Overwatch 2 Embraces Free-to-Play Model: Here’s Why

The Best Decision

At long last, Overwatch 2 is set to launch on October 4, and it’s going free-to-play! The highly anticipated competitive shooter from Activision Blizzard is arriving earlier than expected and will be available for free during the Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase on June 12. This surprising shift marks a significant change for one of Blizzard’s biggest franchises and has major implications for the game’s updates and new content. In preparation for a livestream that will delve deeper into the free-to-play transition, Digital Trends spoke with key members of the Overwatch 2 development team, including Game Director Aaron Keller and Overwatch VP and Commercial Lead Jon Spector, to uncover the reasoning behind this decision.

The Ideal Choice

Upon its release, Overwatch 2 players can look forward to a host of new features, including three new heroes (one of which has been teased in the release date trailer), six fresh maps, over 30 additional skins (including a mythic skin for Genji), the exciting Push game mode, and the game’s inaugural battle pass. Assuming no unforeseen issues arise, the second season will begin on December 6, introducing yet another new tank, a new map, and a battle pass containing over 30 new skins. Furthermore, throughout 2023, players can anticipate the introduction of more heroes, maps, modes, and the long-awaited PvE story campaign.

Blizzard’s plan is to have seasons lasting nine weeks, with the addition of three to four new heroes each year. If you’re a fan of games like Apex Legends or Valorant, this release cadence will feel familiar to you. Keller and Spector both assert that the decision to go free-to-play was not influenced by the success of other free-to-play games. Instead, they explain that factors such as reducing the barrier of entry for interested players and the desire to avoid holding onto finished content were the primary drivers behind Overwatch 2’s transition.

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Overwatch 2 Roadmap.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

“We want to release content as frequently as we can, rather than bundling it all together for a major release,” says Keller. “While we were working on innovative gameplay for Overwatch 2’s PvE side, it was taking considerably longer to bring our PvP features to the public. We aim to get content in front of our players as quickly as possible.”

The original Overwatch experienced a decline after it stopped receiving significant content updates in 2020, as Blizzard shifted its focus to Overwatch 2. By releasing the sequel as a free-to-play game this year, that long wait finally comes to an end, offering players reassurance that they won’t have to endure a content drought for an extended period again. The developers emphasize that Overwatch 2 will truly feel like a sequel, thanks to the abundance of new content and the transition to 5v5 matches. Spector explains that numerous systems aligned simultaneously, including cross-play, cross-progression, and the seasonal model, making it the perfect time to eliminate any barriers to entry and launch as a free-to-play title this year.

“There are various systems that converge to make us feel like this is the opportune moment to go free-to-play, remove any entry barriers for players, and make it as easy as possible for them to fall in love with the game and play with their friends,” Spector affirms. “Our focus has been on enhancing the game’s value and its social aspects, rather than simply cramming it with loads of content that could have been contained within a $60 box. That’s not our approach.”

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That being said, Keller is also straightforward about the fact that making Overwatch 2 a free-to-play game ensures the developers have the financial means and support to continue creating new content for the foreseeable future. With the inclusion of battle passes, mythic skins, and an in-game shop, Blizzard undoubtedly plans to monetize Overwatch 2 in the style of a cosmetic-driven free-to-play game.

“To be quite frank, our commitment is to release content frequently and consistently indefinitely. The easiest way to fund such an endeavor is by adopting a free-to-play model,” Keller reveals. “It allows us to continuously develop new elements for the game.”

Overwatch 2 Junker Queen.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Upholding the Vision

Blizzard has previous experience running free-to-play live service games like World of Warcraft, but this approach is entirely new for the Overwatch team. The original game was a paid release, with substantial content updates every few months. However, Keller acknowledges that Overwatch 2, as a free-to-play game, will require consistent updates to keep players engaged on a daily, weekly, and seasonal basis. Keller also acknowledges that successful free-to-play games release as much content as possible while committing to a defined release cadence and team structure.

The past year has been a whirlwind of development as the Overwatch 2 team worked tirelessly to ensure the game’s success in this new format. “We made this significant transition, and it’s been an incredibly fast-paced year where we’ve had to realign various elements to redirect this massive ship towards our key value of ensuring regular updates for the game,” Keller remarks.

Keller’s comment about the major shift within the past year raises concerns about the developers’ well-being during this turbulent time at Blizzard. Keller assures that measures have been taken to expand the team, making it possible to work on multiple aspects simultaneously without spreading themselves thin.

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“We are now three times the size we were when we launched the original game. We’re restructuring parts of the team so that we can work on multiple heroes and multiple maps simultaneously, all while considering larger features that are coming later, such as PvE,” Keller discloses.

Overwatch 2 Junker Queen gameplay.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

While the announcement of Overwatch 2 going free-to-play might have come as a shock to the community, Keller and Spector emphasize that this decision was not made hastily but with careful consideration. Undoubtedly, launching as a free-to-play early access game allows Blizzard to put an end to the content drought and attract a larger player base. However, Spector insists that Blizzard’s decision to overhaul Overwatch 2 into a free-to-play game was thoughtfully made and not just a means to release something hastily.

“Having a thoughtful strategy for updating the game and introducing new content is crucial,” Spector asserts. “For us, it was important not only to announce that Overwatch 2 would be free-to-play but also to highlight that this move is just one part of our broader vision for the game as a live service, which includes regular seasonal content updates.”

On October 4, Overwatch 2 will be available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch.

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