Microtransactions have been integrated into games for many years now. Be it horse armour from Oblivion or the primary way companies make money from free-to-play games, gamers have been dealing with these transactions in many shapes and forms. Opinions on this topic have always been mixed, but one form of microtransactions that are accepted by most gamers are cosmetic items. In Overwatch‘s case, this would be skin packs – loot boxes that drop new skins for guns or characters.
Many gamers have argued on the side of Blizzard as the items themselves don’t affect the gameplay; they are just there to give players options on what their characters look like and or what design their guns have. But when these items are featured in games, it’s just another way for companies to make money and they will create any incentives they can think of to increase their profits.
Recently Blizzard announced the start of the Overwatch Summer Games event, which began on the 2nd August and will continue until the 22nd. During this time new sports themed items can be found in loot boxes; these range from new sprays, victory poses and of course new skins. While the premise sounds fine, there is one thing that stood out from Blizzard’s press announcement… all of the new items be discovered in loot boxes only.
They then explained in a developer update video, that they are not allowing players to buy these items with in-game credits because they wanted the items to feel “rare and special” – and in my opinion, that is just a horrible reason to give. Of course making these summer games items only available through loot boxes will make them feel unique, especially if you are trying to find one of the new skins. But Blizzard could have had these summer game items available to buy with in-game credits and still make them feel special.
For starters, they could have these items cost more than their normal in-game counterparts. This higher cost will mean players will have to put in more time to earn, a skin for example, than they normal would and also make these items feel special as they are harder to get than other skins. Another option would be to introduce a new in-game currency during the event. Blizzard could have given small amounts of this currency from playing matches or trading in duplicate items from loot boxes.
This could have made these new items harder to get compared to the already existing items in Overwatch. Which in turn will make the Summer Games items rare to find and feel special when a player buys one through the in-game store.
But Blizzard didn’t go for any of these options. Instead, they went down the path that would maximise their profits by creating a demand for their microtransactions. Players who want to get these new skins will have to deal with the randomness of the loot boxes and get all the items they want in a three-week time frame. All of these are huge incentives for the player to buy a few loot boxes.
Of course, Blizzard has every right to do this with the Summer Games items (they made they made the game, and all we did was buy it). If they want to earn some more cash, then that’s up to them. But instead of giving this typical PR answer of “we want these items to be rare and feel special for players,” they should just be upfront with us – you know, the 10million plus customers that bought and still play Overwatch.
The way Blizzard is allowing players to unlock the summer games items is giving themselves the best chance of selling loot boxes, and personally, I would have a lot more respect for them if they were blunt on the Summer Games update and not try and hide their true intentions.