Source: Activision Blizzard.

One of Blizzard’s most popular franchises, Diablo, had its mobile debut in June of last year with the release of Diablo Immortal, an on-the-go, free-to-play homage to the hack-and-slash PC franchise. Despite being the largest launch in the franchise's history, the game received a less-than-desirable response at release.

In terms of pure press attention, Diablo Immortal was the most prominent mobile game launch of 2022 — but not in the way Blizzard may have hoped. Although review aggregation sites are hardly the judge of a game’s quality or an accurate predictor of potential, some indicators cannot be ignored. For example, Diablo Immortal currently holds among the lowest-ever recorded user scores on the review aggregation website Metacritic.

The game was swiftly met with a negative reception, and reviews indicate that this is primarily due to the change in the business model. | Source: Metacritic.

In addition to the change in business model and platform, this audience backlash is likely a question of dwindling company and brand trust. The game launched against the backdrop of reports of rampant sexual harassment and discriminatory practices at the studio and publisher Activision Blizzard as a whole, an ongoing saga that had led to a number of lawsuits against the company. 

That’s not to mention news stories of Diablo Immortal allegedly requiring excessive real-money spending to make meaningful progress. The result was that fans entered Diablo Immortal with a sour perspective — players who may have otherwise approached the mobile version with a more open-minded perspective. 

Despite all this, Diablo Immortal has maintained an impressive position in top chart positions worldwide.

Despite a rocky start, Immortal has been the #4 most downloaded and #9 top-grossing game on iOS for the past several months. | Source:

The game has several things going for it to help justify its popularity. For one, Diablo Immortal is mobile-first yet with a PC port, similar to Raid: Shadow Legends. It’s also the first in the series with a F2P business model. The game is available globally on Android and iOS, as well as on PC via

The official gameplay trailer for Diablo Immortals should feel familiar to fans of the series. | Source: YouTube.

Immortal features everything a player could want from a Diablo game: fountains of loot that appear in plenty, showstopping set pieces with memorable bosses, and large waves of enemies that make you feel powerful as you destroy wave upon wave in succession. Diablo is known for tight combat and a high level of polish, and Immortal delivers on that with real-time, visceral combat at its finest. 

The gameplay loop is simple. Players explore, kill enemies, and raid dungeons to gain experience and loot to increase their power. These few steps are the formula to what makes a Diablo game a Diablo game. 

Diablo Immortals' core loop feels aligned with others in the franchise. It has everything a fan would expect. Eurogamer went as far as to describe it as Diablo at its best.

Aside from the core gameplay, Diablo is, at its core, an MMO. Each zone hosts players that are free to chat, interact, and join forces with one another to tackle numerous quests and events in multiplayer groups. 

Despite the hostile reception regarding monetization design choices, players have praised the game for its high production value and mobile-first approach. Like Hearthstone, Blizzard’s take on the Collectible Card Game, Immortal is also available on PC, making the game an attractive offering to players who perhaps prefer cross-platform gaming and don’t want to be restricted to a smartphone screen.

With the addition of cross-play, players are incentivized to diversify their primary platform and continue their progress on the go without sacrificing experience or progress. From a business perspective, this is highly beneficial for rising player LTV. Blizzard fans are largely loyal, so presenting a way to gain access to more of their favorite titles, or approach them differently, only strengthens the player’s bond with the product.

Activision Blizzard And NetEase’s Growing Tensions

The development story behind Diablo Immortal is arguably just as complex as its early launch monetization controversy. Activision Blizzard and NetEase, both MMO giants in their own right, have had a longstanding partnership spanning 14 years. In the past, this agreement comprised NetEase co-publishing Blizzard’s traditionally Western-focused titles (World of Warcraft and Overwatch) in China. 

However, Diablo Immortal represented a change in direction as the first mobile title co-developed by the two companies. Currently, there are two versions of Diablo Immortal on the market: the Blizzard version (available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play globally) and the NetEase version (available in China only). 

