Yesterday, I did the unthinkable. In The Year Of Our Lord 2016 I got in my car, drove to the store and bought Blizzard’s Overwatch for its full $60 manufacturer suggested retail price.
I know, right? Why would I do such a thing?
I haven’t paid the full $60 for a videogame in over five years. In this time of frequent bundles, sales, free games and price errors I started waiting until a game fell in the $20-$40 range and included all downloadable content. I created a cyclical backlog for myself that insured I never ran out of cheap games. Sure, I couldn’t always enjoy the latest podcasts or Twitter’s water cooler talk as much as before, but that didn’t bother me.
When Overwatch’s price was announced last November, the public instantly voiced their concern. They said that a multiplayer-only game shouldn’t cost the same as those with both a single-player campaign and a multiplayer component. I, like others, assumed it would be free-to-play or cost less than $60, since that’s how recent games in similar genres have been sold. Blizzard already has two F2P games, Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, so a third didn’t seem unlikely. However, I’m more than comfortable paying what I think the game deserves.
To be clear, I’m not saying you need to buy the game for this price. Critics don’t include a dollars spent per hour played in reviews because a dollar doesn’t have the same value between two people and neither does an hour of free time. Everyone’s socioeconomic status is different and shouldn’t be inferred based on their hobbies. I’m only explaining why I broke the rule on my self-imposed frugality.
Unlike League of Legends or Heroes of the Storm, all playable characters are available from the beginning of Overwatch. There is no rotating roster of who is free that week, nor are they unlockable in a shop paid by in-game or real currency. Any store or rotation would actually harm the game, since players can swap between characters on the fly. If one player only had access to a handful while another had all 21, then the match would be imbalanced. While it’ll be overwhelming at the beginning until I’m familiar with the playstyles of each hero, I rather have every included and future hero be playable at no extra cost.
Gatekeeping isn’t found just in MOBAs. Even more traditional shooters like Call of Duty have a leveling system that restricts usable weapons and upgrades. They also have purchasable map packs that let people fight each other in new environments. Though this sounds like a good thing, it isn’t. I have nothing against keeping a game fresh and exciting, but I am against fragmentation. When content goes behind a paywall, not everyone has the means to play it. Matchmaking becomes difficult as those without the new maps become stranded. The playerbase shrinks when it should expand.
With Overwatch, I know that my entry fee will guarantee free game updates down the line. I’ll never have to worry about whether or not my friends have all purchased the same maps so we can play together as whoever we want. A newcomer who buys the game a year from now will have the same tools at their disposal as the professional who has been playing since the beta.
No campaign? No problem.
Not every game needs a single-player campaign. Not every game needs a multiplayer deathmatch. With a few exceptions, and I mean few, campaigns in first-person shooters are thin on substance. They’re barely more than a tutorial for multiplayer and don’t warrant a second go around. I can count on two hands the number of FPS stories I’ve played more than once in these past two generations.
Let’s look at last year’s breakout hit, the multiplayer-only Rocket League. It was easily my favorite game of 2015. The soccer-with-cars gameplay was so simple, fast and fun that I played match after match. They’re no extra levels to buy or vehicle upgrades. What you see is what you get. Though I got the game for free through PlayStation Plus, I would have happily paid $60 for it.
People say that by having only one game mode and not the other means they bought half a game for the full cost. I don’t see it that way. The less padding that goes in a game, the more the developers can fine-tune and improve what really matters. If the multiplayer is good enough to stand alone then that’s fine by me.
Which brings me to my final point:
Blizzard has a proven track record.
This isn’t a crowd-funded game from a studio that no one has ever heard of before. Blizzard makes universally beloved games. The original Starcraft is still being played. Defense of the Ancients, a mod for Warcraft III, is why developers are rushing to create MOBAs or MOBA-inspired games. For an entire summer I stayed up until 5 a.m. raiding Karazhan in World of Warcraft. While their other games still have single-player options, aside from Heroes of the Storm, it’s easy to see that multiplayer is where they shine.
The folks at Blizzard know how to keep games fresh. I’ve rarely let a daily quest in Hearthstone go unfinished because the game is constantly changing. Each new update means different decks to craft and exciting combinations to test. There’s nothing stagnant about their design philosophy.
Roughly ten million people played Overwatch’s beta. Fostering a community isn’t a new challenge for Blizzard. The servers won’t shut down within a year—World of Warcraft’s haven’t in a decade. It’s a safe bet that the matchmaking lobbies won’t have tumbleweeds and overgrown grass like Team Fortress 2’s foray into consoles.
I don’t know when I’ll pay the sticker price for a game again. It might be another five years or longer. I am delighted to have found a game that warrants my wallet leaving my pocket. I hope it’s not too long before this happens again.
Jefferson Geiger is a journalist and critic from Colorado. Along with ZAM, his work can be found at GameSpot, Memory Insufficient and Haywire Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @geigerjd or at his website.