It’s been a while now since the warfare raging amongst AAA publishers switch from trying to take all your money to trying to take all your time. They still want the former, of course, but they’ve gradually figured out that the more of your time they can steal, the greater the eventual flow of money. It’s a perpetual spiral upward as well. If you play something a lot, you’re more inclined to spend money. And, the more time you spend playing a game, the more your friends will see you playing it (and potentially play it themselves), and the more active you keep the player base. It’s a win/win for publishers whom rather than charging a small proportion of the player base for a new map, can instead milk a little cash from everyone instead.
The current means of weaponising your time is the Battle Pass. Pioneered, to a degree, by Valve and DOTA 2, the Battle Pass has now become the norm. Battle Passes can be found in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Red Dead Redemption 2, Rocket League, Fortnite, PUBG, Apex Legends and Destiny 2. These are all pretty much the biggest games in the world right now, and they’re all treading a similar path. It’s everywhere you look and it’s the sort of delicious marketing genius which is so typical of Valve.
You see, the Battle Pass is an insidious system, one which very capably extracts money from those who otherwise wouldn’t even think of paying ten bucks for a new cloak. It breaks down the barriers we have built up to defend ourselves against in-game purchases. Rather than pay for one item, or a randomised box, here is an entire torrent of items and all you need to do is keep playing the games you like.
Only, once you’ve dropped that cash, you’re in. You’re in because you need to get to the end of the Battle Pass in order to get your money’s worth. You’re in because you need to complete those daily challenges. You’re in because this Battle Pass is great so why not drop five bucks on that new weapon skin? You’re in because you don’t want to miss out on exclusive content. And you’re in because if you and all your mates have a Battle Pass each, you will unlock the content quicker.
The trouble is, as with all these things, is we only have so much time. Money isn’t even factoring in at this point. You could buy eight battle passes for £60 and never have to play another game ever again, but it’s the time commitment to see these through which sees reality bites. Battlefield V invites players back most weeks to unlock a new weapon. Miss it and it’s gone. Red Dead Online is adding epic bounty hunts which are available for one week only. Fortnite’s best cosmetics are tucked away at level 100 of any given Battle Pass. Meanwhile, time ticks down. You’ve got 64 days to complete Fortnite’s Battle Pass. You’ve got 13 days to complete Fortnite’s Battle Pass. Before you know it, you’re not playing because you want to, you’re playing a game because you feel you need to or you’ll miss out on the best gear.
Battle Passes are the new norm but they’re ultimately as divisive as any other form of in-game purchases before it. I both love them and hate them. A battle pass can keep me hooked on a game or it can put me off playing a game entirely. They’re weird like that, but they ultimately feel problematic. FOMO is a powerful thing and with more games and more Battle Passes, it only adds to the pressure.
What are your thoughts on Battle Passes then, do you think they’re a great move for the industry or a terrible waste of time? Do you ever feel obliged to play a game just to level up a Battle Pass? Would you prefer we went back to paid map packs? Let us know what you think of them below!