NetEase is well established in two key areas Blizzard is not – mobile development and marketing MMOs to the Eastern market. With solid experience in the MMO Action RPG market with titles such as Heavenly Mandate (No. 18 in grossing) and A Chinese Ghost Story (No. 19 in grossing) making over $3.5 million in revenue over the last year, NetEase was the most promising partner Blizzard could have hoped for. 

That makes it all the more curious to see how the two companies’ relationship has almost completely deteriorated in the months since Diablo Immortal’s launch. Shortly after the release of Diablo Immortal, Blizzard canceled their mobile version of World of Warcraft, which had been in co-development with NetEase for approximately three years.  

In November of last year, Activision Blizzard dropped NetEase as its distribution partner in China after the two companies failed to reach a new agreement. This resulted in the removal of several PC games, including Hearthstone and World of Warcraft, from the Chinese market in January after NetEase refused to extend the existing contract for six months while Activision Blizzard found a replacement partner. 

With the drama surrounding Warzone Mobile's supplanting Call of Duty Mobile, which was developed in partnership with Tencent and its TiMi subsidiary, there is reason to believe Activision Blizzard is now shifting away from co-developing (and publishing) with Chinese companies altogether. That is unless the company finds an adequate replacement for NetEase this year. 

Still, Activision may be looking to use the learnings from their partnership with both Eastern market leaders to improve and scale their internal teams, turning themselves into a force in the East. Historically, the MMO genre hasn’t secured a strong foothold in the West. However, its outstanding performance in China, Japan, and South Korea has made it one of the best-performing genres on mobile. 

(Although out of scope for this essay, you can read a deeper insight into the mobile MMO market in our previous Diablo Immortal coverage. )

On PC, Blizzard pioneered the genre-defining MMORPG World of Warcraft, while NetEase leads the MMORPG market with Fantasy Westward Journey on mobile. Despite the powerhouses behind them, Diablo Immortal was profitable, but not immediately scalable with the level of sustainability required to create a long-lasting success. 

Perhaps this was due to press coverage, unmet audience expectations, or poor post-launch events and support. Regardless, it’s fascinating why the game failed to meet expectations, and this creates an exciting avenue of exploration for us. 

KPI evolution YoY (excl. China). | Source:

It was all but guaranteed Diablo Immortal would garner a moderate level of success, and any doubts about the game were dispelled when it became clear its gameplay was polished and enjoyable. But despite this initial triumph, Blizzard has failed to capitalize on its early momentum, at least in Western markets and to the level the developer and NetEase may have hoped.

This essay will analyze several events within Diablo Immortal to understand better what part live-ops had to play in the game’s early success and its ongoing struggles with the hope of uncovering some actionable learnings. It’s important to note that we’ll be looking at the global version of the game published by Blizzard, not NetEase’s China-only alternate.

Global Market Insights

As mentioned, NetEase controls the MMO mobile market with several top-grossing properties. With the partnership between the two MMO pioneers, it was a fair assumption Diablo Immortal would be a major global hit. However, that was not reflected in the game’s performance over the past 10 months, at least outside of China. 

According to, the NetEase-published version of Immortal (available only in China) launched on July 25th, almost two months after Blizzard’s, and maintained an average daily revenue of $2.23 million throughout the first four months.

Players had spent over $144 million on Diablo Immortal in China from July to November ‘22. | Source:

It would have been easy to predict Diablo to always be a hit in China, where gacha and pay-to-win mobile games are much more popular and the monetization methods more acceptable. With a download count of 4.15 million and revenue of $144.6 million, the game’s revenue per download (RPD) stood at $34.81 during this period. Meanwhile, outside of China Diablo Immortal’s RPD was $9.01, with $155 million from 17.3 million installs. The spending rate in China has been significant, though it has begun to fall over time.

To put that into perspective, the top markets (as of November 2022) for Diablo Immortal were as follows:

On downloads, the China version of the game remains on top despite arriving on the market later than the global version: 

With Diablo Immortal, the tension derives from the mismatch of expectations of a Western PC audience and the conventions and economies of mobile. For the most part, Diablo fans consist of hardcore PC gamers, many of which view mobile games with contempt. It’s notoriously hard to successfully manage player expectations when bringing a predominantly PC title over to mobile. 

