Diablo 4 on Xbox Game Pass, Season 4 learnings, Diablo TV show? Blizzard's Rod Fergusson talked to us about all things Diablo.

Diablo 4
(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Welcome to the start of our Diablo 4 Season 4 coverage! Kickstarting with Part 1 of an exclusive interview with Diablo Franchise General Manager, Rod Fergusson. 

It's been a rollercoaster few years for Diablo fans. We've seen the release of a highly anticipated remaster in Diablo 2: Resurrected, alongside some of the most fan-centric Season themes for Diablo 3. Additionally, the franchise saw the launch of Diablo 4, which permeated pop culture with its widespread marketing campaign, so wild a campaign fans joked that Blizzard had set the sky on fire in New York. But it worked, leading to record-breaking sales upon its June 2024 release. Suddenly, being a Diablo fan felt less niche.

But it's not all been smooth sailing, having more eyes than ever on your game opens it to more critique, more outlets hungry to jump on 'Diablo bad' headlines. This all aided in no small part by missteps made, particularly regarding Diablo 4's incorporation of live service and MMO elements. Balancing the demands of passionate fans seeking ongoing content with the need to attract new players is now mean feat. Yet, with Season 4 on the horizon and Diablo 4 now available on Xbox Game Pass, it appears Blizzard may have found a winning formula. This week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Rod Fergusson, General Manager of the Diablo franchise, to discuss everything from Xbox integration to the highs and lows of Diablo development and even the potential for a Diablo TV show.

Xbox Game Pass bringing in fresh meat

Xbox is now the biggest platform for daily active users in Diablo (Image credit: Blizzard/Xbox/Jennifer Young - Windows Central)

Diablo 4 landed in Xbox Game Pass in March, and since then I've had no end of friends who've never step foot in a Diablo game messaging me about their experience with it. Like the subscription model or not, Xbox Game Pass has brought in a horde of fresh new players who wouldn't have considered the $70 gate price, and they're enjoying it in droves. I asked Rod his thoughts on the Game Pass launch and what it's been like having effectively, a second launch for Diablo 4.

"Yeah, it's fantastic. I think that one of the great things about Game Pass is the fact that it kind of instantly gives you a shared library.  I play co-op games with my brother. And I was always like, "Oh, I have this game. You should go buy it." And he'd say, "Well, I don't know if I like it. Why would I buy it?" But now we both have the same game because we both have Game Pass. We can play together which is great. So we love that with Diablo. Being a creator, you want your creation to be played or experienced by as many people as possible. And so you're coming into Game Pass and seeing all the people, all the players, showing up and playing is just fantastic. It feels great."

Being a creator, you want your creation to be played or experienced by as many people as possible.

Rod Fergusson

As reported by our Managing Editor Jez Corden, internal Microsoft emails from Xbox President Sarah Bond revealed that due to the Game Pass launch, "Xbox has quickly become the #1 platform for D4 players." However vague this statement may be in it's metrics, it's surprising given that Diablo has always had a majority PC audience, but no doubt other factors are in play here, given that it is at the latter end of the season when the hardcore players are at their least active. That and the 'Xbox platform' is very much the wider ecosystem of Xbox and PC.  I asked Rod his thoughts on the growing console audience, and in his answer, he did give more much-needed context.

"That was one of the big things we wanted to do, even when we released Diablo 2: Resurrected. One of the ways we wanted to make the franchise more approachable for players of all ages and systems was to bring Diablo 2: Resurrected to console as well. And so focusing on all players and not just focusing on PC was an important part of what we did with Diablo 4 as well. 

There's more Game Pass, or more Xbox players and other players from a daily active user perspective, but it's still a large PC audience because of its 27 year history.

Rod Fergusson

"So when it came to Game Pass, for the daily active users, there's more Game Pass or more Xbox players and other players from a daily active user perspective, but it's still a large PC audience because of its 27-year history."

"We just love having all these new players, like you said, you know who have not been willing to try it with the cost of entry, but with having it show up in their library, they want to give it a shot. And we think that's great, and that's really what we've been trying to do with Diablo 4. How do we broaden the audience? Things like when you saw on our marketing, we had Halsey and Sugar from BTS, and we're trying to make sure that we appeal to a broader audience right, as broad as possible, and it's been great to see some of that payoff."

