“Loot Box” is perhaps the most offensive phrase in a gamer’s vocabulary these days; few things are likely to rile up fans of games like Overwatch, Call of Duty, or Rainbow Six: Siege as much as these so-called surprise mechanics, and it’s gotten so bad that federal action has been considered. Sadly, it seems to be that a similar fate is befalling the battle pass system.
What started as a unique way of doling out extra content for Dota 2 players during 2013’s International tournament has quickly metastasized into a predatory microtransaction scheme which asks players to decide between their money and their free time. It may have been a rewarding opt-in system when it was introduced to Fortnite, but money-hungry publishers like Activision and Ubisoft have distorted the concept into yet another casualty of modern-day gaming.
Battle Pass Overview
For the unaware, the term “battle pass’ by-and-large refers to a tiered set of content made temporarily available in a game, which players slowly ascend based on in-game achievements and progress. While some are free, others come at a premium, and they usually offer unique in-game content which is otherwise inaccessible. It can be littered with simple things like skins, stickers, and emotes, or it can offer game-changing items like new weapons or characters.
The major issue with these systems, and the reason they’re so similar to loot boxes, is that they essentially demand that a player fork over some real-world cash to skip through tiers, lest the pass’ phase or season end before they have unlocked everything. This is particularly nefarious in a game like Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 because it presents players with a nearly unconquerable challenge and asks for money in exchange for progress.
Paying For The Chance To Earn Content
Some of these battle passes require literally hundreds of hours of playtime to unlock everything, and that’s often something to which very few can commit. In essence, the publisher has locked content behind a paywall without having to outright claim that they’ve done so. It’s also predatory in that players who have already invested a ton of time into grinding for a particular tier will be all the more likely to just purchase the last few levels to either get it over with or ensure that they don’t sacrifice all the time they've spent grinding out tier levels.
To be fair, this isn’t the case for all battle pass system. In fact, the one implemented in Fortnite was, and still is, praised for its unique approach to monetization. Conversely, EA and Respawn Entertainment’s Apex Legends is currently being grilled for including content in its new season which is nigh-on unreachable without ponying up some cash.
The underlying issue here is that too many publishers seem to be too conniving to ask for your money outright. Free-to-play games like Apex and Fornite need to earn a profit somehow, but it now seems that some publishers believe they’ll get more from their consumers if they obscure the nature of their monetization. In practice, that means that, while a player may be turned away from paying fifteen dollars for a single skin or emote, their expenditures in the name of advancing battle pass tiers may end up well in excess of that without the consumer even realizing it.
Battle Passes Are Invading Our Games
Things get even more insidious when premium games get in on the battle pass fiasco. The aforementioned Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 played a major role in running the concept into the ground, but the most insipid example may well be the forthcoming Rainbow Six: Siege battle pass. It’s a feature which doesn’t guarantee that the player will be able to access all of the available content while charging extra in a game that already requires a thirty-dollar investment from the get-go. It’s like buying a loot box that doesn’t open unless you pay more money, and, if the likes to dislikes ratio on the video announcing the feature is anything to go on, the Siege community isn’t all that happy about it.
While there certainly have been some decent examples of battle passes in the past, it’s time to start treating these things like loot boxes and lobbying against them as fervently as most of us would any other predatory practice. Once upon a time, money needn’t change hands once the player bought the game. Today, however, it’s the first in a long line of nearly-mandatory purchases. Hokey pun aside, we’ve gone from playing Siege to being held under it, and it’s more than time to push back.