I’m proud to say that after playing PUBG Mobile for two years now, I haven’t put a single dollar into the game. The skins are good. Great, sometimes. But they’re virtually all locked behind RP grinds I don’t have time for or loot boxes designed to rinse your bank account. I’m smarter than that. At least, that’s what I would have said if an adorable bright yellow duck outfit hadn’t just coerced me out of $75 bucks. It taught me a lesson I already knew but, for the brief moment, completely ignored. Tencent isn’t your friend, and PUBG Mobile‘s monetization practices aren’t healthy.
I was just a few short days of saving myself from this fate. PUBG Mobile‘s main screen is always filled to the brim with new reasons to top up your in-game UC balance. So much so that it isn’t hard to miss something rotating through the carousel as you quickly hop from one match to the next. The new B.Duck set, made in collaboration with a particularly big rubber duck business, had been around for a couple of weeks, and it’ll be gone by the next. I was so close to never even knowing of its existence. Now whether it was down to the eye-catching bright coloring or just my brain seeking out all things cute, the B.Duck branded outfit was picked up in my peripheral vision, and I just had to take a look.
For once, a skin that caught my attention wasn’t locked behind an arbitrary grind or a loot box with no failsafe mechanic. Instead, it was what I now see as a deviously designed rectangular slot machine. “Play 10 times to get all the rewards!” it said. Prizes couldn’t repeat, and in a moment of weakness, I genuinely thought I’d be able to scoop up the outfit without doing all 10 pulls — a cute B.Duck outfit reminiscent of Japanese pre-school uniforms. And I was right. Sort of. I played directly into the hands of an exploitative practice of freemium gaming and paid the price. It took nine plays to get the one thing I wanted, but only because it wasn’t the rarest item on the list. That’s $75 gone in a flash. Now I know why parents get so angry about uniform costs. At least they know the price upfront.
But the thing is, I knew what I was getting into. I’ve never been a gambler. I was given £2 as a kid to bet on a horse and immediately regretted the ice cream I could have bought on that hot summer’s day instead. Skins, though? Skins I understand. The magical girl-inspired Star Guardian set in League of Legends? Orphea’s Raven Crest High School skin in Heroes of the Storm? They inject cuteness into otherwise stressful competitive games, turning them (for me, at least) into the welcome breaks from reality they’re meant to be.
A vocal minority of PUBG Mobile players always go on about how the game should stick to hyper-realistic depictions of war. Do they forget we’re committing mass murder to win chicken dinners? And not even virtual chicken dinner—just the words “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner” on a results screen. Slaughtering those babies while dressed as a 6ft tall pre-school girl is exactly the level of trolling that I’m happy to pay for. It’s like when World of Warships added the girls from the tongue-in-cheek High School Fleet anime. Games are ridiculous and people will pay top dollar to indulge in escapism. Pissing off the few boomers who think a F2P game can survive by putting out nothing but camo skins in various colors only adds to the fun.
But it’s how I was mentally (and financially) assaulted into paying a ludicrous amount for the skin that irks me. Everything about getting the skin felt shrouded in deceit: like it was designed to pray on addictive personalities. And it is. Of course it is. Rather than be able to spend a fixed sum on exactly what you want–like in League of Legends or even Fortnite — PUBG Mobile plows you with everything you want to see before pulling the rug from under your foot.
A low item count has you thinking you’ll get your preferred item sooner rather than later. The cost starts small yet increases an indeterminate amount with each pull. It even lures you in with massive discount coupons that vanish as soon as the price starts to climb exponentially. Oh, and the odds aren’t made clear. Of course you’re going to get the useless crate scraps and temporary parachute trail effect before you get a single piece of the actual skin that was advertised. It’s a classic bait and switch.
At the start, I paid something like £0.50 for a pull. I paid £5 upfront thinking the bonus first time purchase UC would be enough to get the goods. All I got for that cash was Crate Scraps and Silver—two virtually useless pieces of in-game trash. As the price of each pull started to climb, it was clear that I’d be paying several dollars now for single use parachute trail effects that my enemies can’t even see. By the time I started to get skin accessories like the B.Duck hat and the parachute, I was shelling out around £15 worth of UC a pop.
The penultimate pull netted the elusive skin, but even with 800 UC left from a £50 recharge, getting enough for the final DP28 gun skin to match the set would have cost another £24 or so. What’s the chance of me even finding a DP28 to use in a match, anyway? At least I can give Tencent credit for misjudging that I’d want a gun skin more than branded preschool attire to humiliate my foes with. There’s even a huge water bottle included so that I can drink their tears, but it’s already filled with the tears of my own regret.
With how many skins PUBG Mobile manages to churn out each month, the fact that it dangles them like carrots in front of player’s eyes is, quite frankly, abhorrent. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to see a skin in a shop and pay a fixed fee for it. Tencent isn’t your friend. It wants your money, and no manner of official social media memes should convince you otherwise. If you think Pokemon GO, Genshin Impact, and Roblox are the big mobile apps right now, know that PUBG Mobile outperformed them all. It’s the top performing game on mobile right now according to Sensor Tower, and luring players into spending $75 for a skin is exactly how it got there.
Disclaimer: Fanbyte is owned by Tencent, which also runs Tencent Games, developer and publisher of PUBG Mobile. Tencent also subsidizes much of Fanbyte’s PUBG Mobile coverage by covering freelancer budget costs. Those covering PUBG Mobile for the site have no contact with Tencent, however, and are given complete creative control to write whatever they wish.