I can already hear people’s reactions when they see the title of this post. “Shut up Mayor, you can’t tell me how to play!” But in all sincerity, I think that many of us have lost touch with the reason that we play videogames.
When gaming first became “a thing,” it was clear that it was a form of entertainment. Playing an Atari or a Nintendo Entertainment System was a way for people to have fun, escape and be entertained. Gaming was a hobby, pass-time and was initially heavily marketed toward kids and parents, looking to keep their kids entertained. As time has past and gaming has evolved, we all know that the gaming audience has exploded, exponentially. There are games aimed at virtually every audience on every digital device from gaming consoles, computers, phones, tablets and the lines continue to blur. We have AR, VR, and Tesla is even experimenting with building games into your car. The rise of competitive gaming and esports have created a professional gaming scene that most of us could never have envisioned growing up. I’m sure that most of you reading this don’t need an intricate explanation of just how big gaming has become.
Along with the changes to who is gaming and the content of the games themselves, the business of game development has also evolved. As games have grown bigger and bigger, requiring more and more resources to develop, market and maintain, costs have increased meaning that developers and publishers need to find new ways to continue making money from the games that they release and invest in. Some developers are relying on loot boxes or monthly subscriptions while the most recent innovation comes in the form of seasons and an accompanying “battle pass.”
For those of you who may not be familiar with seasons or battle passes in a game, the idea is that for a limited time (Usually a few months), players can purchase a “pass” which they level up by playing the game and/or accomplishing certain feats in the game. These passes usually last for a few months before being replaced by a new pass. The more that you play the game within the pass’ window, the more exclusive items that you will unlock for your account with most of the items being cosmetic enhancements like skins for your character and weapons. Many would argue that battle passes are much more fair than loot boxes as you know what you are paying for up front when you buy them as opposed to loot boxes which are filled with random contents. Players that purchase the pass and put the most amount of time and effort into unlocking the items, reap the most rewards.
What I am seeing more and more however, is players grinding out these battle passes and losing touch with the reason that they play the game to begin with. If you’re playing a given game at all, my hope is that you’re playing it because you enjoy it and it’s fun. That’s what games are supposed to be. For one reason or another, games are supposed to be fun and entertaining. For some people, the entertainment may be in the story, for others it may be in the competition and challenge, for others it may be the game’s art. We all have different reasons for playing and enjoying the games that we play and that is healthy.
What isn’t healthy is grinding a game on end, just so you can unlock some exclusive item at the end of a battle pass. Most of the time, the items unlocked in battle passes literally make no difference in the actual moment to moment gameplay. Just because you’re using a gold weapon as opposed to a steel one, doesn’t make the game more fun to play or provide any actual entertainment value. So many times, I hear from people who are playing a game that they don’t even want to play, just so they can unlock something for it. Well if you don’t enjoy the game at its core, why are you playing it at all?
I know, I know, what if people do get gratification from unlocking exclusive cosmetic items? Surely there are people that do, right? Obviously, there are because consumers are voting with the wallets and repeatedly purchasing these passes, myself included. Gamers have shown that time and time again, investing in these battle passes is worth it. So what is “wrong” here?
A good portion of the people that I know end up grinding out these battle passes just on the premise of wanting to complete it and earn those rare and elusive skins. Somewhere along the way, they stop playing the game because they want to or because they enjoy the game itself and the “game” becomes just playing as much as humanly possible to get the carrot on the end of the stick. This is what developers want. It’s not a bad business model and there’s nothing morally wrong with it either. Developers want you to keep playing their game, they want you to keep talking about it, posting on forums, tweeting and streaming it. That all makes sense from the developer side. What’s “wrong” is when people continue doing something that they’re not enjoying or even worse, is literally putting them in a bad mood just because they feel obligated to. No one wants to be “that guy” that didn’t unlock the cool skin that all your friends are raging about right? So they keep grinding and grinding until they get it, without realizing that they don’t even want to play the game anymore.
In the long run, this can actually end up pushing people away from a given game. I know that I have dedicated myself to grinding out a certain rank in Overwatch before and even achieved my goal but by the time the season ended, I didn’t even want to play the game anymore. I moved on to something else. I’ve always been a big Titanfall fan so when Apex Legends launched, I instantly fell in love with the game’s combat and mechanics. I spent a ton of time grinding the Season 1 battle pass to Level 110 so I could have that monstrous looking Havoc skin. When Season 2 rolled around however, I didn’t feel compelled to play at all, because I had forced myself to play the game more than I wanted to. That makes me sad in and of itself because I love Apex Legends and I love Respawn as a developer. I want to support them. I bought the Season 2 battle pass on both PC and Xbox, just so I could do that. In the end however, I felt compelled to go out and play other games because I forced myself to play something more than I really wanted to. I had burned myself out and even created a bit of resentment toward the game. The same thing happened to me with Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. I’m sure that many of you are familiar with the infamous “just one more drop” mentality before going to bed which leads to waking up tired, sleep deprived and not ready for life the next day.
I’m not trying to tell anyone why you should play videogames, how to spend your time, money or what you should or shouldn’t enjoy. What I am saying is that we would all benefit from a reminder that we play videogames to have fun. We play games to be entertained or fulfilled in some way, shape or form. It’s important that we don’t ever lose sight of that. Don’t sink your time and money into anything that isn’t making your life more enjoyable. While that’s a heck of a lot easier said than done in a world where the fear of missing out is a central piece of marketing strategies, it’s a goal that will make your gaming time that much more enjoyable. Remember that most things are much sweeter in moderation and that includes gaming. While I am sure some will call me soft and question my dedication to gaming for suggesting that anyone take a step back from “the grind,” I truly believe that its a message that will lead to more enjoyment for most. Now game on!