In 2021, Overwatch's loot box obsession feels out of touch

overwatch 2
(Image credit: Blizzard)

Of all the multiplayer shooters I play, I don't think any has changed more in its lifetime than Overwatch. As the game's identity has evolved, Blizzard hasn't hesitated to completely redefine hero roles, experiment with offbeat game modes, or force a balanced meta with Role Queue. Remember when 'no limits' was the default mode and Defense heroes were a thing? I'm glad those days are behind us.

Practically every corner of Overwatch has been tweaked, scrapped, or reworked in one way or another, and all that work is a testament to Blizzard's flexibility and effort. That makes it all the more baffling that five years later the economy hasn't materially changed. I'm still opening disappointing loot boxes, a form of microtransaction that it feels like we fought a war over in 2017. 

Overwatch is one of the last havens of the loot box, and I'm over it. As a player with hundreds of hours across two platforms, I dread getting yet another haul of three sprays I'll never use and a duplicate skin for a hero I don't even like. And if I want to buy a particular skin a la carte with in-game credits? Keep opening loot boxes, because that's the only way to (maybe!) earn them.

What if I want that incredible new Ashe skin from the Lunar New Year event? I have three terrible options:

  1. Hope I get it in a loot box over the few weeks it's available (chances are slim through normal play)
  2. Buy it with credits (event skins cost 3X as much as normal legendaries)
  3. Buy buy buy boxes until options 1 or 2 happen

Defending a monetary model that's inconvenient at best and grossly predatory to kids and susceptible adults at worst is no longer possible. It hasn't been for a long time. As videogames new and old largely moved on from loot boxes after that whole Battlefront 2 debacle, Overwatch's loot boxes have remained at the center of its business model. Blizzard should get with the times and look at what other games are doing to create seasonal progression that doesn't rely on random chance.

A pretty skin that I'll probably never have. (Image credit: Blizzard)

Blizzard only has to look to its corporate neighbor Activision to notice that battle passes are pretty good, actually. If you already play a lot of Call of Duty: Warzone, Fortnite, or Apex Legends and like what that latest pass has to offer, the $10 buy-in feels like a good deal. And if you're not a fan, it's easy to skip it. Even better, all of the games I just listed also offer the majority of their premium cosmetics separately for a straight fee (you still have to buy currency bundles, though). Combing through a pass feels more like window shopping and less like a trip to the casino. I've personally bought a few passes in Rainbow Six Siege and Warzone and haven't regretted it.

The battle pass model isn't perfect—I don't love the FOMO time-sensitive unlocks cause or the often steep commitment they require. That satisfying sense of progression can easily backfire when the item I want is still 30 levels away and I only have a day left. Skipping tiers is an option, but you can quickly end up paying four or five times the initial buy-in. In that way battle passes are still a gamble of sorts, but at least the only variable is your own dedication. I'll take transparency over a random number generator any day.

I'll be disappointed if Blizzard doesn't figure something else out for Overwatch 2. To game director Jeff Kaplan's credit, it seems like he's considering a change to the current model. He told PCGamesN as much in a 2019 interview.

loot boxes

(Image credit: Blizzard)

"Overwatch 2, in terms of business model, we're exploring different options that move us away from loot boxes, but I think that will be more for Overwatch 2 than the core game. I would never rule anything out," Kaplan said. He went on to say that he thinks battle passes are "cool," but wouldn't commit to a similar system in Overwatch 2.

And hey, we can probably do better than battle passes, too. Dare I say, Overwatch 2 would probably still make a ton of money if it simply released cosmetics for a set price and called it a day. Just don't go overboard like Riot has with Valorant and try to convince me that making a few guns breathe fire is worth $100

Conveniently, BlizzCon 2021 is starting tomorrow and Overwatch 2 is on the schedule. As a fan that wants to enjoy Overwatch's excellent cosmetics as much as I do the game itself, I hope Blizzard has an update to share on the future of loot boxes. Their eradication is long overdue.

And after they're gone, it'd be helpful to know more about how Overwatch 2's cosmetics will interact with the first game. We know our cosmetics will carry over in the new game, but do I have to have Overwatch 2 to purchase new cosmetics moving forward?  It's a tangled mess of ownership that will hopefully become clearer as we learn more about the unconventional sequel.

Morgan Park
Staff Writer

Morgan has been writing for PC Gamer since 2018, first as a freelancer and currently as a staff writer. He has also appeared on Polygon, Kotaku, Fanbyte, and PCGamesN. Before freelancing, he spent most of high school and all of college writing at small gaming sites that didn't pay him. He's very happy to have a real job now. Morgan is a beat writer following the latest and greatest shooters and the communities that play them. He also writes general news, reviews, features, the occasional guide, and bad jokes in Slack. Twist his arm, and he'll even write about a boring strategy game. Please don't, though.