Developers seem to be realizing that making players gamble for in-game essentials wins them no favors
Gambling in video games may soon be going extinct as the video game industry shifts towards less predatory business models – and it’s not because the industry has grown tired of making money. It’s because newly introduced laws in China and the European Union have forced its hand.
‘Overwatch 2’, the upcoming first-person shooter from Activision Blizzard, will be the latest high-profile title to do away with pay-to-win game mechanics, which have been rendered illegal in some European Union countries – namely Belgium and the Netherlands. China, similarly, requires companies to be transparent about their games’ gambling systems, which come in the form of “loot boxes.” There’s a cap on how many of them customers can buy in a day, and they’re told exactly how many they need to purchase to gain certain rare items.
In 2020, the UK’s National Health Service declared loot boxes a major contributor to youth gambling addiction, stating that the system sets “kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble.” It’s not exactly good PR for an industry that markets its products to teenagers and children.
With so much now stacked against the practice, it’s no surprise that games are moving away from gambling.
To that end, ‘Overwatch 2’ is joining the growing ranks of video games to introduce a “battle pass” system that works like a monthly or seasonal subscription service. In addition to being free to play, the company intends to make its earnings by providing regular content updates to maintain its audience. Ultimately, the new system benefits the customer.
After all, there’s rarely any incentive for developers like Activision Blizzard to spend any effort on providing regular updates on a product if they’re making money hand over fist from all the gambling.
Gambling, which comes in the form of pay-to-win systems, has had a tremendously negative impact on video games as a whole. Aside from teaching kids to gamble, they’ve also been averse to video games from a mechanical standpoint. Video games, which used to require some measure of skill to play, have been turned into little more than wallet checks – you can’t win games like FIFA or 2K NBA without spending a few dollars on padding your roster with player cards.
This is something that Activision Blizzard itself is taking heat for with ‘Diablo Immortal’, which is pay-to-win and has a loot box system in it. Maybe the company doesn’t want to deal with yet another controversy, or to take any chances with ‘Overwatch 2’, its next big flagship title.
Unfortunately, the normalization of gambling in video games has permeated far outside the realms of each of these individual titles. Beyond ‘Overwatch’, ‘Hearthstone’, ‘Rainbow Six Siege’, and the dozens of video games that rely on gambling systems, the gaming community has become so attuned to the practice of gambling that it’s become a mainstay on Twitch, the Amazon-owned streaming service – with top streamers like xQc, Roshtein, and TrainwrecksTV being leading proponents.
Unless Twitch embraces its ethical duty to stop exploiting its large audience of underage viewers, the practice may continue to plague the video game industry for a while yet.
Activision Blizzard’s motivation to move from a gambling-based model to offer a less-predatory system may stem from Microsoft’s takeover of the company and the vision Microsoft has for it. Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass is easily the best bang for the buck available to gamers – offering thousands of games for a monthly subscription fee. This model is extended even to its titles like ‘Halo Infinite’, which has a paid battle pass system. It’s refreshing for gamers to be able to pay and get what they want without gambling away hundreds or thousands of dollars.
At the end of the day, it’s capitalism, and video games are products designed to make money. And that’s okay, as long as they’re doing it in a way that isn’t deceptive. There’s a difference between offering a product that people want to pay for and a product that actively preys on customers.
Battle passes feel rewarding for the player, if not for the game publisher. They’re not a game of chance, and they keep players invested in the game by giving them goals to strive towards. It encourages players to keep coming back again to play the game instead of spending money on a slot machine.
At this point, playing the game instead of spending money might sound like a novel concept – but that’s what games are supposed to be about.