I’m sure that if you are like me, you are totally hyped for the May 24th release of Overwatch. As much as I am excited, I’m also a little disillusioned by the fact that Overwatch is essentially gaming the free to play model with a $60 buy in price. Hear me out here, as much as its a great game that is pretty balanced (as long as there aren’t any Bastions in the game) but it is missing its calling as potentially THE free to play title of the future.
Let’s start here, if you were unaware, Overwatch will come with every hero available at launch. This isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t necessarily a great thing either. Let’s use League of Legends here as an example. With all the champions in League of Legends, you start with essentially a very small free to play rotational pool. These champions can range from easy to use, to simple to play and as you earn in-game money, you can buy cheaper and easier to master champions. Prices go up as these champions become newer and admittedly more complex. meaning that you get better in skill as you get access to more characters. While Overwatch does lean on the ability to swap your hero on the fly, anyone that spent time grinding through the open beta knows that some of the more difficult heroes being on your team was usually an instant loss. If Overwatch had started new players out with a smallish offering of 1 or 2 characters from each class, and let people figure out what works and what doesn’t the games competitive level would evolve to a much higher level. Instead, we get low level plays where Reaper on your team accidentally used his ultimate prematurely.
Now, the primary opposition to this may cite that Blizzard pointed out that heroes are free because counterplay is a big part of Overwatch’s competitive play-style and limiting characters could give players an unfair advantage. Let me ask you, would it really? How about Heroes of the Storm? If I own some of the stronger characters and my team wins because of this, isn’t this the same issue? So why is it OK to do in one game in not in another? I find that logic to be an easy cop-out.
Overwatch looks to be following every other free to play cliche when it comes to getting money from they players. Blizzard admitting that Overwatch would have microtransactions for new vanity items and poses is something that you’d see in any other free to play game. Overwatch’s primary competitor, Team Fortress 2, has been making a killing on Steam for ages by taking advantage of that. Obviously, while not free to play (but cheap to play) Counterstrike: Global Offensive also has found a solid market in doing this as well. It really does seem like Blizzard wants their cake and will be eating it too.
My major concern that aligns with the lack of the game being free to play is that the longevity of the game may fizzle out too. With free to play, Blizzard is forced to keep the game fresh and add new content at regular intervals to keep the playerbase engaged. With this whole $60 at the door and whatever comes out next strategy, there’s a solid chance that the playerbase will began to dwindle as soon as the game begins to stagnate, only to be replaced by the next big shooter. Let’s be honest, Overwatch may be an afterthought by the time Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare come out.
I already preordered my copy of Overwatch, grudgingly, but I did it. I just really hope that it isn’t money wasted 6 months from now, because without free to play, Blizzard doesn’t have any obligations going forward.