"We've had our authentic moment, now we can start to turn the dial to be a little bit more fantastic." We chat Diablo 4 microtransactions with Rod Fergusson, and striking a balance between earning and paying for the best Diablo drip

Diablo 4 Store
(Image credit: Jennifer Young - Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • The Diablo 4 store, packed with cosmetic-only microtransactions holds some of the coolest gear in the game. 
  • Some players express frustration in feeling that the store holds better items than those earned from playing the game.
  • We interviewed Diablo lead Rod Fergusson all about the franchise and the hot store debate.
  • The aim at launch was authenticity to the Diablo universe, but as game Seasons have passed the devs have used the store to exercise a more creative and "fantastic" vision for cosmetics.
  • Work is going on to include better cosmetics that are indeed earnable and provide lower-cost items and bundles tailor-made to the player.

One of the best things about building your character in a Diablo game, is equipping yourself with the finest drip you can find. It's not an element of the game all players care about, some preferring to just concentrate on the task in hand, fighting back the hordes of Hell. Some of us however, want to look good doing it, and there are extra style points to be had if your gear has been acquired from hard battle or bestowed by RNGesus. In Diablo 3, whether you'd earnt your shiny new wings from completing the hardest chapter on the Season Journey, or they'd dropped in the rarest instance of Whimsydale it didn't matter, they were marks of a warrior who'd played a hell of a lot of hours of Diablo and had the proof to show it. 

Striking a balance between paying and earning the best items

Diablo 3 cosmetics were purely a reward for playing, and some rare finds were pure RNG (Image credit: Jennifer Young - Windows Central)

Diablo 4 launching as a live service game, with a cosmetic shop almost turned this notion on it's head. The worry pre-launch from players was that the finest armor would now be available at a price, and the cosmetics we could earn in game would lack the same impact as with previous games. At launch, for most players it was a relief to find that actually, you could earn some pretty badass gear in game and very early on. In fact, in Diablo 2 and 3 you really had to wait until end game to achieve anything worthy of showing off in the lobby, but in Diablo 4 the meticulously designed armor from low level to end game was pretty damn cool. The designs offering in game and in the store were pretty much on par.

Something distinct, at least to me, seemed to change around Season 2, Season of Blood. Having not been tempted by anything in the store before, all of a sudden the designs had got a bit more daring, and stood out against the bleak backdrop. I've since grabbed a few shiny items like the Beautiful in Sin set, but while the huge improvement to the store cosmetics is a credit to the artists, it also presents a dilemma. Is it true that the items you can get from playing the game are still equally good? Or are they falling behind?

I'm not alone in my musings, as it's been asked of the developers in the latest Campfire Chat about making it easier to earn the Diablo 4 store items, and the answers have been that they're working on this. I got the chance to interview Rod Fergusson, GM of Diablo this week, and posed the question to him about what this actually meant, and if he agrees with the perception of store items being 'better'. 

"What we're trying to do, like with how to interpret the teasing [from the Campfire Chats] is a little bit of both [easier to earn and to buy]. If you look at 'easier to acquire' at least from a purchase perspective, like we just released these class bundles where you could get two different looks for a much cheaper price. So we did one of those for each class. Perhaps less than half of what our top armor stuff normally goes for. So we wanted to find places for people to use the shop, but at a lower price point. "

One of the class bundles available in the Diablo store (Image credit: Jennifer Young - Windows Central)

As well as discussing the current bundles available, Rod detailed some other work going on to make the store items more approachable from a lower price point.

"We're also doing some stuff, this idea of personalized discounts, which is the other part, which we're kind of excited about. Other games have done this too where they look and say, based on your play, here's something that might be most relevant to you in terms of discounting. And so like, 
hey here's four different levels of discount on four different types of things. And again, it goes back to that notion of trying to find ways that make it sort of more approachable or easier for people to get into it at a lower price point if they're interested. But it's all cosmetic. They don't need to get it, they don't. It's all about how you want to look, again, Diablo being the ultimate power fantasy and kind of that 'how do you want to play, how do you want to look' and so there's no power in any of that. It's all about your vanity in playing your power fantasy."

Being more creative with the Diablo 4 shop cosmetics

The Lord Eater armor in Diablo 4 (Image credit: Bizzard Entertainment)

In our chat about the Diablo 4 store cosmetics, Rod indicated to me that it wasn't just in my imagination that the shop items had got better in recent months. It's not a case of wanting people to spend more there though, it's simply that the team have been able to exercise some more creativity with the shop items. While we may not see the likes of Diablo 3's Horadric Hamburgers or miniature Cows in Diablo 4, we can expect items to get a little more 'fantastic'.

"I think we're always talking about that notion of making cool stuff that people can earn. That's an ongoing conversation. At the beginning of Diablo 4, we were very focused on kind of staying authentic and staying grounded. As with each season, we kind of are getting more comfortable with, okay, our launch is over and we've had our 'authentic moment' now we can start to turn the dial to be a little bit more fantastic. So I think you're starting to see that in some of the shop explorations we're doing, like Lord Eater. There's some interesting skins there."

we can start to turn the dial to be a little bit more fantastic. So I think you're starting to see that in some of the shop explorations we're doing, like Lord Eater.

Rod Fergusson

"I think that's the type of thing you'll start to see also become part of our earnable stuff, as well, how we look at Season Journey and how we look to improve Season Journey. How we look to include new types of cosmetics, the way that you saw in Diablo 3. So there'll be some interesting stuff on the horizon, I think you'll be excited about. We're always trying to find the right balance there in terms of what is earnable. We want cool things for people that they can earn, which I think you can."

As Rod aluded to here, you can earn new cosmetics in the game by taking part in Seasons, which always include a free Battle Pass with cosmetic rewards for players to complete. There's a paid pass for those who wish to earn extra items, but it's completely optional. Speaking of which, you can get a free Premium Battle Pass for Diablo 4 if you have enough Microsoft Reward points.

Armor available in Season of Blood Battle Pass (Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

We've also had other in-game events such as the Midwinter Blight and Lunar Awakening which gave players a chance to farm crafting materials and currency for special vendors, to earn new items for their character. Rod told us that while he buys a lot in the Diablo 4 store, his brother is more thrifty and sticks to what is available for free.

"My brother doesn't spend a dime and he looks cool when he's playing with me, and I try to basically buy everything I can! You can still earn really cool things. What I love about being part of a live service is that it allows you to iterate, and so it's not like a one-and-done, so much like we're seeing with the loot. So as we look at all of our systems, whether it be the Battle Pass or Season Journey, or the shop, is that we can continue to evolve those over time. And so just because it's not here today, doesn't mean it's not going to get improved and looked at in the future. It's always something we're talking about. "

So it seems as work steams ahead on Diablo 4's itemization and making Season 4 the season of meaningful loot and crafting your perfect power fantasy, there's also plenty going on behind the scenes on making the Diablo 4 store better too, both in terms of pricing on some items and potentially making its more whimsical items available to earn. In the meantime, we look forward to seeing what the Season 4 theme is and the cosmetics that come with that. 

Jennifer Young

Jen is a News Writer for Windows Central, focused on all things gaming and Microsoft. Anything slaying monsters with magical weapons will get a thumbs up such as Dark Souls, Dragon Age, Diablo, and Monster Hunter. When not playing games, she'll be watching a horror or trash reality TV show, she hasn't decided which of those categories the Kardashians fit into. You can follow Jen on Twitter @Jenbox360 for more Diablo fangirling and general moaning about British weather.