Pay to Spray, Overwatch / Smoverwatch

Let me begin by saying that Overwatch is mechanically a great game.  It is a competent shooter with colorful and fun looking characters.  Except Junkrat, I dislike Junkrat.  But at its core Overwatch is missing something.  When asked why do you play Overwatch, some people would say “because my friends play it,” others might argue, “I want a good competitive game,” still others would say “I love the skins.”  The fact remains that nobody plays Overwatch to use the sprays.

Jim Sterling, founder of the Jimquisition, also has some thoughts on Overwatch in the video above.  Make sure to watch the video until the end, because he actually gives credence to the other side of the argument.  And there always are at least two sides to every point of discussion.

Sterling argues that yes cosmetics do have an impact on game play.  He states,

“Unlockable content is part of a game, you can’t just separate that from the overall package, it’s built into it.  This is especially true in Overwatch, where cosmetic unlocks are the sole purpose of leveling up.  All the XP you gain in every match, every medal you earn for performance, all of it contributes to the game’s one and only long term perpetual goal, getting more loot boxes.

You can claim it doesn’t effect gameplay, and on a detached, mechanical, technical level, sure it doesn’t.  On a psychological level, the meta level, and the community level; however, it absolutely does.  Let’s not be disingenuous and say that cosmetics aren’t part of a game experience.  If cosmetics didn’t matter people wouldn’t praise the customization options in RPG’s…”

Players get excited about cosmetic unlocks.  Even if it is just one costume that really resonates with an individual player’s style.  I choose weapons in games primarily based on how they look, it is up to the developers to make sure that everything is balanced so that choice is valued.

I do not like the look of Junkrat; and thus I do not enjoy playing as him.  On a technical and mechanical level he is a great character, and I often see player’s score Play of the Game while using Junkrat.  To me he cosmetically looks like garbage.  Maybe that is the point, but it makes me avoid playing him.

If there was a skin that turned Junkrat into a more suave personality, I might be persuaded to choose him.  But the cosmetic options are locked behind random numbers and loot boxes.


If all of the loot boxes in Overwatch solely contained cosmetic skins for characters and if loot boxes removed the chance for players to receive duplicates, I would be playing that game right now!  However, even if there was a cool Junkrat skin, I would never get it.  I seem to have terrible luck with RNG in video games.  And I too often fall into the trap of purchasing loot boxes with real money for just one more chance at the coolest skins.

Jack Fennimore writes:

“The only reason this reward system exists is to propagate the game’s microtransaction-based economy. You can buy more loot boxes without having to level up, with packs ranging from $1.99 for two boxes to $39.99 for 50. The more loot boxes you buy, the higher your chances are of acquiring that sweet skin of as a bee.”

Overwatch loot boxes are full of sprays, voice lines, and player emblems.  They are all cosmetic unlocks, but they are also all garbage.  Nobody wants sprays when you have a chance to obtain a legendary skin.

Sterling argues that to say loot boxes are okay as long as they are “just cosmetic” is an excuse, and a poor one.  Loot boxes are not necessary for games to exist, cosmetic items do not have to come from a loot box.

Goldeneye 007 for the N64 had a fantastic method for unlocking all the characters skins.  Cheat codes.  Sure Goldeneye didn’t have the post launch content of new weapons and maps added to the game every few months.  But it also wasn’t connected to the internet and never asked for my credit card number.


Splatoon 2 is an example of an online competitive shooter with great cosmetic options.  Every completed match rewards showers you with gold coins to spend on cosmetic unlocks.  Simply save up enough coins and buy the look that you like.  Also every time you level up, you earn a new weapon.  You are rewarded for playing the game, and it never asks for your credit card.  Oh and Splatoon 2 releases DLC more frequently than Overwatch.  In four months, Splatoon 2 has given players 3 new weapons and 1 new map, as well as changes and updates to the excellent horde style, Salmon Run mode.

*UPDATE* For comparison, in nineteen months, Overwatch has given players 5 new characters and 9 new maps.

Overwatch isn’t the only game with unrewarding progression.  Fennimore writes that in For Honor “one Reddit user did the math and found that you would have to either spend $732 in steel to buy everything for the original 12 heroes or play the game for two and a half years to grind for the currency in matches if playing for one to two hours a day.”  This pales in comparison to Star Wars: Battlefront II, which would take 4,528 hours of playtime to unlock everything.  Which rounds up to a little over 6 years of play time, if playing for one or two hours a day.

Overwatch is fun to play.  The mechanics are great and it is a very competitive shooter.  But it would not be fun playing the game without the great cast of colorful, cosmetically enhanced characters.  Why lock some of the best content in the game behind loot boxes and digital transactions?  If Overwatch can win Game of the Year 2016, there is no reason Splatoon 2, which even includes a single player campaign, can’t be considered for Game of the Year 2017.  I nominated it for the Golden Spoon Awards for a reason, and I just put my order in on Amazon.


One thought on “Pay to Spray, Overwatch / Smoverwatch

  1. I don’t really have anything to say other than great article!

    I’ve traditionally been in the “it’s only cosmetics so it’s okay” camp with microtransactions, but this and your other articles to date have done a great job illustrating the other side of my argument and brought me much closer to the midline. So good job.

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