Battle passes are, what’s the word? Oh, right: bullshit.
The vast majority of my youth playing multi-player games was spent playing both online shooters and MMOs. There is a certain amount of satisfaction gained from playing a game online and simply being better than the person playing the game against you. One great example of that era is Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. It was a really great, really pure, shooter experience that opened up the online FPS experience to a much larger audience. World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade was also in this era, with Eye of the Storm, and also the classic battlegrounds maps, being quite involved and really satisfying experiences.
Dota 2, Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swam, some good CoDs, Burning Crusade into Wrath – this was really a golden era for playing video games against other players simply for the thrill. Sure, these games had various methods of progression, but they look nothing like their modern iterations. For one thing, they were significantly less expensive to play. They were also more balanced, more fun, and less…depressing.
Do you want to know why? Less greed. Not no greed, but certainly less greed. It’s a really sad state of affairs that we as a community are excited that the team behind the new Halo game, 343, is developing Halo Infinite. Excited not because they’re a top-notch team, although they are, but by knowing that they’re not going to screw us over with super-aggressive microtransactions and FOMO tactics around an expiring battle pass. See, 343 are doing things a little different for their game. The battle pass is forever, it doesn’t expire, you can select what your experience will go toward. It all sounds really great, and player-focused, and much less greedy than pretty much every game out now or releasing soon.
The fact that this is so far out of the norm, that we are rallying around this decision, is a very sad statement. I think we’re all very aware the consumer-friendly experience has been dead in our industry for a very long time. And while 343 should be congratulated for bucking trends and treating their game as more than a cash-cow, the fact that this is an exception rather than expectation is telling.
This decline may be due to myriad factors, but the underlying cause is just greed. If you want to oversimplify the problem, that’s an easy way to assess the situation. In so many facets of our life, we expect the people we interact with to care about us, regardless of whether or not they should. We go to the supermarket and expect everyone working there to answer our beck and call, bend over backward for us, and do it all with a smile.
We do the same in the fast-food drive-through. When we call up to buy insurance. With every facet of our life we have expectations, and in some industries, we even have guidelines, laws, codes of practices to ensure that industries don’t take advantage of people, and that those working in those industries act in the best interest of the consumer or end-user. Think of financial planners, insurance agents and brokers, mortgage brokers, loan officers, and more. From fast-food to financial planners, we have an expectation that we are going to interact with these people and not feel like shit afterward or taken advantage of
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case and we get screwed. Sometimes that screwing over leads to change, sometimes it doesn’t and just becomes an expectation instead; something that we just accept.
Video games fall in the latter category. We expect every single game that comes out to put us over a barrel and try to screw us over financially. We expect this so much, that not screwing over the consumer has become a selling or marketing point for developers trying to gain some good faith.
Just think about that. No microtransactions are a selling point now. No Fear of Missing Out battle passes are a selling point.
Now, I know that Fortnite is really low-hanging fruit for this kind of thing and if you’re going to rant about the state of gaming, Fornite is a real easy target. And I also know that those have really been done to death and there is nothing new that I can add to that dialogue. But it needs to be clear, while Fornite is probably the most obvious example that everyone will be familiar with, and they do share a lion’s share of the blame for the current state of gaming, it’s important to know that they are not the pioneers of these oft-reviled practices.
Valve deserves all the goodwill in the world for the positive things that they’ve done for PC gaming, and gaming in general, but they really screwed the pooch when it came to introducing the world to the popularised monetization model in the battle pass.
Ironically, one of those pure experiences that I mentioned earlier was one of the first test models for this method. Of course, I’m talking about the Dota TI 2013 pass and its later iterations. Then they screwed the pooch again with the Team Fortress 2 campaign pass thing and it all went downhill from there.
That is where our low-hanging fruit comes in. Fornite explodes and becomes the monolith that we know today, all while basing its income around the battle pass monetization method.
“If companies like Valve, and Epic can get away with this shit in their big IPs, well, then we can too.”
– Every developer from that point on.
And now, it’s in everything. Some games supplement their free-to-play model with a battle pass. Some games charge you for the battle pass on top of the cost of buying the base game. Some games charge you for the base game, the battle pass, and then add-on cosmetics. And there are even some games that charge you for a battle pass, come to your house, and then kick your dog.
Alright, I made that last one up. But the point is, if we’re getting excited about not getting screwed over for once, it’s probably time to stop buying this shit.
Do you remember the last time that you played a shooter game like Call of Duty that was actually about crafting an “easy to learn, but hard to master” pure online competitive gaming experience? Now, it’s just a new shell year after year for the developer and publisher to push skins, weapons, and battle pass crap down your throat. I can’t think of a recent example at all. Across everything recently released. Nothing.
It’s not just shooters, MMOs have cosmetic and boosting item cash shops now. How long before we see the World of Warcraft PvP season battle pass that has better items than raid gear or some shit like that? Hell, it doesn’t even have to be a multi-player game anymore. Do you remember how much of a disgusting mess Middle Earth: Shadow of War was at launch? That has no player vs player. Sure, you could visit other people’s fortresses, but it’s not a multiplayer game. And that was one of the worst loot box-laden examples that I can think of. In a single-player game. Single. Player. Yeah.
What’s the solution? Well, people will buy FIFA sports games, and seasonal shooter battle passes regardless of how expensive or insulting they are. So, waiting on the community to stop buying these things isn’t it. So again, what is the solution?
Is chemically castrating the developers who include a battle pass in their games the solution?
It still leaves them able to make games, though.
Is putting them in a rocket and firing it into the sun the solution?
That’s it. That’s the solution.