If Blizzard aren’t the current king of free-to-play, it’s only because Valve exist. Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm are two highly successful, fully fledged F2P games, while World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo all have their own free starter editions which arguably fall into the “free-to-play” category.
That’s why it’s so surprising to hear that Overwatch – the upcoming Dota-clone-FPS-thing from Blizzard – isn’t going to be launched on a free-to-play model.
I remember that there was some previous discussion about how Blizzard were going to monetise Overwatch. The gameplay is based on each character having a hard counter, and much is made of changing characters in order to adapt to your enemies composition – and that element of the game would have been severely limited if the heroes were bought, or available on a free rotation. A team with 20 available heroes versus a team with only five could conceivably create a composition that the opposition could not answer, making the game fundamentally pay to win. But paying for skins probably wouldn’t have been enough of a money-spinner to support a game of this size.
However, the game being a one-off purchase seems like a terrible idea – there’s no single player mode, and seemingly no promise of one either. Overwatch is multiplayer only, and games without single player has traditionally been a tough sell for up front price – but Blizzard are clearly willing to give it a go.
Perhaps this will be the game to break the mould, and prove that you can leave single player behind if your multiplayer is good enough. The signs are good – people love the closed beta, and by all accounts everyone is having a blast. Word of mouth and large access to the beta is going to be key to getting people to part with their cash – and let’s not forget that Battle.net gives Blizzard a very large platform for advertisement, so they’re likely to use that as much as possible.
It’s going be very interesting to see how this develops in the next few months, and how Blizzard are going to handle this. I reckon they’ve managed to design themselves into a corner, and now, purchasing is perhaps the only way it’s going to work for them. But… we’ll see.
Watch this space.