Early Access battle royale shooter PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is still quickly climbing the charts in terms of sales and player counts, but also on the rise are controversy, complaints, and negative reviews on Steam. Along with no small amount of hubbub over PUBG's policy of banning players for perceived stream-sniping and team-killing (even when someone had a seemingly good reason for the latter), the introduction of paid loot crates for cosmetic items continues to be a big point of contention.
The community backlash is no surprise: the idea of selling items in an unfinished Early Access game typically results in a wave of unhappiness from gaming communities (see Ark's paid DLC expansion). There's also the fact that Brendan Greene stated a few months ago that no monetization would occur during PUBG's Early Access period. Anytime a system goes from free to paid (after launch, Greene has said there will "probably" be no more free crates at all) there's bound to be a lot of unhappiness.
Greene explained his turnaround on a paid crate system for Early Access, saying in the August update post: "While our intention was and still is to add the full feature to the game when we move into actual release, we do need to test it prior to launch and at Early Access so that it is stable and ready to be fully introduced to our community."
For the most part, the community seems unmoved by Greene's explanation. While it's nothing like the dramatic review-bombing we've seen with other games, PUBGs recent Steam review score has slipped from Mostly Positive to Mixed in the past 30 days, which is a change from about 75% positive reviews to around 65%. While many of the reviews express positive opinions about the game itself, most of these recent thumbs-downs cite the paid crates as the main reason.
"Although I love the core game, I can't recommend it to anyone now as the developer has broken one of the most paramount promises made during EA," says one Steam reviewer, who has played 135 hours of PUBG. "They said no paid content until release, now they're introducing keys, needed to open crates, which are purchased with real money, akin to CSGO."
"Don't let BlueHole pull the same things other early access devs have," reads another review. "Even though this game is wonderful and has the potential to be a staple in PC gaming, we have to let them know we won't accept these practices."
"Fun and addicting game but I'm jumping on the boycott bandwagon with the way they are going about loot crates / cosmetic items," reads a review from a player with nearly 90 hours of play. "If they added the ability to receive the same loot by grinding i would tell everyone to buy it."
On the PUBG subreddit, one of the highest upvoted posts, published two weeks ago, is titled 'JUST SAY NO to real-money keys."
"I don't think people getting these things are getting an advantage. I don't think my gameplay is affected by other people having them, or me not having them," the post reads. The poster laments that unlocking the schoolgirl outfit they want would require a potentially sizable investment of cash due to crates containing a single item, not a set, and the random nature of the crate's contents allow for finding duplicates instead of the costume you might be looking for.
"I know some of you play games like CSGO or whatever and think a system like this is reasonable because you're used to it, but it's not," the post continues. "In those games, it's also possible to get items for free. In this game, it will not be possible to get anything for free." (Emphasis theirs).
There are currently some 2,500 comments on the post, which has over 14,000 upvotes. Not everyone agrees, mind you: some point out that microtransactions are voluntary, and no one needs to actually buy keys for the crates. Others fear the crate system will lead, as it did for CS:GO, to a swarm of gambling sites, bot accounts, and scammers hoping to cash in on valuable items.
One redditor is completely fine with microtransactions, even in Early Access, and sounds perfectly willing to spend money—just not like this. "I'm all for selling cosmetics," the comment reads. "I'm completely against selling cosmetics using an RNG slot machine approach like crates & keys. Simply sell me the full outfit for $15 please."
And, for some who haven't yet bought PUBG, this controversy may be resulting in some hesitation about purchasing it. "I've been watching this game and was planning on potentially buying it after its release," one comment reads, "but here I'm seeing the birth of the usual EA pattern.
"Everyone was hailing this as 'EA done right'," the commenter continues, "but I'm skeptical, as that's what they always say."