We had a new rule here at XNVR; no talking about Fortnite. So, I’m going to talk about Fortnite: Battle Royale (semantics are great). There’s one thing people can’t deny; Fortnite has taking the world of gaming by storm.
Is it a new concept? No. Is it a clone? Probably. But is it successful? Yes, for now. Although, a lot of people don’t think it’s going to last, and a lot of PUBG players say it’s only good because it’s free (I’m expecting that to trigger a few feople).
So what, Tom? Are you just rambling shit again?
Probably, I enjoy rambling. But that insult, “it’s only good because it’s free” got me thinking; is there a trick other games are missing here? Arguably, yes. And not just from Fortnite, but from PUBG too. But we’re not going to spend an article talking about the game design or who copied who; we’re instead going to talk about their business practices. “Oh no, another article about microtransactions”, I hear your cry. Well, kind of. But you’ve come this far, and fallen for that click bait title, so you may as well keep reading because you may just agree with me.
Ramble over; now to the meat of the article. Why did I (technically not) break the rules and talk about Fortnite? To get your attention, of course, because Fortnite is so hot right now. But what I really want to talk about the cost of games and how models like the ones used by Fortnite and PUBG could be a better way of delivering what players want; value for money.
Back in the day, we’d find ourselves playing games like Runescape and World of Warcraft. They both featured different pay models, but players never felt cheated. Runescape had a monthly subscription fee that affected your ability to level up skills but because the game was initially free, people that wanted to access this extra content were willing to pay; and World of Warcraft just had so much content that the price was worth paying because of the sheer number of hours that could be sunk into the game.
Although subscription fees are not as commonplace now, in their wake is a deficit for the potential profit a game can generate after release which leads us to the new models used today; DLC packs, season passes and microtransactions. Some games do this well, but it’s far too often that these leave players feeling cheated.
Let’s get the biggest culprit out of the way before we continue looking at the main case study. Battlefront 2 made the horrific mistake of linking progression with luck alongside a pay to win model; that was dumb. Let’s move on.
The first game we’re going to look at is Call of Duty WW2. I hate to admit it, but I generally like this game. It’s probably because I’ve not owned a CoD game since the first Black Ops, so it’s been a refreshing return to the casual shooter genre. Having said that, there is something I really dislike; the paid content. CoD: WW2 has two models within the same game which really pisses me off; loot boxes and map packs. It just seems greedy. If I’ve paid £50 for a game, I don’t want to be expected to pay an extra £40 for all the maps too, especially when games like Overwatch offers new maps for free. What’s worse is that the series has annual releases so once you’ve committed all this cash into the game, a large proportion of the players migrate to the next title leaving you with a £90 game with a dwindling player base.
I purposely chose Overwatch as a comparison because it’s also published by the conglomerate that is Activision Blizzard, but I don’t feel cheated by their model. Once you buy the game, you have access to all gameplay content. Loot boxes are only used for cosmetic upgrades for your characters and you earn them so regularly that you never feel you need to buy them. Yes, loot boxes are currently steeped in controversy, but with Overwatch you never feel forced into buying them. The game also gets regular updates, including new maps, that are free to the player. Blizzard have committed to the longevity of the game by building a wholesome player experience to keep the game fresh.And Call of Duty? Mostly, the loot boxes are cosmetic items with a couple of weapons unlocks, but shouldn’t they offset the development costs of new maps too? If Overwatch can do it, why can’t they? Oh wait, that’s it. It’s because Activision only have a year to milk their annual cash cow. ‘But you’re paying for a campaign too’, I hear you cry. I guess, but so far, I’ve amassed over three days of multiplayer game time and zero seconds of campaign game time. Call of Duty was always the pioneer for multiplayer action, but now it’s just becoming an annual cash grab with one of the most toxic player bases in gaming. I still enjoy the game, but I do feel cheated. Give me the maps goddamn it!
So now we look at Fornite: Battle Royale and PUBG. One’s free, one’s reduced cost. Both have unlockable cosmetic content with loot boxes, but neither of them leaves you feeling cheated as you can enjoy the games without the unlockable cosmetics. Now, the quality of the games is up for debate; I, personally, haven’t bought into the hype of the battle royale genre but I can appreciate why they’re successful. And from my limited time playing Fortnite, I’ve been rather content in match made games because they don’t employ a pay to win model. Xbox players may have felt disgruntled after the initial port of PUBG onto the console, but it still retains a decent player base.
The MOBA’s have also employed this model. Both League of Legends and DotA2 are free to play with unlockable skins for use in game. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I’ve spent over £650 during my time playing League on skins… but when you breakdown my game time it works out at less than 25p an hour. If a single-player game’s campaign lasts 10 hours (which is common) you’re paying up to £6 an hour so in comparison, so in my mind, I’ve got great value for money. Though, there is one more factor with League that makes the difference; the game is completely free if you want it to be, I chose to spend money because I was enjoying the game.
So, let’s go back to the original point; can other games learn from these new models. I think they can. Call of Duty Black Ops 4 is rumoured to be removing a single player campaign, but without that element, should it be a full price release? In my opinion, no. It’s an annual release and unless they wish to support a thriving multiplayer scene like Valve, Riot or Blizzard (again, put pressure on the Activision side of your matrimony) they can’t keep releasing triple AAA priced releases that feel recycled with deliberately short lifespans. Sell the game for less, remove paid map packs and focus on one transaction model. Overwatch did it, why can’t you? Greed is a deadly sin, and if anything has proved that it can come back to bite you, you only have to look as far as EA with Battlefront 2.
But what do you think? Should triple AAA publishers take the risk of a reduced cost release? Can Activision learn from games like Fortnite, PUBG and CS:GO? Let us know what you think on our Facebook, Twitter or my personal handle @xnvrtom.