Is Diablo Immortal Really Pay to Win?
Diablo Immortal’s mobile game monetization has been a hot topic in recent gaming news. In our
Technical Alpha Review from January 2021
, we came to the conclusion that Immortal could become a great game - if Blizzard would ship a fair monetization model with it. Almost one and a half years later, gaming outlets and content creators cried out in pain regarding Immortal’s “predatory monetization,” but following our
Is Diablo Immortal Really Free to Play
article we've decided to ask a different question - what are you really winning by Paying to Win?
What is Pay to Win in Diablo Immortal?
Over the years, the term
Pay to Win
) has evolved to include several different definitions.
Traditionally, paying to win refers to the practice of paying to automatically complete a level, completely bypassing a difficult roadblock - the developer literally allowing players to pay to "win" in that particular activity regardless of their own player power, time investment, or skill. While this doesn't typically apply to Blizzard games, they developed their own version of "paying to win" with the inclusion of the
introduction of the WoW Token in 2015
, allowing players to convert real money into gold used to pay others to boost them through difficult content. Boosting was already a well established service by this time, but the token tacitly endorsed it, making the transaction easier and expanding the business into mainstream consciousness. It doesn't quite fit into the original definition however, because although the player is still paying to be carried with little regard for their gear or skill, a group of real players are still needed to accomplish the activity, even at a disadvantage due to the extra carry - the game doesn't simply automatically award victory and the price is dictated by the players rather than the game.
The WoW Token - beginning of the end called Pay to Win?
Diablo Immortal introduces fans to a third aspect of P2W, based on buying increased personal player power with real money through the
system. Players can acquire Legendary Gems by running Elder Rifts empowered by Crests, of which there are two types:
Rare Crests can be found in moderate abundance through the Battle Pass, hilt vendor, and other system rewards, as well as one earned for free each day. However, Rare Crests can only drop the weakest form of 1-Star Legendary Gems, with an independent 5% chance per Rare Crest.
Legendary Crests guarantee a Legendary Gem, with a chance of dropping 1-Star, 2-Star, or even the most powerful 5-Star Legendary Gems. Because excess gems are needed to upgrade ranks, and those those higher star value Legendary Gems grant increased Resonance and Combat Rating, as well as some of the most powerful effects in the game, using them can significantly increase a player's opportunity to gain power within Diablo Immortal.
But this is also where real money comes in: Aside from a handful of free Legendary Crests here and there, more can only be obtained by buying them with
, a store currency mainly available in exchange for real-life coin. This allows players who buy Legendary Crests the opportunity to find far more and better Legendary Gems than free to play players, both giving them a bigger pool to create the right build, and allowing them to upgrade their best gems far quicker than a free player ever could - directly translating into increased player power.
How Much Player Power Can You Buy in Diablo Immortal?
So how much player power does a heavily upgraded Legendary Gem really add to your character?
Upgrading a 1-Star Legendary Gem from Rank 1 to Rank 10 will result in a
7.5% increase in Equipment Base Attributes
. This is caused by a total of 150 Resonance rating - 1 point of Resonance will increase your Equipment Base Attributes by 0.05%. In our testing, equipping one Rank 10 1-Star Legendary will net you a
raw damage increase of roughly 5%
Apply that to a total of 6 items socketed with 6 Rank 10 1-Star Legendary Gems, and you are looking at about a
30% damage increase and a 45% increase in Equipment Base Attributes
. This is compounded further by Awakening, a follow-on system which unlocks additional
on legendary weapons and armor socketed with a Rank 10 Legendary Gem - typically increasing the power of a specific skill by ~10% per legendary.
Awakening bonuses of
's energy consumption by a whooping 30%, giving Barbarians much more time to continuously deal damage with their main ability.
Now we know how much player power a fully upgraded Legendary Gem adds to a character - but how much money will it cost you to upgrade a 1-Star Legendary Gem to Rank 10?
This question is complicated due to the random nature of Legendary Gem drop chances. Live testing and datamining have shown that upgrading a 1-Star Legendary Gem from Rank 1 to Rank 10 costs 196 Gem Power and 5 Rank 1 copies of that specific Gem you want to upgrade.
To get that Gem Power, we need to salvage excess Legendary Gems. Salvaging Rank 1 1-Star Legendary Gems gives 1 Gem Power, Rank 1 2-Star Legendary Gems will give 4 Gem Power, and Rank 1 5-Star Legendary Gems will give 32 Gem Power.
Each Legendary Crest awards a guaranteed legendary gem, but whether it's 1, 2, or 5 star is completely random. If you’re very unlucky and only find 1-Star Legendary Gems, you would need
201 Legendary Crests/Gems
in order to upgrade a Rank 1 1-Star Legendary Gem to Rank 10. If you're using legendary crests, we can include the chances of getting 2-Star and 5-Star Legendary Gems that you could use to rank up your 1-Star Legendary Gem, to assume an average of
about 50 Legendary Crests for the full upgrade process
Awakening the Barbarian legendary item
by using the shop-only material
Buying 50 Legendary Crests would cost us 8,000 Eternal Orbs. Add another 1,000 Eternal Orbs for the shop-only
ingredient needed in the awakening process, and we are looking at
about $150 on average for upgrading a single 1-Star Gem from Rank 1 to Rank 10
, granting that ~5% damage increase (and variable awakening bonus).
