced to pay to fully enjoy the content and take on high-level challenges.
The base price of games hasn't increased significantly for many years now, while development costs have exploded. Modern games require much more work, at least in their development, than those of the past. It's much harder to create nice textures and models in 4K with realistic physical models for Diablo IV, than, for example, a few sprites and pixel animations for the first two games.
Big publishers have not yet dared to directly increase the price of their games for fear of a reaction from the general public, whose incomes have also stagnated for years (on average).
Different editions and cosmetic DLC are also methods of avoiding having to increase the base price of the game. A monthly subscription is obviously out of the question in 2020 for a game of this type.
Pros and cons of cosmetic microtransactions
Once again, compared to the most aggressive practices in the field, purely cosmetic microtransactions seem to be an acceptable sacrifice in the eyes of many.
One of the main arguments against them is that many of these cosmetics have simply been cut off from the base game. In other circumstances, they would have rewarded players who performed notable actions in the game. This practice may also influence the studio in its game design in the broadest sense, as well as in the aesthetics of the objects.
Although it is never openly acknowledged, they may choose to deprive players of options that they would normally have made available to them, such as transmogrification or PC mods. Plus, the best cosmetic items tend to be exclusive to the store.
A decade ago, very few players would have suspected Blizzard of taking such a slippery slope, but their many mistakes over the past few years have seriously damaged their image and credibility in this regard.