As other developers start to move to and adopt the battle pass system — most recently “Rocket League” — I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the other competitive games out there and how a battle pass system might work for them.
The battle pass is an interesting concept, as it can fit into any mold you want it to. Most competitive games out there have skins, emotes, and other aesthetic items to collect, and they inherently have things you can do to show off your skill, which can be turned into challenges. These are the elements that a battle pass can build off of, and that’s what makes them so intuitive. When you start to look into implementing a battle pass, a leveling system with rewards and goals quickly to come into focus. They’re able to work alongside what have become the standards for content in competitive multiplayer games, allowing them to mesh well into any system.
However, many of those games with their skins and emotes have already developed and established other ways to make their money. There are loot boxes, trading systems, in-game currencies, and other, frowned upon pay-to-win models. These systems have been very successful in their own ways, but not nearly as popular with fans as Fortnite’s battle pass has been. The big difference between the battle pass and the other monetization avenues, though, is that a battle pass allows players to earn that outfit they’ve been craving by playing better. It’s a system that recognizes and rewards skill and creativity. The problem is that games with huge battle pass potential are already ingrained in their ways.
While massively popular, Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch has a problem. More specifically, a loot box problem. Overwatch has only become more popular since its release in 2016, and with the inaugural season of the Overwatch League that popularity is now becoming mainstream. It’s got a lot of buzz around it right now, but its monetization system remains pretty simple and a bit antiquated. After picking up the game for $59.99 USD, the only way to spend more money on it is to purchase loot boxes. The loot boxes can be earned by playing the Arcade modes, but you are restricted to three a week. If you want more, you can buy them in groups of two, five, eleven, twenty-four, and fifty. A random number generator system picks out four items for you per box with varying rarity, and will often give you Credits (the in-game currency) as one of those items. Credits can be used to purchase things like skins and emotes outright, but Credits themselves cannot be purchased directly. This makes it hard for players to get the items they want, and frustrates players like me who would love to be able to earn the skins.
Loot box systems in general have also become somewhat taboo recently, as governments are struggling to decide whether they are a form of gambling and whether or not they should be regulated. This, alongside the fact that players seem to agree that the battle pass system, where you earn your way to extra loot for a small fee, is much more exciting and fair, begs the question: Would adopting a Battle Pass system for Overwatch be a good idea?
A Battle Pass allows developers to monetize their game while also adding new gameplay elements and features that expand the scope of the experience. At its core, Fortnite: Battle Royale is a simple game, but the Battle Pass challenges give players incentive to get creative as they play, and I think Overwatch is similarly suited to implement the battle pass in a way that alleviates some of the mundanity that has come from the repetitive nature of its seasonal events and the problematic and frustrating nature of its loot box system.
There are a few key changes that Blizzard could make to the Fortnite formula that would adapt the Battle Pass idea enough that it would fit perfectly into the game and really give players a reason to come back again and again. Right now, they entice players back in solely through their seasonal events. As we speak, the 2018 Summer Games are going on, where players can compete in Lucioball and buy the nine new skins with their saved up Credits. This is the tried and true formula that Blizzard has been using for the game’s lifespan, and it seems to be getting old. The Overwatch Reddit is notably vocal about Lucioball’s return for the third year in a row, especially since it remained generally unchanged. Things have gotten stale for even the most fervent of the player base, and I think that a Battle Pass may be the solution.
It would work in tandem with the seasonal events, giving players who purchase a pass the opportunity to complete challenges for certain heroes, damage types, and more. Blizzard could still offer the main elements of the event to those who decide not to purchase the pass, allowing them to keep their content delivery calendar intact while adding the new features that will come along with the battle pass. This, I think, would satisfy both camps of players who may or may not want to buy into the new system.
When it comes to rewards for leveling up, or “tiering” up as it’s called in Fortnite, the Overwatch battle pass would either have to keep things character-neutral or have a bunch of challenges tailor-made for each character. If they kept it character neutral, it might be hard to come up with challenges, simply because you couldn’t ask players to get a certain number of Sleep Dart hits, since Ana is the only one with Sleep Darts. But if they went all in and gave each character their own challenges, they could reward you with skins, emotes, and even golden guns for those specific characters. It would be like leveling up a character that you like to play as, and I think this would work really well. It’s a genuine incentive to get players to learn different characters, and would totally negate a lot of the complaints that tend to come with loot boxes.
Another piece of the Battle Pass puzzle resides in the game modes themselves. Overwatch has a very specific system for how they go about their game modes, but the addition of a Battle Pass might necessitate a shift in how they think about them. Right now there are Competitive, QuickPlay, and Arcade modes. The five modes within Arcade rotate week to week, becoming available for a time, and then moving out of the way for another. This system would have to change slightly if a Battle Pass were to be implemented. A lot of the challenges would likely be based in certain games modes, especially during seasonal events where new modes are introduced, and you can’t have those modes going away for a week. They would either have to make the same five modes available throughout the entirety of the event or just have all modes available all the time. I hope Blizzard would go for the latter option. It would also probably be best if the Battle Pass challenges were disabled in Competitive mode, as you don’t want players throwing their lives away just to get that last final blow they need.
Epic Games and the Fortnite team figured out a new way to make money — they recently passed the $1 billion mark — without taking advantage of players. Overwatch is in dire need of some changes to its monetization system, and a Battle Pass might be just what it needs. I think that a Battle Pass system that runs alongside each seasonal event would be a great idea for Overwatch. It would fit right in with their already well thought out system, and give players new and interesting things to do in a game that is becoming too entrenched in its ways. It would also make Blizzard money while moving them away from the loot box system that upsets some players. It’s an investment in the company’s game that would leave both Blizzard and Overwatch changed, but better.