Valve recently announced that it is ending Dota 2’s battle pass. Once known as The Compendium, the battle pass that went on sale for every The International tournament brought in millions of dollars for the prize pool, and yet according to Valve, it wasn’t worth the time and effort.
So few people bought the battle pass that Valve decided (in an incredulous move given the trends of modern gaming) that it would better focus its efforts on updates to the game and bringing content to every player, no matter how much money they spent on Dota 2.
It’s horrible that we have to praise this decision so much, but really when you look around at the other kings of live service and see that they all not only want as much money from you as possible, but they also want your time, it seems that we might as well stop playing anything with our friends and instead seek a solitary life of single player titles. When asked how much money is enough, most gaming companies would laugh at the question, wanting more and more from their cash cow consumers until the next big trend comes along and they shut down their servers while swearing six months earlier that they had changed gaming forever.
Instead, on this occasion Valve has looked at how it can actually make an effort to bring back Dota 2 and move away from the easy route of cosmetics. The company is still after your time and money, don’t get me wrong, but there are much better ways to line your pockets and keep your consumers happy than the battle pass model.
Battle passes are perhaps the most successful con in video game history. “Oh,” says the faceless executive. “We heard you hated gambling for the best skins in the game, so now we’ve made them available to everyone.”
You would think that sounds good, the solution to all your problems, and then the battle pass can’t be earned without spending money, whereas before in most of these games you could grab a lootbox when you leveled up or completed challenges. Moreover, you now have to spend as much time as possible playing the game, otherwise you risk missing out on season skins that never come back. Essentially, where loot boxes only asked for your money and put the responsibility on the player to choose whether you wanted to buy them or not, battle passes play into the fear of missing something, requiring you to spend money and time to get the same skins as everyone else. There is no randomness, no fun in getting something in a box that your friend didn’t.
Even then, in extremely greedy cases like Overwatch 2, there are still skins that you can’t earn, but instead must buy for extortionate prices in the in-game store. Recently, with the Invasion Bundle for Overwatch 2, Blizzard advertised spending $15 for something that was previously promised to be part of the base game, and they promoted having a $19 skin in that bundle. At $19, the price of a new indie game, we have to wonder if these can be considered microtransactions at all.
One point made by Valve in its blog post that indicated why it was giving up battle passes was that almost no one was buying them. If this is true for other popular live-service games, then it becomes even more difficult to defend a battle pass model, because it not only proves that these titles focus on greed rather than making themselves better, but they also only target the “whales,” aka the people with enough money and time that they are happy to throw away lavish amounts of money for the latest skins, emotes, etc.
I believe we have let battle passes run their course, and for some titles it is time to ditch them in favor of actually presenting new content to players that makes them want to play the game. It is impossible to remove the battle pass from a title like Fortnite, but on the other hand, Epic Games still manages to inject new weapons, map updates and more into Fortnite from time to time. The same cannot be said with other titles, and as always, a loyal fan base will be created more from a solid game that gets constant attention than a release that focuses only on how much money it can get from its player base in the shortest possible time.