Blizzard can’t stop stepping on rakes with Overwatch 2. It feels like every time it seems the game is gaining more momentum, the publisher does something to anger fans.
First, it was the requirement for all accounts to have a valid phone number, then it was the launch issues (including the server problems and players’ Overwatch 1 cosmetics not syncing properly). Then it was the news that the Hero Mission mode with long-term progression was no longer happening — a decision that makes sense to me, in fairness.
Now, there’s a new backlash after it emerged that Blizzard is charging $15 for access to the first three Story Missions. These are what remain of the original grand vision for PvE. I’ve heard from several players who say they’re done with Overwatch 2 after this news.
Blizzard made the announcement in a very confusingly worded blog post, which has since been updated. It wasn’t initially clear if Story Missions would be free for a limited time then you’d have to pay to retain access to them permanently.
That’s not the case, unfortunately.
Blizzard confirmed to me and other members of the press that there will be no free access to the Story Missions. That’s not to say things won’t change down the line. Perhaps the company eventually grants everyone access to one mission to give them a taste, or even changes the PvE business model to make future Story Missions free or less expensive.
Many, many games have paid DLC that adds extra gameplay content, so it’s worth taking a look at exactly why fans are so infuriated by this move.
From a business perspective, it does make sense for Blizzard to charge for Story Missions. Overwatch 2, a free-to-play game needs to make money somehow.
We learned that Overwatch 2 hit 35 million players in its first month. Let’s say the game has added 10 million more players since then. If 6 million players buy the $15 Invasion Bundle that grants access to Story Missions, that’s just over 15% of our hypothetical player base.
Let’s say that 4 million of those would have bought a premium Battle Pass anyway — the Invasion Bundle includes $10 worth of Overwatch Coins, enough for a premium Battle Pass — so that’s an extra $5 per player. Add $15 each from the other 2 million and that means Blizzard would be making an extra $50 million from the first batch of Story Missions.
Again, these are mostly hypothetical figures I’m using to illustrate a point, but I don’t think they’re entirely unrealistic. The business case for a Story Mission paywall might look pretty good to Activision Blizzard’s executives.
But many fans are finding the news hard to swallow. Charging for gameplay content at this point is a controversial decision, to put it mildly. In Overwatch 1, players paid one time and they had access to all gameplay content at no extra cost — every map, every hero, every game mode.
Switching to free-to-play in Overwatch 2 gated new heroes behind the Battle Pass. Granted, you could still unlock each of them without paying by grinding through the free Battle Pass or completing challenges. Game Pass Ultimate members will soon be able to unlock the first six Overwatch 2 heroes instantly and for free.
Meanwhile, complete enough challenges and you’ll eventually earn enough Overwatch Coins to unlock an occasional premium Battle Pass for free. Or even enough to snap up a Legendary skin if you’re super dedicated. It’s still fairly easy to snag Overwatch League skins for free too.
So, what’s most jarring to me is that, as things stand, Story Missions are the only aspect of Overwatch 2 that people will have to pay real money for. Everything else in the game can be earned for free, at least to a certain degree.
I think this would be a very different conversation if Story Missions were unshackled from the Invasion Bundle and you could buy them for $5. Or, better yet, if you were able to use Overwatch Coins to unlock them, giving you a pathway to access them for free.
Making players pay to access a long-anticipated new mode in this particular game, under these particular circumstances, doesn’t sit quite right. It’s fracturing the fan base between those who can afford the bundle and are willing to spend $15, and those who can’t.
Sure, Destiny 2 has massive paid expansions once a year (and it also used to be a boxed retail game), but many other major free-to-play titles don’t charge for gameplay content. You can spend hundreds of hours in Fortnite Battle Royale without spending a penny and get to enjoy every mechanic and story beat — and even snag some free V-Bucks along the way. Unless I‘ve missed something, you don’t have to pay for new game modes in Apex Legends, Valorant or even Activision Blizzard’s own Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0.
As Keza MacDonald succinctly put it in the latest edition of The Guardian’s Pushing Buttons newsletter while writing about the proposed Microsoft-Activision merger, “Corporatism and creativity are natural enemies.” It’s such a damn shame that Blizzard’s business decisions are casting another dark cloud above Overwatch 2, especially when there’s a lot of great stuff happening elsewhere in and around the game.
The Season 5 content is genuinely neat. The latest cosmetics (including some killer skins and voice lines) are a blast and the new arcade mode is fun. It’s terrific that Pride is being celebrated authentically and wholeheartedly in the game right now.
We’ve also got the Overwatch League’s Midseason Madness tournament this weekend. The Overwatch World Cup is ramping up. The Calling All Heroes program, which aims to uplift members of marginalized gender identities across all facets of Overwatch, seems to be going strong.
The Invasion season content looks compelling too, between the Flashpoint mode, new co-op event and updated player progression. While the Hero Missions are intriguing, those have been delayed until September.
The Story Missions themselves are super intriguing. Despite this mess, I can’t wait to play them in August. I’ve no doubt that Team 4’s talented developers poured thousands of hours of work into these missions in the hopes of blowing fans’ minds. The contentious business decisions are, unfortunately, being made far above most of their pay grades.
Ultimately, players are being charged an arguably steep price for three missions. Bundling them with Overwatch Coins and Sojourn access for those who haven’t unlocked her seems especially galling. The paywall feels like even more of a kick in the teeth so soon after Blizzard announced it had scaled down its original ambitions for PvE. I hope the company can stop making these kinds of major missteps with the game when it’s doing so much right in other areas.
Remember back when Overwatch 2 was revealed at BlizzCon 2019? Then-game director Jeff Kaplan unveiled a grand vision for the franchise. Team 4 was going to evolve PvP (which has mostly been a success, I’d say) while introducing an entirely new PvE experience. At the same time, Blizzard was going to bring every Overwatch player along for the ride.
Kaplan said on the BlizzCon stage that Overwatch 2 would deliver “a shared multiplayer environment where no one gets left behind.” Given that not everyone is going to be able to pay for the Story Missions, these words ring a little hollow now.
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