Interview: Liu Heng, Producer on Torchlight: Infinite, discusses the team's approach to monetisation

Interview: Liu Heng, Producer on Torchlight: Infinite, discusses the team's approach to monetisation

Following its release, Blizzard's Diablo Immortal has received plenty of criticism for its monetisation. Despite that, it's still managing to make the company a ludicrous amount of money. While it might be easy for other developers to see the profits and look to emulate that success, Torchlight: Infinite is deliberately adopting a different approach.

With its free-to-play model, Torchlight: Infinite doesn't want to include any pay-to-win elements, opting for cosmetic in-app purchases more than anything else. We recently spoke with Producer Liu Heng about the game's F2P approach, and they're avoiding the model used in Diablo Immortal.

Firstly, can you tell us how Torchlight Infinite will be monetised?

When designing the monetisation model, we wanted to ensure that it didn’t take away from the pure and simple joy of a dungeon-crawling loot-based ARPG. We ditched weapon upgrades, stat boosts, and crafting materials — these now appear exclusively in the randomly generated loot drops. One of the many areas in-game where we’ve taken steps to avoid what might be considered predatory pay-to-win elements.

Microtransactions now, essentially, cover cosmetics for the heroes and pets — catering for those who wish to deck out their heroes with even more personality.

Why did you decide to take this approach with your free-to-play game rather than a different F2P model?

Torchlight is a much-loved game that dates back to before the advent of mobile gaming. We recognised that Torchlight fans would not want to see it ruined by some of the more predatory microtransaction models we’ve seen in other games in recent years. Of course, players recognise that we need to monetise the game somehow, but the feedback we’ve seen so far suggests we’re avoiding a more exploitative path to doing so.

Arguably, this is the key point of difference between our game and Diablo: Immortal, i.e. the extent of stat boosting and playstyle (no predatory pay-to-win elements, no pay-walls).

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Torchlight Infinite promises, among other things, no progression wall or limitless hero builds. These are both monetised in plenty of games. Why did you decide to not monetise this aspect of the game?

Right from the beginning, we wanted to keep Torchlight: Infinite on course for being a true loot-based ARPG. Based on that philosophy, grinding for loots and goodies has always been the only solution to better character builds! If we monetised character builds, we wouldn’t be staying true to this belief.

When we say no progression walls or impact on build progression from microtransactions, this means that to power up and switch between skills, talents and build ideas, all components are obtained purely through your playtime. None of the gears or skills are sold as microtransactions. Nor can they be traded in the Trade House.

Ultimately, the more you grind, the more powerful you will be!

You have also opted to not include daily timed online events, another common feature in this type of game. Why did you decide to exclude them?

Great question! What we found with Diablo: Immortal is that it essentially requires you to log in daily. Of course, we want our players playing Torchlight: Infinite all the time, but coercing them into that just felt wrong. If we’ve designed the game well enough, we won’t need daily timed online events to keep our players coming back. We want the play experience to remain burden-free; a game that can be picked up anytime, anywhere — which is also one of the advantages of making it cross-server too.

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Is your current monetisation model set in stone? Or is it something you are willing to adapt based on player feedback?

Until the global launch, nothing is set in stone! We’ve actually had extensive meetings with players to get their feedback on — amongst a range of other things — the monetisation model of the game. We got some really useful feedback from them that we are now looking to see how we can incorporate it. Throughout the development process we have been welcoming feedback from players in CBT, and publishing this on the TapTap dev’s blog. So yes, absolutely we’ll continue to onboard feedback from players — whether that relates to monetisation or something else.

A similar game, Diablo: Immortal, has received a lot of criticism for its monetisation. Despite that, it’s still making a good amount of money for Blizzard. Why do you think this is? Do you believe it’s a problem that needs to be combatted within gaming as a whole?

I think there are two reasons it’s making lots of money. First of all, it’s a good game. There’s no denying it. Right down to things like the sound design, Blizzard has really put a lot of effort into this game — and I don't want to take away from that. Secondly, they have put in some really nasty monetisation models, and scores of fans have turned on them for it, but for those that haven’t — they have no choice once they hit the ‘XP Wall’ but to spend cash in order to keep growing.

Personally, I do not believe this is an industry-wide issue. But some have observed that certain companies are out to make quick money; without much regard for their respective communities. Historically, markets find a way to combat this; principally because players choose to spend their time and money on games where they feel respected and within communities where they feel their feedback and concerns are heard.

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Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen brings both a love of games and a very formal-sounding journalism qualification to the Pocket Gamer team.