RIP to Overwatch’s loot boxes. After helping normalize the gambling-like microtransaction system in video games, Blizzard has announced that a massive change is coming to the character shooter’s loot box system in the upcoming sequel: They are being removed entirely. In its place, a more traditional storefront like those seen in Fortnite and Call of Duty: Warzone will emerge. Players will then presumably be able to cherry-pick which skins and cosmetics bundles they prefer rather than roll the dice on randomized boxes.
While not the move away from microtransactions that Activision Blizzard could benefit from, the possibility of a more transparent storefront is a step in the right direction for a game whose development has been plagued by controversy.
What happened — In an August 9 blog post from the Overwatch team about the game’s currently running anniversary event, the team slipped in the news that purchasable loot boxes were getting the ax starting on August 30.
“Loot Boxes will no longer be available for sale after the end of the Anniversary Remix Vol. 3 event on August 30,” the post reads. “However, you will still be able to earn standard loot boxes after the end of the event.” This comes on the heels of a June announcement that “there will be no loot boxes in Overwatch 2.”
When Overwatch was first released in 2016, it was not the first game to include loot boxes, but quickly became one of the most prominent thanks to the game’s massive popularity. In some ways, it was a precursor to Blizzard’s terrible implementation of microtransactions in Diablo Immortal. Loot boxes were even made unavailable for purchase in some countries to do regulations against gambling.
What’s changing — Blizzard isn’t throwing out microtransactions entirely though. That would be absurd! In its place, Overwatch 2 players will be able to purchase a seasonal battle pass and/or individual items through an in-game shop. The development team “will create and deliver seasonal content every nine weeks to ensure there’s always something fresh and exciting.”
For live-service games, this business model of relying on a battle pass as well as a more constantly updating shop has become the norm. Fortnite’s item shop holds a plethora of the game's newest tie-in skins and items that are only available for a limited time and can be purchased with in-game currency (that you can buy with real money).
Although it seems like a slight change from loot boxes to an item shop, this is an incredibly welcome one. The blind nature of Overwatch’s loot boxes is what made them so predatory often requiring players who wanted limited-time items to shell out money and hope they got lucky. By making microtransactions more transparent, players will be able to make more informed decisions on their purchases that don’t fall into a predatory category.
As Overwatch makes way for Overwatch 2, developers seem to be having difficulty determining who the core player base is. The original title started with casuals before eventually sparking a highly competitive scene. But as the development team prioritized esports, they made a game that was less accessible to “normies.” Little changes like the elimination of loot boxes are great ways for Activision Blizzard to try to reach out with an olive branch to appease just about everyone.
But will it work? Or is it too little too late?
Overwatch 2 launches for PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series consoles, Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PS5 on October 4, 2022.