In other words, Immortal was fighting an uphill battle from the start, especially when factoring in the severe backlash Blizzard faced when first announcing the game at BlizzCon back in 2018. 

LiveOps & Update Diversity

Several ebbs & flows in the revenue graph indicate that liveops are causing a revenue impact, but the lack of consistency is far from ideal. Ideally, we’d see an upwards shark tooth graph. | Source:

This section will analyze five different yet highly performant limited-time events Blizzard has released since launch to give us a strong perspective on Diablo Immortal's approach to live service gaming. Of course, it's challenging to determine the exact cause for revenue fluctuation as there are multiple contributing factors, such as:

  • Multiple simultaneously running events
  • Reward nominations (The Game Awards & DICE)
  • Seasonal releases
  • Content drops

However, we’ll look at these five events, break down the gameplay additions, and leave you with some key takeaways.

1. The Fractured Plane

Source: Blizzard.

The Fractured Plane is a roguelike event in which players traverse the Plane, an event-exclusive 15-floor dungeon. Before each run, players select from pre-determined classes and loadouts before traversing through a progressively difficult roguelike game mode. The further the player progresses, the more powerful the enemies become, with loot quality increasing in equal measure. 

For each level cleared, the player can salvage more powerful items or purchase them using an event-based currency, Shadow Coins, to help progress deeper into the dungeon. This includes Blessings and Legendary equipment exclusive to the event. Unfortunately, these are bound to the event and cannot be used outside the instance.

The mode is reminiscent of Hearthstone’s Adventure mode with its predefined playstyles and risk-reward element. It introduces new concepts not seen before in Diablo Immortal and, in essence, acts as a brand-new game mode. As such, many players expressed dismay at learning The Fractured Plane was a limited-time experience, occurring for only a few weeks at a time. 

The Fractured Plane is also a skill-based event, so players cannot rely on equipment or consumables that might otherwise have created an unbalanced playing field. This made it an attractive offering for both early and veteran players. 

Players can exit the event at the end of each level, at which point progress is saved until their next entry. | Source: Diablo Immortal

This event features three bespoke event-based currencies:

  • Fortune Rating: Increase the chance for high-quality items. Can be increased by purchasing a Shard of Fortune from the Chaos Broker (NPC trader) with Chaos Coins (event currency).
  • Resurrections: Represents the number of times the player may die. Resurrections are limited. If the player runs out, their run ends, and all rewards gained during the run are lost.
  • Chaos Coins: Used to obtain items or health. 
Source: Diablo Immortal.

Players receive rewards upon reaching levels 5, 10, and 15. Those rewards are as follows:

  • Level 5: Chaotic Chest
  • Level 10: Chaotic Chest (improved)
  • Level 15: Mystery Legendary Item

For the mystery item at level 15, players select up to six legendary items from a large selection. Once confirmed, the game randomly selects the reward from the chosen options.

By adding a random element to reward choice, players are incentivized to return. | Source: Diablo Immortal.

Players periodically gain rewards based on progress, with larger rewards upon completion. 

The Fractured Plane resets every Wednesday, introducing a fresh loadout of Skills, rewards, and Class Affixs to choose from.

Key Takeaways

What's interesting about The Fractured Plane is how it motivates players to diversify their play styles by having predetermined class options while encouraging them to learn the game's more advanced mechanics.

For the most part, the average player is powerful enough, and the encounter forgiving enough, to survive entering a dungeon, rift, or raid while still making several mistakes and still come out victorious and covered in loot. However, with its increasing difficulty and reward stakes, The Fractured Plane teaches players often underused mechanics such as kiting (avoiding damage), character positioning, and avoiding both melee and ranged damage.

Additionally, by endowing players with items they may not have been exposed to, these players are given a taste of more premium in-game items, thus strengthening the perceived value of IAPs and other offers. This endowment effect is compelling in games where gear and classes are the critical monetization drivers, as they are a tangible benefit to making a purchase / increasing engagement. 

