Diablo 4 has done little to earn these absurdly priced microtransactions — but does anyone even care?

Diablo 4 microtransactions
(Image credit: Windows Central | Blizzard Entertainment)

Diablo 4 has once again found itself in the spotlight, and, once again, not for a particularly great reason. 

In one of the most recent Diablo 4 store updates, people noticed that Blizzard has once again added some hilariously expensive items, some that cost as much as entire video games for what amounts to some multi-colored pixels in exchange. Yes, these bundles also come with in-game currency which lets you buy even more in-game items, and yes, none of it is pay-to-win, but still, it's leaving a sour taste for a variety of reasons. 

Diablo 4 is a full price, premium game, costing $70 or more in some territories. The base game is incredible in my view, as I detailed in our Diablo 4 review. However, with that experience now far behind most players, attention has turned to Diablo 4's endgame and live service, which so far has left a lot to be desired. 

Diablo 4 has a mountain of issues, and its most recent season "Of the Construct" already saw a lot of its core mechanics nerfed into irrelevance owing to some incredibly out of touch design choices. The previous Diablo 4 "Season of Blood" seemed like a step in the right direction, but the game's long-awaited ranked mode has also now seen a delay. 

I'm using Diablo 4 as the point of discussion here, but really the points I'll make in this piece apply to a large variety of games. So often, AAA developers are leading with microtransactions before even really offering anything in return, least of all trust. 

Diablo 4 and 'the right to monetize'

(Image credit: Windows Central | Blizzard Entertainment)

I put a few hundred hours into Diablo 4, particularly in Season of Blood, but I'm not sure I've appreciated it. The gameplay in Season of Blood essentially revolved around doing repeated tasks from the base game, albeit with some added vampiric powers on top. Season of the Construct is essentially the same again, only this time you get a little robot who can zap things for you. But the loop of boss ladder, nightmare dungeon, item hunt, remains largely the same. And sure, that's perhaps what action RPGs of this type are known for, but there's a big difference here that has just completely put me off wanting to play Diablo 4 at all — all of the coolest, best-looking items come from the bloody paid store, rather than in-game. 

When Monster Hunter World added additional content post launch, the vast, vast majority of it was free. New weapon models for free. New boss models for free. New events for free. New cosmetics for free. Yes, there were emotes you could buy and character re-skin vouchers on the side, and a truly, truly massive expansion called Iceborne to buy, but the volume of content you got out of Monster Hunter was truly absurd, a feat to behold. And it's within that context that I find it hard to understand why Diablo 4 offers so little in comparison, while also having one of the most aggressively-priced cosmetic storefronts I've ever seen. 

It got to a point with Monster Hunter World where I wanted to buy everything Capcom was offering in the store, just to help them fund more of this free stuff they were piling into the game. Blizzard is pushing me in the opposite direction. I don't want to buy the Battle Pass, I don't want to pay for any cosmetics, because the Seasonal content so far has been so lackluster and barebones that I feel like I'm somehow being cheated. 

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The CEO of Arrowhead Games Johan Pilestedt recently alluded to this idea in a Twitter (X) thread, where he said "... 'you have to earn the right to monetize,' I truly believe that," as part of a discussion about Helldivers 2. Helldivers 2 has a battle pass, but all of its content can be earned in-game simply by playing, without any premium tracks or things akin to that. Also, the things you can buy are fairly cheap, and certainly not $70 mount and $30 portal recolor-priced as we see from the likes of Diablo 4. 

"But Jez, Diablo 4 has dedicated servers, therefor it needs the additional income." The thing is, Diablo 4 absolutely does not need dedicated servers. Absolutely nothing about Diablo 4's gameplay loop justifies the fact that it has dedicated servers in the first place. This could've been a peer-to-peer player-hosted multiplayer game, just like all of the previous Diablo games. But for some absurd reason, Blizzard decided this one needed to have dedicated servers, and forced always-online. Diablo 4 is the loneliest always-online game I have ever played. There's ZERO reason to interact with other players. World bosses get melted in seconds, and require no tactical play whatsoever. Trading for mats could be done over Discord via peer-to-peer. And seeing random players in the world doesn't really add anything to the overall feel of the game. If Blizzard wanted Diablo 4 to feel like an MMO, they've utterly failed to accomplish anything that resembles an "always online" game here, and I can't help but wonder why that decision was made in the first place, since it just adds needless overheads and server costs that could've otherwise been fed into actually developing the game. You know, like Monster Hunter World. 

Is anyone else just sick of Battle Passes? (Image credit: Jennifer Young - Windows Central)

I want to earn everything from Diablo 4's Battle Pass and its cosmetic store from actually killing monsters, and slaying bosses. Paying for it, or grinding some arbitrary points just takes the joy out of it for me somehow. I appreciate that everybody is different, and maybe some of you out there actually enjoy Battle Passes. I appreciate that they also fund on-going development, and that games have become more expensive to make than ever. But it also feels like in some cases, AAA cases more often than not, the covenant of trust between consumer and publisher has been lost. 

Like Pilestedt says, all the money I spent during Diablo 4's Season of Blood doesn't seem to have been put to good use in Season of the Construct. The seasonal content is bland, there's a hard lack of interesting, new cosmetic rewards to hunt down, and only one new boss to persue. Why does Blizzard think it deserves any of the content its putting in the store? 

Well, the answer is simple really, people are paying for it. 

The service game industry feels like it's at an impasse

(Image credit: Windows Central | Blizzard Entertainment)

Tech and game industry layoffs are rife right now across the entire medium, and service games are rising and falling like the tides and bringing jobs as fast as they are taking them away. We've seen huge success stories like Palworld and Helldivers 2 this quarter, but also massive failures like Suicide Squad. 

Diablo 4 really typifies the concept of a game that hasn't earned the right to monetize yet, although the game was designed from the ground up, unnecessary dedicated servers and all, to push cosmetics that are detrimental to the game — until there are armor sets that look that awesome to earn in-game via killing bosses, or you know, just generally playing the game. Although to Blizzard's credit, an itemization update is supposed to be coming to Diablo 4 in Season 4, but I've kind of lost faith at this point.

When it feels like a dev is putting more effort into store-bought items than items acquired through actual play, something has gone wrong.

And that's really what this is all about ultimately. Games like Palworld haven't turned on monetization yet, as they head through their early access period, although they very easily could do. Helldivers 2' monetization is incredibly light touch, despite having 200K concurrent players on Steam as of writing. Games like Sea of Thieves also didn't monetize for ages either, seeking to build a community and "earn the right" to monetize before going ahead with it. I feel like that's the correct approach, and helps build a rapport with your community, and faith for the long-term vision. When it feels like a dev is putting more effort into store-bought items than items acquired through actual play, something has gone wrong.

The balance between profits and community seems to have swung too hard in the wrong direction for some publishers and companies. But as I said in the title, does it even matter? Perhaps there are just enough players who simply don't care. For me, it's barely even about the money or the price of this stuff. I just want to actually get the cool looking mounts and armor sets from playing. That's a REASON to play for me, and they're removing it from the gameplay loop, and putting a dumb price tag on it instead. 

But hey, perhaps it's just that I'm an old man yelling at a cloud, an old man who wants to play to earn, instead of pay to earn. 

Perhaps the kids don't care these days. 👴

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!