Why Overwatch Isn't Free-To-Play

Why Overwatch Isn't Free-To-Play

Everyone thought Blizzard's excellent new shooter, Overwatch, was gonna be free-to-play. Then it wasn't. It's going for $US40 (or $US60 for a special edition). What happened?

The long and short of it is, while Overwatch — with its expanding roster of MOBA-esque heroes and focus on multiplayer — might seem like a no-brainer for the "party upfront, business in the back" treatment, the dollar's in the details. Principle designer Scott Mercer explained it to me in an interview at BlizzCon:

"From the beginning, we knew this was a game all about heroes," he said. "As we continued to work on it and add more heroes to it, hero-switching became a really key component. To really provide for a breadth of heroes to allow for that switching — to let people look at the other team and say, 'OK, let's change our line-up a little bit' — became core to Overwatch. To support that, we need to have our 21 heroes [for everyone]. Not just, like, one tank, one support, one ranged character or something. You've got multiple different tanks and whatnot."

"We want people to have enough options that they feel like they're not at a super huge disadvantage."

It does, however, put Overwatch in something of a tricky position. Premium priced multiplayer-only games have had — shall we say — a rough go of it lately. Let us now take a moment to pour one or two or twenty out for Evolve, Titanfall, and countless well-intentioned multi-only indie games. And while Counter-Strike: Global Offensive might be one of the most rapidly growing phenomena in games today, it's half Overwatch's price on PC.

That barrier to entry could dissuade people from diving in at or, more crucially, after launch. The world's become a free-to-play buffet. Overwatch is already really good, but can it last?

Why Overwatch Isn't Free-To-Play

Mercer admitted that Blizzard's aware of the precarious position they have put themselves in, but right now they're taking this day by day. If they need to change, they will.

"It's something we have to consider," said Mercer, "but we're also a different game. We'll look at all the data. We'll look at feedback from the community. We'll ask ourselves some hard questions, and then after launch we'll figure out what's the right thing for Overwatch."

Blizzard is, at this point, not even sure how they will release new heroes. It's likely that they will — in addition to character skins and other cosmetic goodies — but will everyone immediately gain access? Or will they sprinkle micro-transactions atop what is, frankly, already something of a tall order?

Mercer was not able to provide a concrete answer:

"We'll see," he said. "Right now we're focusing on the 21 launch heroes. Exactly what happens in the future with regards to heroes, we're not quite sure. We are gonna support the game, but how that happens and how it's monetized is still up in the air. There are a lot of questions we have to ask ourselves first."



    Especially given the truth of this:
    Let us now take a moment to pour one or two or twenty out for Evolve, Titanfall, and countless well-intentioned multi-only indie games.

    It's Blizzard, they will do at least moderately well. Personally I'm the most excited I can remember in recent memory for a multiplayer title (probably the most since TF2). Too many are either generic yearly releases like CoD, are catered to casual audiences or both. I'm happy to pay the $40 for it given what I've seen from streamers of the open beta.

    Only giving PC the $40 option (over $60) and not the consoles is greedy though.

    Last edited 09/11/15 11:18 am

      Especially given, if this follows the trajectory of TF2, CSGO and PayDay - the console version could end pathetically unsupported

      Except it's not $40, that's the US price. Australians are screwed (yet again) at $69.95 for the base version of the game, $89.95 for Origins Edition

        ...and ************$190************ for Collector's Edition, which made me go WTF because I'm so used to ordering CE's for Blizz games.

        While the Origins Edition is nice, it looks like standard + redeemable codes with nothing tangible. I like the music, art and physical bonuses that come with normal CE's for ~$100, so I feel like there's some rip-off occurring with Origins edition.

        Last edited 09/11/15 9:23 pm

          The markup is probably due to the size of the figure (12.8 inches) and extra shipping overseas? Not sure though, it may also be EB marking it up due to being exclusive.

            Well for example I picked up the SC2 CE at midnight from EB... it cost $110. Soundtrack, art book, etc. The Origins edition seems to have none of that "volume" even though it's only $20 less.

    Let us now take a moment to pour one or two or twenty out for Evolve, Titanfall..
    They both did a lot better than Dirty Bomb (the only MOBA-style free-to-play FPS I know of). The price is a little steep but personally I'd prefer one cost up front than feel like I have to pay more and more money constantly to be remotely competitive in a twitch-shooter.