2. The Hungering Moon

Source: Blizzard.

In The Hungering Moon, players must complete quests to gain “the Moon's favor,” earning rewards upon challenge and event completion. This event drives players to increase their play time during commonly low-activity periods.

When the Moon is "active" (aka the event is active), players can acquire Moonslivers (an event currency) by completing challenges and exchanging them for Blessings (another event currency). Players can trade in every seven Blessings for a random reward. 

Each Blessing costs 20 Moonslivers and will grant a random reward from a set list. Collecting 140 Moonslivers and exchanging them to get the complete seven Blessings will earn the player the Moon's Favor, thus completing the event. Once that number has been hit, the event will reward players with Crests and Aspirant's Keys (premium currencies). Draws for Blessings are capped at seven per event, making it impossible to gain every reward available before the event ends. 

Unlike some Diablo Immortal events, the Hungering Moon isn’t an event the player can complete in a single session. Instead, players must accomplish select objectives each day to gain that day's Moonslivers.

There are two challenge types:

  • Daily Challenge: New challenges are released daily. If not completed within 24 hours, all challenge progress is discarded, and a new challenge becomes active.
  • One-Time Challenge: Some challenges are made available at the event's start. Players can only complete these challenges once.

Adding Daily Challenges to the mix is a great retention tool to encourage players to log in daily and for a desired session time. In addition, it also adds some much-needed diversity to live events that players can often complete in a single session.

Key Takeaways

Fundamentally, The Hungering Moon event is a practical, inexpensive event that can complement or fill the space in a live-ops schedule.

The key benefits of this event are as follows:

  • The event lore, assets, and system are pre-determined, meaning they can be scheduled without extensive developer cost.
  • Endowing players with premium rewards (such as legendary items) exposes them to the value of premium items, thus driving them to obtain more through purchase or play.
  • Adding quests such as “Open {x} Heavy Chests” is a powerful way to encourage the player to engage in social play because they require multiple peers to complete. This positively affects both engagement and retention. 

That said, several monetization methods are missing from The Hungering Moon that could have improved KPIs even further. Most notably, the reward limit suggests a missed monetization opportunity that leaves potential revenue gains on the table. It may have been interesting to balance the game so players cannot gain every reward without spending or going significantly above and beyond in terms of engagement, boosting KPIs even more. 

3. Dawn of Damnation

Source: Diablo Immortal.

In Dawn of the Damnation, players complete daily missions over a few weeks. Some quests can be attempted alone, while all of them can be completed in a group.

A handful of new quests are unlocked each day to keep the event feeling fresh while keeping players engaged through the challenge. Similarly to Echo of the Immortal (detailed further below), Dawn of Damnation has a level requirement: players must be at least level 30 to participate.

This event also contains a system called “War Effort,” which pools the progress of all participating players on a server and rewards them for achieving quest completion milestones. Players gain a chest full of event currency for each 10,000 quests completed on a server.

Source: Diablo Immortal

Quests reward Obol of Damned, an event-based currency used to purchase treasures (including Legendary Crests and Gems) from the Event Shop. 

Players can select from any items in the shop so long as they can afford them. | Source: Diablo Immortal.

By allowing players to purchase their desired content directly, engaged players are incentivized to increase their engagement (or spend) to gain Obols of the Damned and purchase items from the shop directly, rather than through the game’s gacha-style systems. 

Key Takeaways

Though a significant undertaking compared to other events, Dawn of the Damnation is a great example of a live-ops foundation built to boost player engagement, retention, social activity, and spending. If done well, this has the potential to build habits that sustain a positive impact well beyond the event.

In addition, the Event Shop is a powerful way to test how players react to direct purchases versus gacha. It showcases what players desire most and whether a clear and obtainable objective is much more appealing to this player base than mystery rewards and random chance. 

4. Brumaltine Holiday Event

Source: Blizzard.

In the Brumaltine Holiday Event, players are given three tasks to complete daily in exchange for rewards and progress toward more significant rewards. 

Players gain numerous rewards by completing daily tasks and visiting the Bumaltine tree (an in-game location) during specific periods. | Source: Diablo Immortal.

