A somewhat new trend in modern gaming is the practice of offering free DLC. After all, it has only been a decade since people were protesting (or rather, mocking) Oblivion’s Horse Armor DLC for being nominal content that should have been included in a free update while praising paid DLC packs like the Shivering Isles DLC. Today, from Bungie’s Destiny to Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V to 343 Industries’ Halo 5, the concept of offering cosmetic or otherwise fairly minor DLC that is funded by microtransactions (which, in turn, funds future content like maps and such) is something that is slowly becoming a staple of gaming. Blizzard’s Overwatch is the latest game to have demonstrated that the developers are opting for free seasonal/themed updates that locks much of the content behind microtransactions, and needless to say, this decision appears to have rustled some feathers in the Overwatch community.
On a conceptual level, Overwatch’s Summer Games update is no different from something like Grand Theft Auto V‘s monthly content updates; you get some new items that you can earn through in-game activities, or you can just buy a bunch of them with real money. While this in itself is nothing new, it’s the fine details that some may have an issue with. In Overwatch, you get loot boxes that give you four randomly determined cosmetic items every time you level up. As the contents of these loot boxes are determined entirely by luck, it is quite possible to get duplicate items. Fortunately, duplicate items do grant a small amount of in-game currency, which can then be accumulated to buy more desirable items.
Since this is the de facto method of distributing cosmetic items in Overwatch, it only makes sense that Blizzard will use this same mechanic to give out the Summer Games items right? The problem (as some see it) though comes from the fact that the Summer Games items are effectively only available for a couple of weeks, and only one of the four items in the loot box are guaranteed to be Summer Games themed. While it is possible to receive multiple Summer Games items in one loot box (at least in theory), it is statistically far more likely for the loot box to contain a bunch of normal items or a duplicate item instead. On top of that, remember that huge stash of in-game currency that you might be sitting on? Yeah, you can’t use those to buy specific Summer Games/Olympic themed items.
The result is that this means that it would take at least 100 level ups to get all of the Summer Games items, and that’s assuming that you are not getting any duplicates. That’s right; you have to level up 100 times (in other words, play Overwatch like it’s your primary, secondary, and tertiary job) within some three weeks to even have a chance of unlocking everything before they’re locked for an indeterminate amount of time. Throw in the fact that you are innately going to receive fewer loot boxes if you are already at a high level compared to someone who just bought the game (since you level up exponentially faster during the first dozen or so levels), and you can see why some are less than enthused about the Summer Games distribution model.
At this point, you may say “But wait, these new items are only cosmetic, and even then you can’t actually see these items most of the time since Overwatch is a first person game! Also, doesn’t it kind of defeat the purpose of cosmetic items when you can’t actually, you know, see them?” You’d be entirely correct, but for some, the principle is what matters. If Blizzard is going to introduce seasonal items/events and make it almost impossible to get any large amount of these seasonal items in a reasonable amount of time, much less any specific items, then what is the point of even offering these items under the facade that they’re free? To their credit, Blizzard did introduce a new and unique soccer/Rocket League-esque gametype dubbed LucioBall that anyone can access for free, but there is little doubt that the Summer Games update targets those who spend unreasonable amounts of real money on fake items. This is obviously much to the dismay of those who want to earn such items, which is presumably the vast majority of Overwatch’s audience.
On a practical level, this is pretty much as petty an issue as you can ask for. Realistically, there are going to be many more seasonal events and free actual content for Overwatch. The chances are that you’ll probably forget about the Summer Games items faster than the IOC forgot about how impractical it would be for Brazil to host the Summer Games (on the bright side, you could probably metaphorically connect this to money corrupting the actual Olympics). On a moral level, though, you could probably claim that the Summer Games update is borderline exploitative of well, almost everyone who plays Overwatch. Slippery slope or not, it is undeniable that the update is designed in such a way that it targets whales and completionists. This in itself is rather disconcerting when you consider how there is no real incentive for Blizzard to change their loot box mechanic since people actually buy them, creating a self-sustaining cycle that is just a step away from gambling.
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