    For post-release stuff... that could obviously be a problem, hopefully they decide something before launch and save a massive shit-storm after.

    Thanks for the article. I had many questions, now I have few. Perhaps they should come up with some sort of a plan prioir to release as to how they will release the rest of the content. Then again that seems more like the old blizzard way of doing things.

    Still not gonna pay full retail price for a multiplayer only shooter.

      With how bad the campaigns have been with the military first person shooters people have essentially been paying $90 for multiplayer only shooters for years. *shrugs*

    Whilst i like the premise its pretty apparent that they intend to charge money for new characters (I hope im wrong). This throws me off the game entirely - won't even bother with it. It stopped me playing heroes of the storm. Even after purchasing a hero i still had to level it before i could use certain abilities. Which lead to me playing (what i thought) was sub optimally. Not cool - not cool at all.

    This is all my own opinion and it's largely influenced by growing up playing quake which had mods like CTF team deathmatch (q3 rocket arena) all awesome additions to the game available to anyone. I strongly believe that competitive multiplayer mechanics should never be behind any sort of gating mechanism - whether its a paywall OR XP (maps, abilities & weapon loadouts all fall into this).

    Players shouldn't have to earn xp (or pay money) to unlock xy or z so you can have a slight advantage over new players (experience should be enough). In terms of an ongoing revenue stream cosmetic stuff (ability looks, skins) could all be easily monetize whilst not changing any core gameplay. Going by TF2 revenues it is more than enough for a sustainable business model.

    Why not dota 2 it? Make it free to play. give everyone every hero and sell cool looking guns and apparel that are purely cosmetic.

    Last edited 09/11/15 12:14 pm

      Exactly, there is already going to be a cash shop in the game. Don't have a cash shop if your going to charge people for the game. One or the other.

        I think with a cash shop in-game I would consider a maximum of $20 (AU) up front. But that would also be contingent on being like DOTA 2 in that all extras are purely cosmetic.

        It's not the same, Dota 2 isn't a run of the mill cash shop. The game is designed from the ground up to make you want to pay to unlock items and crates. It's built into the game to tempt you to constantly spend money, that's not the same as offering a few skins and such and it's way too early to know for sure how they will support the game post-launch. If it's not doing well, the last thing they will do is try to get more money out of a small userbase

          I am not suggesting they tack it on. Blizzard having the rep it does you got to think they at least thought about this before creating the game, and would of been able to "build it in from the ground up". If they are beta testing and only now thinking about how they are going to market it and get players in they must have a extremely shoty development plan with sticky notes and books with coffee stains.

          I am not developer but blind freddy can see the path they would follow... Cool game idea, Why would this idea appeal to people? What is the target audience? then right after the next question would be how to market/sell and profit from it.

          Especially with how diverse it is these days everything from episodic (its a online shooter so no it wouldn't work but just an example), cheap games with DLC walls, Pay to win, Free to play, cosmetic Free to play like Dota. To act like they have not worked out exactly what they are going to do is bull and I don't buy it (not yelling at you btw).

          I remember reading when they were making hearthstone one of the first things they talked about after coming up with the idea and Blizzard caught wind of it is how is it going to be marketed and be profitable.

          Last edited 11/11/15 10:27 pm

      I'm going to throw my opinion in the ring and say it is because of consoles. Dota2, LoL, et al, all are on pc, and have almost daily updates. I don't play enough console games, but I don't recall the update schedule being anywhere near as vigorous. I'm curious as to how well warframe did, that was free if iirc. I haven't seen F2P games with microtransactions and massive playerbases be that common on console, so i assume that is the reason for the upfront cost. They "sting" everyone for the upfront - then go free 2 play. Covers developing costs, and then can still cash in further down the track like HoTS (skins etc.)

      I'd love someone to give me examples of how I'm misled!

        Warframe is still alive and kicking. I'm a pretty new player but the game seems far from dead, I've already dropped a fair bit of cash on platinum too.

      Valve is a bit unique in the industry for being large but still private (i.e. not publicly listed). Compared to LoL, DotA brings in considerably less revenue. Basically, I would argue Valve has the leeway to be more player friendly/generous.