With the reception and success of Diablo 4's addition to Xbox Game Pass, could we eventually see other Diablo titles like Diablo 2: Resurrected and Diablo 3 added to the library?

"Again, Game Pass is obviously exciting to be part of, but we have nothing really to announce yet at this moment. But you know, we are really just loving the fact that so many people showed up for Diablo 4."

On the revival of video game adaptations, and Diablo's potential for it's own

Could the rumor of a Diablo adaptation ever come to fruition? (Image credit: Jennifer Young- Windows Central)

Recently, video game adaptations have been resurging in popularity, from Last of Us to Arcane, to the latest hot series on everyone's timeline, Fallout. Even the latest season of Halo appears to have had better reception than it's first.  It's official, video game to TV adaptations are good again (let's pretend The Witcher Season 2 doesn't exist).

Perhaps most important is the injection of life they bring to the games. Fallout is experiencing a player count resurgence across all of its games, and unprecedented numbers are jumping into Fallout 76. Back in 2018, we had our own rumors of a potential Diablo adaptation on Netflix, the sources of these rumors have since been wiped from the internet, but a passionate community never forgets. Perhaps it was true and scrapped, perhaps it's still ongoing. I didn't expect Rod to answer the rumors directly as if it is a prospect it's one that will be revealed in time and via the correct channels, but I did ask him if he thought the Diablo universe could transfer to the silver screen as well as the aforementioned games.

"Yeah I definitely think it could work. That's one of the things I really liked about Diablo as an IP, is that it's got very relatable themes because it's The High Heavens versus The Burning Hells, and that idea of Good versus Evil. I think that's something that could translate very well to something like that. You know, I wish I had something I could talk to you about today. But in terms of just the general idea, do I think it could work? I definitely do.

Edgerunners was actually one of the ones that got me, the Cyberpunk [2077] anime. That one got me going back to Cyberpunk for sure. There's been a lot of great shows recently."

Learning from Seasons 1, 2 and 3 to create the best Season 4 and beyond

Diablo 4 Season of the Construct has a trap theme that wasn't popular at launch but was quickly improved (Image credit: Blizzard)

Diablo 4 Season 4 has been delayed until May 14 to give the team time to implement the hugest changes to the game so far. Itemization and endgame changes are so far-reaching through the game that we're effectively getting a Diablo 4 2.0. These changes haven't been decided upon lightly, a vast amount of data has been compiled from Seasons 1 to 3, on what is working and what is not. Rod himself said on his most recent appearance on the Xbox On Twitch livestream that "Season 4 couldn't exist without Seasons 1, 2, and 3." I asked Rod exactly what the team had learned from Diablo 4's first three seasons, and how they will implement this feedback in Season 4 and beyond.

"The biggest one, obviously, is the itemization, or what we call itemization. I think sometimes that word gets lost on people who aren't hardcore about the notion of how loot works. When you're trying to make what we call a Diablo-like type game, like a system-based RPG, you're looking to create depth and complexity to allow you to have that feeling of mastery. And I think one of the things we did at launch was that our loot system, and all the affixes and how you manage affixes, and the conditional effects, were just overly complex and very granular and detailed."

I think one of the things we did at launch was that our loot system, and all the affixes and how you manage affixes, and the conditional effects, were just overly complex and very granular and detailed.

Rod Fergusson

"Diablo is all about living in a power fantasy. And so you go in and you're trying to be 'Yo, I want to be this raging Barbarian. And I want to have all this power, and I'm looking for this type of weapon, I want to be a dual-wielding barbarian, and trying to find the perfect piece all the time starts to slow you down, and becomes an issue where now you're like, "oh, I have to stop and like look through these six things that fell on the ground. Is that the one I'm looking for with the perfect amount of cooldown reduction?" Or movement speed? Or whatever it is you're looking for."

Loot will be simplified in Season 4 (Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

"And so what we learned from that was just really like, hey, we need to find a way to simplify this and actually put the power more into the players hands. And so that's what you see with Season 4. Instead of having all these affixes falling on weapons, we actually go down to a core set. So it's much easier to compare apples to apples. "

Rod went on to detail the upcoming Tempering and Mastery systems, two new crafting mechanics we can look forward to in Season 4 on both Seasonal and Eternal Realms. You can read more about both these systems in the latest Campfire Chat summary. It seems that rather than waiting for the right loot to drop, we will now have more control over creating our own perfect weapon or piece of armor and hunting down the perfect base on which to implement our demon-slaying desires.