Rewards are given on a milestone basis, as shown:

  • 4 tasks completed: 2 Emblems.
  • 13 tasks completed: 1 Telluric Pearl.
  • 28 tasks completed: 1 Legendary Emblem.

Paired with the daily task return trigger, having milestone-based rewards is a savvy way to maintain player retention during the event period. Players must return to complete their tasks each day or miss out on more desirable rewards. 

Players can also send their friends gifts (greeting cards) as a tertiary activity. Sending and receiving a set number of gifts will reward players with Gems and Legendary Emblems, driving players to engage in social play and onboard their peers (or invite back lapsed players). 

Key Takeaways

The event is fundamental and acts more as a vehicle to reward exclusive, limited-time content than a strict KPI enhancer. 

With the holiday season conventionally increasing KPIs organically, this would have been an excellent opportunity for Blizzard to utilize what it’s learned since release to improve that further, ideally with the addition of a social or competitive element and a tiered form of progression that rewards increased engagement.

5. Echo of the Immortal

Source: Blizzard.

Echo of the Immortal is a limited-time PvP game mode similar to Challenge of the Immortal, a permanent competitive Diablo Immortal mode. In this way, the limited-time event offers little in the way of gameplay diversity.

Fifteen players face off against a chosen player referred to as the Immortal. The chosen Immortal player will be transformed into a giant raid boss, gaining unique skills and power so great they can one-shot Shadow players. If the Immortal is killed, the match becomes free to determine a winner.

Players must be at least level 40 to join the event, which presents a monetization opportunity to upsell advantageous progression IAPs during the length of the event. 

Key Takeaways

By removing gear abilities, set bonuses, and so on, Echo of the Immortal misses an opportunity to drive spending for several Bartle Types.

In public PvP settings where players are visible to their peers, a portion of the player base (social, competitive, and completionist player types) often search for an opportunity to become more powerful, in turn showcasing skill and improving their chance at winning (think XP boosts or temporary stat enhancements). This desire to accelerate progress or capabilities during the event is a great time to upsell economic offerings, which Blizzard fails to do with Echo of the Immortal. 

The Good, The Bad & the Evil

Diablo Immortal gets a lot right regarding live-ops. More often than not, multiple events are running back to back, creating a schedule that keeps the game fresh and alive. However, despite the game’s reasonable revenue performance, it has yet to improve on the scale of the China-only version. 

Here are eight key reasons why Diablo Immortal hasn’t been able to capitalize on its early launch success:

  • Lack of player investment: Even the stickiest brands would struggle to bounce back the hostile player response to Diablo Immortal at launch. With much of the games media focused more on coverage of console/ PC games than mobile gaming, stories on Diablo Immortal were likely skewed toward the negative elements of the game and its monetization. Despite the loyalty of the franchise user base, it would be reasonable to presume this had a knockback effect on product revenue and adoption. In that sense, we can look at Diablo Immortal as less a hardcore entry designed to cater to the existing core Diablo audience and more for audience expansion. Still, in the process, Blizzard’s core fans took issue with the game’s economy design and may have disrupted the studio’s ability to reach players fresh to the franchise.  
  • Events are too passive: Although they all offered something of value, none of the live-ops mentioned in this essay caused a massive impact on core KPIs. There was no significant spike in revenue, ARPDAU, LTV, or downloads. The lack of influence here likely reflects the lack of impact in the game. To make a significant impact, fundamental changes must be made.
  • Live-ops catered more to an Eastern audience: As noted, Immortal did exceptionally well in China. This leads us to believe that the live-ops may have been biased to the tastes of this region rather than have global or, better yet, region-specific attractions.
  • Events didn’t feel native to the IP: Despite featuring Diablo lore, events often feel like add-ons rather than intrinsic to the world. More so, these lore snippets are niche and thus lack appeal with a broader audience. The game doesn't feel canon. Therefore, some players are unlikely to see value in investing their time and money into Diablo Immortal going forward. 
  • Underutilization of core player behaviors and desires: Numerous live-ops events failed to incentivize uplift and exposure to the most fun elements in Diablo. Although players are rewarded for killing bosses, slaying enemies, and raiding dungeons, they’re often not presented with new ones. They are instead instructed to do the same things they’re used to. Although this event type can be beneficial occasionally, it should be used sparingly to prevent the game from feeling stale. 
  • Monetizing some (but not all) player types: Often, Immortal’s events fail to create a significant revenue impact in the West, primarily due to a lack of addition (and exposure) to beneficial IAPs and offers. If players want new gear, teams should create IAPs and bundles that take advantage of these limited widows of opportunity. One simple way to improve revenue is to utilize the endowment effect by allowing players to get a taste of premium content for free, showcasing its value and driving sales as a result. This loop is particularly powerful while an event is active.
  • Lack of gameplay diversity: Many of the 20 events released since launch are progression-based, in which players must complete challenges to gain rewards. Although this incentivizes desired player behaviors, it fails to add much-needed diversity to gameplay, an increasingly important element over time.
  • Rewards not worth the effort: The increase in player engagement required often isn’t worth the rewards given. To prevent players from churning from events (or ignoring them altogether), player rewards must be the sum of their efforts. It's essential to regularly offer players something new and of value to incentivize prolonged retention.