      I've heard conflicting reports on whether they've ruled out charging for heroes or not, but they still have the option of charging for maps too. We'll see I guess.

    And despite all that, I still absolutely expect this to be free-to-play at or soon after launch.

    Not that it matters to me, I'm in for the pre-order.

    Diablo 3 is almost a multiplayer-only (at least it is online-only) game with an upfront cost and wasn't that the biggest PC game release of the past five years, despite being very rough at release? I wouldn't be too worried. If Blizzard markets Overwatch well, I think they can still sell a lot. Splatoon is another online-multiplayer focused full-price shooter (and is probably a better comparison due to being a new IP) and that is also doing quite well.

    Bravo, they allowed better gameplay trump the ever-alluring temptation of microtransactions.

    Evolve is an excellent game. Dead as a doornail unfortunately (especially for us Aussies). I cannot understand the strategy behind the pricing. They have 5 tiers of hunters, 2 of which are behind seperate season passes. They had 3 monsters and the 4th was pre-order only or pay later. The new monster is just out.

    The game is cheap now, but a matchmaking wasteland (20 mins to find a match if you are lucky). If they had only charged half price for the main game in the beginning, and kept the charges for the upper tiers and cosmetics they could have had a big enough player base to keep it going. Even if they had given the first tier hunters and one monster as free to play then that could have at least got the punters through the door.

      It's what happens when you get suits designing games (or developers appeasing them). Ultimately it all comes down to dollars. They seem to think that if (op) mechanics are hidden behind a pay wall people will pay - it might work in the short term but long term it just segregates the community. Valve got it right as did grinding gear games - limiting it to cosmetic still provides a solid revenue stream whilst not affecting core gameplay in any way.

      I also feel a lot of the mobile market is trying to seep it's way into core gaming. Every mobile game has shit hidden behind a paywall whether its XP, items, time nothing seems off the table.

      I think the big thing with Evolve that you people were pretty much gated away from content FROM DAY 1 and had to pay a decent sum to unlock new content... and it didn't actually vary much from the base content anyway.

      Essentially Evolve was a PR disaster at launch, which basically pushed everyone who might have gone for it after hearing initial reviews of "yeah, this is pretty fun" into the "no damn way" basket. Gamers do not like the impression that at-launch content is locked behind a secondary paywall after they start up the game when it seems like content that should have been available for free. Day 1 "DLC" for content that looks like it should be part of the base game to warrant its price-tag is an unmitigated disaster. It astounds me that no one involved realised how much it would antagonise and alienate the people they were trying to convince to buy their game.

      Evolve was too shallow, didn't offer enough bang for buck, and made gamers feel like they were deliberately getting shafted for lots of cash for very little. That all adds up to an almost dead-on-arrival launch.

    I really feel that choosing the free-to-play strategy would've been the better move. All my friends were excited to try Overwatch and put some money into skins and such. Now that they've revealed the game will cost $89AUD to play, a lot of my friends and I are now wary to even bother. If that can be extrapolated to the rest of the potential player-base, then that's a lot of people possibly not even touching the game.
    Multiplayer FPS has never been a favourite of mine, but I was willing to try it out and drop a bit of money to support it. Having to pay standard retail on a multiplayer-only game that on top of that has in-game purchases... No.

      $89AUD does not translate to $40 USD - unless they're slugging us with an extravagant Australia tax; in which case Blizz can take Overwatch and shove it.

        I grabbed the $89 number from the preorder price on EB. Didn't notice that the amount is for the Origins Edition. The base version will most likely be $79 knowing standard pricing, though with the price wars we've been seeing lately with Fallout 4, the price may go down to $60.
        Still a lot to ask for a PvP-multiplayer-only FPS that then still has in-game purchases (imo).

          Actually It's 69.95Aud for the base PC version on the Overwatch website for pre-purchase

      Yeah, $90 to play one match of the game, possibly discover you don't enjoy it, and then have no single player campaign to fall back on. No thanks.

        Being Blizzard, there is a very good chance they'll release some type of trial mode considering the majority of their games had one i.e. D3/SC2/WOW.

    Actually It's 69.95Aud for the base PC version on the Overwatch website for pre-purchase.

    ehhhhhh I have faith that Blizzard knows what they're doing but switching to FTP after launch would piss a lot of people off and the Blizzard community is not shy about blowing up at the company.

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