Diablo III’s Business Model is either Insidious, or Brilliant… or Both.

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I love Diablo III. I even liked it when it first launched in 2012… imbalances, auction house, and all other warts included. The game had massive success in spite of complaints from the die-hard playerbase.

And then something weird happened: Activision started to spend lots of money on post-release Diablo III support.

Now, Activision/Blizzard have supported their games in the past. But this usually follows the Call of Duty model of paid DLC, or the WoW model of paid subscriptions, or the Hearthstone model of paid microtransactions. There were three Starcraft II’s for goodness sakes. Destiny is loaded with different ways for you to pay more money after you buy it.

With Diablo, this monolithic giant of video game publishing went in an entirely different direction. They staffed up. They replaced the lead designer that made some of the controversial decisions in the base game. They overhauled the game entirely from the ground up, adding new modes, difficulties, and a new loot system. They crafted one huge paid expansion, which was eventually rolled into a package that includes the base game for a reasonable price. They put out highly-polished console versions. They continue to patch new areas and modes into the game on a regular basis, month after month, for both PC and console players.

Aside from that one paid expansion, which contained a huge pile of new content and now basically comes with the game when purchased, this has all been free. The game does not have any microtransactions. It does not have any ads. It does not have any way for you to pay Activision/Blizzard money except for the initial purchase. It started out making money off of players with the real-money auction house, but that was removed as part of this development process.

For months and months, this made zero sense to me. None whatsoever. Why would a big company that’s had so much success with paid models in so many other games be putting out so much free content for Diablo?

But then I figured it out: They don’t want you to go look at the competition. Which these days, in the action RPG genre, is fierce.

They don’t want you to try out the free-to-play Path of Exile, which itself has a business model with much more apparent sense than Diablo’s. They don’t want you to check out the Torchlight games with their endless user-made mods. They don’t want you to try Marvel Heroes, made by one of Diablo 2’s designers, also free-to-play. They don’t want you to play Grim Dawn, the awesome new game from the makers of Titan Quest, which is itself still one of the best contenders to Diablo’s throne.

So, the competition is strong, and Activision has responded by trying to stay ahead of the curve. It’s working on me. I’ve tried many of those other games, but I always come back to Diablo. It’s working on other players. Blizzard has an active player base of several million users, and the game’s sales have quietly ticked along month after month.

Now, I think you can take all this one of two ways. Either Activision is fighting competition by giving its consumers the best possible product…or, more cynically and depressingly, it’s trying desperately to keep players hooked/addicted so they don’t look elsewhere. I guess either way, the result is the same: Diablo III keeps getting better, and no one has to pay for those benefits. It’s a top-tier product that keeps getting more stuff. Even if it is going down a dark road of video game addiction.

I can’t stop playing Diablo III. You could tell me to stop, but I’d still be interested enough to check out the new content. I’d still come back.

Thank goodness the game displays a clock in the corner.

I hope that Blizzard keeps making stuff for Diablo. I’d be happy to pay them something for it, if they ever asked me to.

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I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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