"We turn that notion waiting for the random drop to be more about now crafting and what we call Tempering. So you're trying to actually trying to make the weapon that you want, as opposed to find the weapon that you want. And so that makes it more personal to you. Diablo is about investing in your character and creating this class from the skills, and how you look, and all that stuff. And I think that [we are]
trying to give you that level of sort of personalization into your equipment as well, because now you can craft it.

And that's part of one of the learnings from [Seasons] 1, 2 and 3 was like, the system that we were looking for depth from may have actually overshot and it's too complex.

Rod Fergusson

Once you get into Endgame, you can masterwork it, and you can, you know, really take it to be what you want. We're seeing even in the Public Test Realm we had, you know, people were recognizing, like, "oh, I can actually put double movement speeds on this thing because it came with a movement speed. And I can add a movement speed. And now I can really lean into my power fantasy of being fast." And so giving the ownership of the fantasy more to the players I think is exciting. And that's part of one of the learnings from [Seasons] 1, 2 and 3 was like, the system that we were looking for depth from may have actually overshot and it's too complex. So we're gonna readjust it for Season 4."

The new Codex of Power will be a relief to hoarders everywhere

Stashes like this will be a thing of the past (Image credit: Jennifer Young - Windows Central)

A long-debated pain point in Diablo 4 has been the limited stash space. Diablo players are hoarders, and I count myself amongst the afflicted. Unless you commit to playing only one class and one build, it's nearly impossible to keep a tidy stash space as you want to keep every piece of important loot you come across in your journey across Sanctuary. Rather than directly just adding endless stash tabs (which, let's face it, we would all fill anyway), Diablo 4 developers have made a lot of headway in the months since launch, such as changing how things like Gems take space in your inventory, but Diablo 4 legendary affixes from loot have remained an issue. The upcoming Codex of Power will hopefully put the stash debate to bed, and Rod talked a little more about how this will work, in a much better way than I could ever explain it to non-Diablo friends.

"What used to happen, you would basically change gear 3 times, right? You'd have your basic gear and then when you go to World Tier 3, you would have your Sacred gear and when you get to go to 4, you have your Ancestral gear, and if you had a special affix, like +2 Skeletal Mages then we wouldn't want to throw that away. So you would find more things that have affix on it, and then you would stash it away and hold on to it. So that you could pull that affix later.

Now in Season 4, once you salvage or extract it once off that thing, it goes into your Codex of Power. So now it's in your book. And now you have
+2 Skeletal Mages forever. So whenever you get a piece of gear that you want to put that onto, it's right there in your book. Like the [legendary aspects] you would get that you find in the dungeons. So the fact that now you don't have to keep these aspect crystals around or even just filling up your stash with gear and affixes that you might need later. It's just in your book, and means your stash will be much clearer and you won't have to manage so many things for 'just in case'."

A new era for Diablo 4 is just around the corner

The overwhelming mood of my chat with Rod, was that I was just talking to another Diablo superfan. In fact, Rod is well known for being so devoted to his choice of main, the Necromancer, that he's got a tattoo to prove it.

He anticipated I'd bring up the class debate and had a Rogue t-shirt underneath the hoodie in preparation, leaving my jokes about it being the superior class obsolete. Rod is actually well acquainted with all of the classes, "Season 3 I took a break and I got a Barbarian to level 100, a Druid to level 100 and a Sorcerer to level 66. But for Season 1 and 2 I had Necros, so now I'm gonna go back to Necro in Season 4 because the changes are so good."

Indeed, as Rod plans for his own playthrough, Season 4 may be the 'Season of the Mains,' many are looking forward to more build diversity than we've seen before in Diablo 4. The new season starts on May 14, and its sweeping changes will hopefully be a coming together of new fans from Xbox Game Pass, players who dropped the game after a divisive first season, and the die-hard fans who never left. There's a distinct mood in the air, following the success of the PTR that we're entering a new era for Diablo, and I for one cannot wait. 

Join us next week for Part 2 of our epic Rod Fergusson interview, and look out for Diablo 4, Season 4 to drop on May 14, 2024. 

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.