Activision Blizzard is currently under investigation following accusations of harassment, discrimination, and fostering a hostile work environment. You can read more about the investigation here.
By now, you’ve probably heard about Diablo Immortal‘s microtransactions and the many ways those microtransactions have hurt the game’s reputation. In order to understand how bad things can get, though, you need to understand why some gamers are spending thousands of dollars on in-game items known as Legendary Gems.
Legendary Gems are…confusing. Indeed, some players are speculating that Immortal‘s Legendary Gem system was made as confusing as possible in order to incentivize people to spend money and skip some of the confusion. There may be something to that particular conspiracy theory.
Basically, Legendary Gems are enhancement jewels that can be inserted into your primary gear. So, let’s say you’ve just found the best weapon, helmet, or pair of boots for your character. As strong as that item may be on its own, it will never reach its full power potential if you don’t insert a Legendary Gem into it. Every Legendary Gem offers a variety of benefits that vary from gem to gem. However, every gem increases your stats and offers some kind of substantial secondary benefit. For instance, some might grant you a chance to unleash a devastating attack when you take damage, while others greatly increase your attack power and movement speed based on how much health you have.
As you might imagine, some Legendary Gems are better for certain scenarios, classes, and builds. That means that most players will want to acquire several types of Legendary Gems if they intend to play all the content offered by the game. At a minimum, though, most players will eventually want to acquire at least six Legendary Gems (one for each primary equipment item a class can equip).
Where things get really confusing is when you account for a Legendary Gem’s rarity. Yes, not only are you relying on luck to get the exact type of Legendary Gem that you really need, but you have to rely on even more luck to get the rarest (and therefore most powerful) version of that Legendary Gem possible. Specifically, Legendary Gems come in three major rarity types: 1-Star, 2-Star, and ?/5-Star.
While all of those gems can be acquired through the same basic methods (there is no specific strategy/location that is more likely to reward you with one Legendary Gem over the others), 1-Star and 2-Star Legendary gems are far more common. I haven’t spent any money on the game, and I managed to acquire several of them by the time I hit the game’s level cap. That won’t be true for everyone, but they’re not the items people are spending thousands of dollars on.
No, that honor belongs to the items commonly known as ?/5-Star Legendary Gems. The game technically refers to them as 5-Star Legendary Gems, but that name is misleading. In reality, Legendary Gems in that class have the potential to be ranked as high as five stars. However, you could pick up a “5-Star Legendary Gem” and find that it’s actually ranked at 2, 3, or 4 stars. While a 2/5-Star Legendary Gem is better than a straight-up 2-Star Legendary Gem (confused yet?), only a true 5/5-Star Legendary Gem is the absolute best in its class.
Those are the items that Diablo Immortal‘s high-end players are currently going crazy for. Because you cannot directly craft or purchase a 5/5-Star Legendary Gem, that means the best way to get one is to hope one randomly drops during certain pieces of content.
Unfortunately, your chances of getting a 5/5-Star Legendary Gem as a random drop are shockingly low. Over on Reddit, a Diablo Immortal analyst figured out that you have about a 1 in 2,222 chance (or 0.045% chance) of getting a Legendary Gem. Mind you, that number accounts for whether you are using a premium item called a Legendary Crest, which guarantees that a Legendary Gem of some rarity will drop whenever you run one of the game’s Elder Rift dungeons. While Legendary Crests can be slowly acquired through the normal course of play, the easiest way to acquire those items is to straight-up buy them with real money. So even in a scenario where you have paid real money to guarantee a Legendary Gem will drop, the odds of getting the best possible item of that type is still less than half of a percent.
So how many Legendary Crests would you need to buy in order to maximize your chances of getting a 5/5-Star Legendary Gem? Well, another analyst on Reddit estimates that the average person would need to spend about $2,450 to $25,530 to come close to guaranteeing themselves a chance of getting a maxed-out Legendary Gem (based on the currently known drop rates). Now, there is a pity timer in the game that is supposed to guarantee that you eventually get a ?/5-Star Legendary Gem from using enough Legendary Crests, but players have recently discovered that the guarantee doesn’t mean you will get a full 5/5-Star Legendary gem. It just means that for every 50 Legendary Crests you buy (which would set you back about $125), you’re guaranteed to get at least some kind of ?/5- Star Legendary Gem. That timer doesn’t improve your odds of getting the absolute best gem possible.
The absurd scarcity of those gems is currently causing some Diablo Immortal players to do crazy things. One Twitch streamer has already spent about $6500 dollars on the game, and still hasn’t gotten a single 5/5-Star Legendary Gem to drop. Other publically revealed microtransaction totals suggest that figure is not an anomaly. Now, you can also buy a 5/5-Star Legendary Gem from another player via the game’s player-to-player marketplace, but don’t expect to save much money there. Earlier this morning, the only 5/5-Star Legendary Gem on my server was selling for about $900 (and it wasn’t even one of the best Legendary Gems of its kind). I’ve heard reports that those items are selling for well over $1000 on other servers. Even still, that might be the cheapest way to acquire one without getting unusually lucky.
So are those items actually worth that kind of money? Well, in the grand scheme of what else you can get for that kind of money in real life, the answer for the average person is “of course not.” In the context of the game, they will help a character reach their full potential power, but at present, there doesn’t seem to be a piece of Diablo Immortal content that is so challenging that you would absolutely need a 5/5-Star Legendary Gem (much less multiple ones) to beat it.
So why bother with any of it? For some, it’s a status symbol. For streamers on YouTube and Twitch, the hunt for a 5/5-Star Legendary Gem (whether through money, gameplay, or a combination of both) has proven to be a compelling piece of content. Mostly, though, those Legendary Gems prey on the idea that you need to constantly optimize your Diablo Immortal character. So, if you’ve already put in the time/money needed to reach the highest levels of the game, the urge to keep improving your character will be strong. At some point, those Legendary Gems are going to become the one upgrade you don’t have. From there, people are going to figure out how desperate they really are to become just a bit stronger.
While many players strongly suspect that Blizzard will need to eventually change Immortal‘s Legendary Gem system and the way it encourages spending absurd amounts of money on microtransactions, I have a hard time believing the system wasn’t designed to inspire “whale players” to do exactly what they’re doing now. It’s just a matter of how long the developers are willing to keep that system alive.