The History of the Battle Pass and its Impact on Microtransactions
We’ve had pay to play, we’ve had subscriptions, we’ve had microtransactions, but the latest monetisation model is the battle pass. Over the last decade it has quickly become a cornerstone of modern gaming, offering up a structured and rewarding progression system. In doing so, it has totally shifted how players engage with content and get rewarded for doing so.
But the humble Battle Pass is a relatively new phenomenon. So where did it come from, and what made it so popular? Let’s find out.
The First Battle Pass
The origins of the battle pass are most often traced to one game—Dota 2. Back in 2013, Valve’s hit game introduced something called “the compendium” for the 2013 edition of Dota 2’s largest esports tournament: “The International”.
It might not sound exactly like a battle pass to begin with, but bare with me. The Compendium acted as a digital booklet which allowed players to make predictions on the tournament, rewarding them for reaching prediction milestones. This meant the more predictions you got right, the higher you would progress along The Compendium and the more limited time rewards you would get.
For many, this is the first clear example of a Battle Pass. Providing players with the opportunity to progress through a linear, structured progression system for a limited time only.
Fortnite and Boom of Battle Royales
Whether Epic Games took cues from Valve’s Compendium or not is still up for debate, but the release of Fortnite in 2017 catapulted the battle pass into the public eye. Fortnite was an immediate hit, and it launched with the battle pass system we all know today. Offering up a tiered progression system with each new tier unlocking various different types of items—from emotes and V-Bucks to the all-important skins. These battle passes would renew on a seasonal basis.
That said, if you miss past battle passes it can be very hard to get your hands on the old items. That is, unless you buy a Fortnite account that already have the rewards from the past.
The popularity of Fortnite and its battle pass system proved that not only could battle passes be popular with players, but they could also be profitable. And, as such, other developers quickly started to incorporate battle passes into their games.
The Downfall of Microtransactions
It’s important to stop here for a moment to point out that when Fortnite released in 2017, it did so into a market that was fractured. At the time, most multiplayer games were using a microtransactions model based, primarily, around loot boxes. If you’ve forgotten, loot boxes were those things you could obtain slowly (or buy quickly) and open to receive a ‘randomised’ reward. With these levels of randomness being carefully set by the developers.
It's an understatement to say that loot boxes and microtransactions were unpopular. They were hated. The catastrophic release of games like Star Wars Battlefront II (reboot) only confirmed this with players denouncing the developers’ predatory misuse of these monetisation strategies.
This is where the Battle Pass came in: to a fractured market. Where both players and developers were eagerly searching for an alternative way to monetise games.
The Evolution of Battle Passes
Fortnite may have been the first, but most major games—particularly battle royales—quickly adopted the strategy. From Apex Legends and Call of Duty: Warzone to Rocket League and Fall Guys. All of these took the same concept and (occasionally) added their own twist to it.
Even games like Overwatch, which was originally using loot boxes, chose to migrate to the new system to shed the negative press surrounding the old system—while, of course, also seeing financial benefits to battle passes.
Critique and Future of Battle Passes
Today, battle passes are everywhere. And they all, roughly, look the same. However, just like loot boxes before them, battle passes have increasingly come under pressure as players are feeling their flaws.
Two of the most common critiques are as follows. Firstly many lament that there is a lack of support for free to play players, with most battle passes withholding all of the best content behind the paywall—a paywall which has to be paid every few months. Secondly, many lament the grinding requirements for actually obtaining the best items from the battle pass—as not only do you need to pay to unlock them, but you also have to play. And if you’ve ever tried, you’ll know that reaching the end of a battle pass is a HUGE time commitment. This is a commitment that many simply are not able to meet.
Ultimately, the battle pass is here to stay… for now. The monetisation format has a notably better reception than the nightmare of microtransactions that came before it—and because of this we can expect developers will continue to use battle passes to fund their games. That is, until they find something even more lucrative.