Events must differentiate gameplay so that the experience feels impactful yet still in line with the core game’s theme. From a business perspective, investing in a highly performant event framework with foundations that can be scheduled, skinned, and reused is the most practical approach. With this, teams can utilize validated methods while occasionally sprinkling in more complex and unique events to keep the experience interesting.

Understanding your user base is vital when considering angles and monetization approaches. Using analytics and community responses, uncovering what player psychographics are attracted to the game, and utilizing these data points to create something catered to these player types is difficult but necessary to ensure long-term success. Events are much more likely to hit if teams align with their audience.

Additionally, it's essential to offer something that uplifts several KPIs simultaneously. The game may be balanced such that to fully complete an event, players would have to go above and beyond in terms of engagement or turn to in-game spending, which uplifts conversion for consumables, loss aversion mechanics, and purchase of gear.

Looking to the Future

With Diablo 4 on the horizon, Blizzard has begun vocalizing its learnings from its mobile venture. Most notably, the Diablo IV team has already said it will implement a different business model —setting expectations that there will be no pay-for-power or progress in the new game — and revealing early live-ops plans. 

Diablo 4’s plans sound ambitious, but judging by Immortal's noteworthy KPIs, they will undoubtedly be a massive success for Blizzard (at least in China). | Source: Polygon.

More often than not, we caution teams against pursuing a cosmetically-driven business model. When met with rebutting arguments like "That's what Fortnite does,"  there's a pretty straightforward response:

  • Both of these games have a vast, pre-established, and heavily invested player base, which, in some cases, has been with the franchise across several games. 
  • Unless the team has or believes it could get a sizable audience organically, it has the potential to succeed. Otherwise, another business model may be more suited to the needs of the product.
  • Cosmetics historically monetize a low percentage of players at low rates compared to F2P genres. However, the examples noted are doing it against an influential audience that comes organically for their love of the brand. If you can't attract a massive audience organically, then this sort of pure cosmetics monetization won't succeed.
  • It's easier to run performance marketing against pure cosmetics if a product has exceptional KPI results.

Still, the fact remains that Diablo Immortal is a turbulent product. And although we refer to its KPI performance as disappointing, the game has reached heights that would define other, smaller products as a success. It's more of a matter of potential, especially for such a large studio with years of experience working with partners and expanding IP to multiple platforms. 

Nearly a year later, the player hostility has simmered, and the game is performing well. But that doesn't mean teams should shrug and ignore the lessons learned here. Hopefully, we'll see Diablo Immortal take its live-ops strategy to the next level over these next 12 months. 

A big thanks to Becky Matthew for writing this essay! If Naavik can be of help as you build or fund games, please reach out.

Don’t miss our next issue!

Sign up to receive the #1 games industry newsletter, straight in your inbox.