Back in June, we learned that Overwatch 2 would be ditching its controversial loot boxes. The industry celebrated, and why not? Various countries around the world have decreed that loot boxes equate to gambling, with the UK government demanding publishers put measures in place that safeguard children from the adverse effects of them. 18 European countries have also backed measures calling for loot box regulation.
For Overwatch – one of the biggest games that popularised the use of loot boxes in the first place – to renege and opt for the battle pass (as seen in Call of Duty, Apex Legends, Fortnite, and many others besides)... that’s a big move. Seismic. It had the potential to rewrite the rule book, set a precedent for responsible and engaging progression whilst still monetizing the game. Because that, essentially, is what this is all about. Instead, though, the battle pass implementation has been one of the worst I’ve seen in a game for a long time – possibly ever.
Let’s set the scene. Overwatch is dead. There’s no going back to the original game, now; it is offline, supplanted and replaced wholly by Overwatch 2. The way you used to earn cosmetics and goods for your various heroes – by opening loot boxes and getting randomised rewards – has been replaced with two tracks of a battle pass (one paid, one free).
So, as a Mercy player, if I wanted to get a cool outfit for my squishy German medic, I’d have to grind out lengthy, unrewarding (and honestly unfun) challenges for currency. Over on Reddit, a user called u/Autumn_hi did the calculations and figured out it’d take you a ludicrous five years of game time to earn all of new hero Kiriko’s stuff. You can earn up to 60 coins per week by completing 11 challenges – so nabbing 15,600 to get all of her gear will, naturally, take you 260 weeks of solid playing.
If you fell in love with Kiriko, got your hands on her and immediately thought “you know what, yes, I will main this support hero for life”, you could decide to shortcut this and instead pay about £130 or real money to unlock the coins and grab the cosmetics via that route, instead.
Over on the free track of the battle pass, all players work towards unlocking the same cosmetics – so, by the end of the season, everyone will have the same Roadhog skin as anyone else that managed to sit through the glacial pace of progression. Compared to the motley nature of the first game, where everyone was running around in whatever skins were granted to them by RNGsus, it looks set to be a bit… rote.
I miss the loot boxes. I think it was bad for kids and people with addictive personalities (hey, I have ADHD and 100% fall into the compulsive side of things when it comes to loot boxes), and I understand the criticisms of the system, but I still miss how they worked in Overwatch. I think, largely, I miss how generous Blizzard was with giving you them for free; a couple of matches a day, a cheeky win here and there, and you’d soon have a few boxes to open and enough currency to pick up that one skin you’ve been lusting after for weeks. Yes, I may never have got the Devil Mercy skin I wanted by opening boxes, but so what? I got some cool Moira skins that actually led to me picking the character up, just so I could use the skins.
Post-launch, Overwatch sorted out loot boxes; with bad luck protection and dupe protection added in, even a casual player would end up getting Legendary and Epic-level skins if they played semi-regularly. Compared to the current system – revolving entirely around grinding battle passes and completing exasperating challenges – it was well-conceived. Imagine how much Blizzard has had to miss the mark, here, to make loot boxes look good. It’d be impressive if it wasn’t so aggravating.
To me, there’s quite a clear revision Blizzard can make in Overwatch 2 that will hit upon a sort-of ‘best of both worlds’ compromise. For the free track of the battle pass, why not enable randomised rewards? Call them loot boxes if you want, but they’d effectively let you get three or four miscellaneous legacy rewards at semi-regular intervals, whilst still tracking you forwards to unlock pre-determined rewards on the paid battle pass track as you go. This would incentivise you to keep earning through the challenges, whilst also giving you morale boosts as you play because you actually feel rewarded for your time – and not just like you’re spaffing it all into the same vat of content that everyone else is, too.
Service games evolve, and there’s a good chance Blizzard will revise its stance on the F2P monetization down the line and inject some reason back into the progression and value for time set-up of its sort-of sequel. A cursory look on Reddit or Twitter will show you that people are unimpressed with the cadence of rewards – and the actual quality of them, too.
Loot boxes are a dirty topic in gaming right now – and rightly so. They have been implemented in a very predatory and greedy way by developers. But they can be used as a fine way to incentivise players, and encourage you to diversify your play styles and go-to characters. If Blizzard can find the right balance between F2P battle passes and loot boxes, in the future, Overwatch 2 may have a chance at undoing the damage done by its disastrous launch.