When we apply that to 6 Legendary Gems in total, we are looking at roughly $900. We can safely say that this number would increase by quite a lot if you’re looking at fully equipping your character with Rank 10 2-Star Gems and would increase
if you’re trying to rock a full line-up of Rank 10 5-Star Legendary Gems.
What Does Increased Player Power Get You in Diablo Immortal?
Now back to the actual game: We've established that this is a form of pay to win, but what can players achieve with the increased player power purchased through real money? We take a look at three aspects of the game where, theoretically, uncapped player power plays a somewhat important role.
Player Versus Player
We know that Combat Rating is capped inside Immortal’s Battlegrounds so that whales won’t have an overwhelming advantage in player-versus-player battle - in theory, anyway. However, decked-out characters still have increased Equipment Base Attributes thanks to ridiculous amounts of Resonance from their fully upgraded Legendary Gems, generally resulting in far more health than a free to play player. If that wasn’t bad enough, Awakening modifiers on legendary items add even more power, for example by increasing a certain ability’s damage by up to 20%.
As a result, PvP is heavily affected, although there is matchmaking which
help separate free to play players from whales. The more casual and less competitive players especially should find themselves in different brackets, though this may be of little consolation for the very competitive free players who find themselves queuing into those whales more often as a result. We also don't know exactly how the matchmaking system works yet, so it's always possible the system will match outside of those brackets in order to create quicker games, so you may end up matching against them anyway.
Arguably a bigger impact here is in the Shadow Clan system, whereby a clan of well funded players may have an easier time becoming the server's Immortal Clan, but that is more of a large-scale group effort, with clan battles and grinds involving dozens of players rather than a small handful, which may help mitigate the individual impact of a handful of high spenders.
Another aspect of the game where player power matters is the
system. Players with upgraded, high-star Legendary Gems will have a much easier time pushing the leaderboards for obvious reasons.
Completing high Challenge Rift levels rewards you with some materials to upgrade your secondary armor, so that’s another very slight increase in player power, or at least a
return on increasing player power, since you can get those materials elsewhere. Besides that, your name could appear at the top of a virtual leaderboard. However, despite this being an obvious form of pay to win, it's not automatic - players will still need to showcase their skill in endless battles, as Challenge Rifts endlessly scale in damage and difficulty. Like Diablo 3, a big part of pushing higher rifts includes tediously rerolling for the right layout and mob types, along with using strategies for clumping enemies and avoiding dangerous situations. A whale will certainly have an easier time pushing higher, but they don't win automatically.
Then there are Immortal’s endgame Helliquary raids. With a warband full of whales, you will gain CR faster, allowing you to access the higher difficulty versions of each raid faster, though there still exist some one-shot mechanics which can kill you regardless.
For 8-player pick-up groups, Helliquary raid encounters in Diablo Immortal are locked behind Combat Rating recommendations.
By contrast, Helliquary raid content is finite. Completing the higher difficulty versions will reward players with extra Scoria to upgrade their Helliquary, but it caps out very quickly, with most max level players already more than three quarters through the currently available upgrade levels, and there are only two trophies available right now anyway, rendering those upgrades inactive. The current raid boss, Lassal, is easily accessible at Combat Rating 420, which most players hit between Level 45 and 55. There is a second difficulty unlocked at Combat Rating 1250, but its meant to coincide with Hell 2, requiring 1220 Combat Rating and Paragon level 30 - once you actually get to that level, regular gear drops will grant you enough Combat Rating to get in anyway. It's true that high spenders who push their combat rating faster through upgraded legendary gems may be able to reach that point sooner, but the actual gain for doing so is very limited, since gear drops are based on your level rather than the content difficulty. Players who really want to access it though can always form their own raid and bypass the Combat Rating requirements entirely.
Diablo Immortal is Pay to Win
But Only if You Want It To Be
In the end, Diablo's most recent addition to the franchise is a beautiful game. And thanks to well-known "Blizzard polish", Diablo Immortal outshines the majority of comparable genre titles - but that also applies to its monetization approach. The game constantly reminds you to improve your character through various means, nearly all of which eventually lead back to swiping your credit card. The level of optimization behind repeating in-game notifications and incredible shop discounts is nothing less than scary.
The Gem Resonance system finds even more ways to monetize Diablo Immortal's endgame progression.
However, players should form their own opinion about the direct consequences of increased player power. Yes, paying players will get access to Gem Resonance and Awakening, an awesome endgame progression system. But this system has only one practical use: to get more money out of those players that unlock it. Whales can't pay to skip content, and they can't buy skill. So while Diablo Immortal may be Pay to Win... what exactly are you winning?
Just like free-to-play players, whales will find themselves on an endless staircase of scaling activities. It may be a golden staircase with their names written on it, but it's still the same staircase that won't let them win, only encourage them to spend even more money at each new landing. In the end, the only player truly "winning" the game of Pay to Win is - you guessed it - Blizzard Entertainment.
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