Ah, monetization! A thorny subject that never ceases to create controversy. From the pricey subscriptions of World of Warcraft and the hat-trick lootboxes of Team Fortress 2, a myriad of new funding models have cropped up. Not to mention the participatory jackpots, our getaways compete in ingenuity to get us to checkout. And these last days would seem to show that the free-to-play is a haven for publishers. Fall Guys and Overwatch 2, two big projects with a very large community, both adopt free access. But at what cost ?

Who pays for the broken pots of the free-to-play ?

By nature, the free-to-play wants to be as accessible as possible to phish potential players and convince them to stay in the game. . A fraction of the community will end up getting their hands on the wallet and buy cosmetics. These are the famous “whales”, capable of weighing hundreds of euros in their favorite game without flinching. The question is whether these one-time purchases are enough to fuel the machine.

That’s where Battle Passes come in. Far from being exclusive to free-to-play, it is all the same their cradle. Inspired by the Compendium of DOTA 2, which appeared in 2013, they were popularized by Fortnite. In exchange for ten or even fifteen euros, they shower you with cosmetic rewards… as long as you play faithfullyor you buy additional XP packs.


Let’s open a parenthesis. Depending on the model, the most loyal players will be able to earn enough premium currency to obtain the next battle pass “for free”. Why is it beneficial for publishers to implement this refund system? Because’a multiplayer game without players is a dead game. They ensure that matchmaking remains smooth. In return, they are rewarded for their loyalty. Anyway, back to our topic.

To grip the most hesitant, “FOMO” is the developers’ secret weapon. Meaning Fear Of Missing Out, or “fear of missing something”, this acronym is embodied here by the fear of missing a battle pass containing a juicy cosmetic. An exclusive Darth Vader skin, for example, which will enjoin you to grind as much as possible – and above all to pay. This guarantees more stable and diverse cash inflows than the mega-transactions of the “whales”.

Well-oiled mechanics

To make Battle Passes enticing, the basic cosmetics must be quite limited. In any case, paid cosmetics are always more attractive than those you can unlock for free. Or that you can only unlock them at the cost of a crippling grind… In short, the apparent free nature of certain games hides a marketing superhighway designed to get you paid more consistently. At the moment, paying 10 or 15 euros to obtain skins seems like a reasonable investment. The total cost over time is hidden by the spread over time. Psychologically, we don’t naturally keep track.

It is on this that it is based attention economy. In an ultra-connected civilization, where the offer is overabundant, users can access the content they want with the snap of a finger. In addition, the proliferation of short but enjoyable content (through YouTube, Vine and today TikTok) accustoms us to remaining fickle. In order to keep our attentionpublishers need us wave a proverbial carrot in front of our nose and reward the time spent. But impossible to enjoy 100% without regularly donating a coin…

Fall Guys

A principle long perfected in the mobile market: we intentionally generate frustration before coming to relieve you with a payment. In the worst cases, this monetization goes into pay-to-win. Big up to Diablo Immortal. But let’s take Candy Crush as a case study. In its thousands of levels, you will regularly find difficulty peaks. They are expressly designed to frustrate players into buying a $0.99 boost to get past these death puzzles. The Battle Passes are similar, except that they rather play on our vanity and our desire to have beautiful cosmetics that slam…

A necessary transition?

But is turning to free-to-play a necessity when you are as well established as Fall Guys or Overwatch? There is no obvious answer to this question. Fall Guys, for example, has suffered a clear decline in popularity since its heyday in 2020. Without hard numbers, it’s impossible to define whether the jovial battle royale necessarily needed to go free-to-play. But Epic Games has already found the magic formula with Fortnite… and its impeccable battle pass.

Overwatch 2

On the Overwatch 2 side, it’s easier to interpret Blizzard’s tactics. After the many outcry over the development time and the proportionately weak content, opting for free allows you to take the pill away. This also makes it possible to acquire new, younger players who are more accustomed to this economic model. It could relaunch Overwatch as a franchise after a bad patch.

In the West, nothing really new

Therefore the free-to-play is he a pernicious threat that threatens to engulf the video game industry? No more than other recent models. It’s a conduit like any other. Overwatch 1, sold at the ringing and stumbling price of 60€, contains many filthy lootboxes to make us go to the checkout. The transition to a model free-to-play, based on a battle pass, is more of a transition in form. We trade the dopamine of the lotteries for pseudo-subscriptions that quietly siphon our bank account.

Note that there is no harm in buying a small battle pass from time to time! Like any act of consumption, you just have to be aware of what you are buying. And, at least, they guarantee a minimum content which is clearly indicated before payment. This is very rarely the case with lootboxes, which, moreover, seem to be on the downward slope, thanks to the increasingly restrictive legislation against them. Battle passes aren’t perfect, but at least they don’t rely on the addictive mechanics of gambling.


Let’s not forget that our capitalist society responds to the laws of supply and demand. Publishers embrace the combo free-to-play and battle pass car he wins the support of the public. Conversely, if we all agreed to repudiate lootboxes, for example, it would take no more than 6 months before publishers changed their model. Watch the NFTs: it flows pretty well, no ?


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