#76: Battle Pass 101
Before we get started: you can get 10% off a 12-month Hit Points subscription right now, and all weekend. (This applies to both monthly and annual subs, btw.) Just in time for the second installment of Max HP, the subscriber-exclusive interview series, which lands tomorrow! Here you go:
Right, sorry about that. Down to business.
In my more than a decade writing about games, I have only written a handful of words about Halo. It’s always been a bit of a blind spot for me: I’ve played a few but none has ever really sunk its claws in, and I’ve certainly never played any of the multiplayer modes. I only tend to play one online game at a time, and over the years the CODs, Street Fighters and Destinys of the world have meant Halo was never really on the menu. That has all changed this week: with nothing really grabbing my attention of late, and with no online game to call my home — and with so much positive buzz around it — I have dipped a tentative toe into Halo Infinite.
It turns out the water is lovely. Weapons have a satisfying heft and crunch. Maps flow nicely, and I feel like I can quickly make sense of them. The high TTK means you can easily dip out of a fight you know you’re not going to win, and the fast pace of shield regen means you can recover and reposition and go again. It feels pleasantly slow, albeit with peaks of high-speed action; on the whole I find it all agreeably manageable. It’s another sort of dad-game — that rare shooter that appears to prize patience and thought and the wisdom of age as much as it does the catlike reactions and rapid target acquisition of youth. I mean, look at what I did yesterday:
So, yes. Lovely game. I’m enjoying myself tremendously, and might stick around for a bit. But my word, if it doesn’t have the worst Battle Pass I’ve ever seen. Plenty has been written about this already, but in brief: the only way of progressing Halo Infinite’s Battle Pass is by completing challenges, which range from the insultingly simple (play a match!) to the infuriatingly complex and situational (interrupt an enemy’s Killing Spree [5 kills without dying] five times!). I have had games where I’ve achieved bugger all, just ran around falling over a lot, and got the meagre 50XP match-completion bonus I deserve. I’ve also had games where I’ve felt invincible, proper god-mode stuff, the K:D ratio of a Twitch streamer — but still only got 50XP towards my Battle Pass, because none of the amazing things I did matched up with the challenges I was supposed to be working towards. It stinks.
I’ve played about five hours, I reckon, and I am at level 2 on the Battle Pass. It runs until May 2022, and has 100 levels. Am I going to play 250 hours of this thing in the next six months? About ten hours a week, give or take? I venture that I am not, and therefore there is no point in me paying for the premium tier, with its extra progression track. It’s fine! I am not missing out on much. Most of the rewards are rubbish anyway. (A random example: if I reach level 82 on the premium tier, I will unlock an Epic Right Shoulder Pad.)
I am stunned that a game of this pedigree, of this importance, and that has been made with such enormous resources can ship with something this poorly thought through. I am not a game developer, but I’ve been writing about them for many years, I’ve been consulting on them for a while too, and above all I have played a number of games with Battle Passes in them — something the retention genii at 343 Industries appear to have opted against doing while designing the one in Halo Infinite. There are, I think, a number of fairly basic fundamentals to the design of a decent Battle Pass. I could have sketched out a better one for 343 in about five minutes, I reckon. In fact, how about I put my money where my mouth is? I’ll start the clock.
Battle Passes are for players, not developers.
The Battle Pass benefits the developer financially, from those who choose to pay, and more broadly by making for a (hopefully) busier, and therefore more sustainable and medium-to-long-term-monetisable, online playerbase. In all other respects, the Battle Pass should be designed with the player at absolute top of mind. Does levelling feel good for them? Does their time invested feel properly rewarded? Does it give them a meaningful reason to keep playing today, and to come back tomorrow? If the answer to any of these questions is no, rewind and try again.
Play is progress.
Every activity in the game should award Battle Pass progression. If I want to spend an evening shooting bots while drinking whisky until I cannot land a single shot, pardon the pun: Battle Pass progression. If I spend all night playing a custom game with friends, in which everyone has a vehicle and a rocket launcher: Battle Pass progression. If I play particularly well: Battle Pass progression, and lots of it, please and thank you.
Progression is meaningful.
If the player only logs in for half an hour, and plays only a game or two, they should still feel tangible progress in the Battle Pass. If they play all evening, they should see a lot.
If your level-82 premium reward is a pissing shoulder pad then maybe you need to rethink things, regardless of the rarity tier you have arbitrarily assigned to it. Likewise if your free tier is full of consumables and bland little armor ornaments. Do you actually have the content to support a Battle Pass ladder, or are you just doing one because you’ve been told to, because it’s a free-to-play game and that’s how these things work these days? No need to answer, that was rhetorical.
Rewards are constant.
You’ve levelled up! Congratulations! Here, have absolutely nothing. Empty slots are the work of the studio nudge unit, the monetisation and retention ninjas who will say that an empty slot in the free tier is one of the best ways to get players to convert to the paid side, where there are rewards every step of the way. Is that putting the player first? Or their wallet and your bank balance?
Thou shalt not timegate.
Some people can only play one day a week, or only at weekends. People live varied lives, believe it or not! Sometimes they go away for work, or on holiday. Sometimes they move house and have to wait for their ISP to switch them over. Sometimes they go outside or meet up with friends. Sometimes, and I realise this sounds crazy, they play other games. Trying to forcibly manage a player’s time — whether by capping progression within a certain time window like Infinite, or by limiting an event to a weekend, or something else — is, I would argue, more likely to push players away than pull them in. Developers have spent the past few years exploiting the concept of FOMO to the maximum. In future I would like them to think a little more about something I will call FOPFO: Fear Of Players Fucking Off.
Okay, that was more like 15 minutes, but I think I’ve proved my point.
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There’s your lot. Did you know you can give the gift of Hit Points to a loved one, or particularly despised enemy? I did not until this big button appeared at the top of the Substack dashboard the other day. I shall paste it below for your reference. And a reminder that, starting today and running all weekend, Hit Points is holding its first-ever sale, with 10% off a 12-month subscription. That’s whether you pay monthly or annually, and includes gift subs too. Wishing the free crew an excellent weekend; I shall see you Monday. I shall see the rest of you tomorrow morning, when Max HP continues. It is, I think, another cracker.