In the video game industry, a battle pass is a type of monetization approach that provides additional content for a game usually through a tiered system, rewarding the player with in-game items for playing the game and completing specific challenges. Inspired by the season pass ticketing system and originating with Dota 2 in 2013, the battle pass model gained more use as an alternative to subscription fees and loot boxes beginning in the late 2010s. Battle passes tend to offer free passes, which are available to all users, and a premium pass that require annual or seasonal charges in exchange for enhanced items and cosmetics.
Within a video game, a battle pass may be offered free to a player, or may require the player to purchase it through microtransactions. Once obtained, the battle pass presents the player with a number of reward tiers; by earning enough experience to complete the tier, the player gains the rewards offered at that tier. These rewards are typically cosmetic in nature, such as character and weapon customization options (also known as "skins"), emotes, and other non-gameplay affecting elements. More desirable rewards are provided at higher levels, which offer a way for players to show off these unique customization options to other players as a status symbol. Experience is gained through normal gameplay, and often through in-game challenges, while some games offer a way to accelerate progression through a battle pass by using microtransactions. In games that offer both free and paid-for battle passes, the free pass may have a very limited number of tiers or offer fewer or less-desirable rewards, but will track progress of the player's progression through the paid-for battle pass, allowing them to buy that battle pass at any time to reap the rewards.
Battle passes and the rewards contained are only available for a limited time, most commonly a few months, after which a new season battle pass with a new set of rewards are available to be acquired. Most battle pass items are unobtainable after the season ends. This limited availability feeds into the psychological phenomenon of fear of missing out or FOMO, that a player, knowing certain rewards will only be available for a limited time, will be driven to buy and complete the battle pass to assure they have obtained the limited rewards in time, bringing more revenue to the game.
Battle passes may be called different terms depending on the game. For example, Rocket League, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite Save the World offers a "Rocket Pass", "Survivor Pass" and "Ventures level" respectively.
One of the first known examples of a battle pass concept was seen in Valve's Dota 2 during an event that surrounded The International 2013, the annual esports tournament for the game. Called the "Compendium", it provided unique in-game content and other features for those players that purchased it, with 25% of all revenue made from it going towards the prize pool for the event. In 2016, Valve included the Compendium into the larger International Battle Pass, and later introduced a monthly form of one with their Dota Plus subscription feature in 2018. Valve also added "campaign passes" to Team Fortress 2 with special events in 2015. The campaign pass gave the player that purchased it a number of goals to complete during the event to receive unique customization options.
The popularity of these passes grew significantly in 2018 with the use in Epic Games' Fortnite Battle Royale. Its runaway success on a scale rarely seen before drew great interest towards its monetization methods. The free-to-play game adopted a "season"-driven release schedule, each season lasting 10 weeks (or sometimes more), during which a new set of cosmetic items and emotes were offered. The newly coined "Battle Pass" was added starting in its second season, during a time when the game was seeing a large growth in its player base and has been used by the game since. Battle passes are purchased through an in-game currency called V-bucks, which either must be purchased with real-world funds via microtransactions, or earned via Fortnite: Save the World. Analyst Michael Pachter estimated that on the first day of the third season, in February 2018, Epic sold more than five million battle passes, generating over US$50 million in revenue in a single day. With expansion of Fortnite to mobile devices in March 2018, revenue estimates from the game were in the hundreds of millions of dollars per month in the following months, primarily from battle pass sales.
At the same time as Fortnite was becoming a success, the video game industry had been dealing with the issue of loot boxes, another monetization scheme where players spend funds to open boxes containing a random assortment of in-game items. In the late 2010s, loot boxes faced scrutiny from several government-related groups, believing they encouraged gambling, particularly for young players. Battle passes were then seen as a preferable option to loot boxes, as players would be able to see all the rewards they could earn, even if they needed to spend a great deal of time completing all the tiers, assuring players continued to play the game. Further, by offering the means for players to buy into completing tiers, publishers could also see additional revenue.
Coupled with the success of Fortnite's battle pass approach and exhaustion over loot box controversies, other publishers started to evaluate battle pass use, with gaming journalists theorizing that games which formerly relied on loot boxes or worked as a service could begin to offer battle passes as a replacement. An increasing number of mobile games including but not limited to Call of Duty Mobile, PUBG Mobile, Clash of Clans, and Brawl Stars have started using the battle pass system in their games.
Halo Infinite, to be released in 2021, will include non-expiring battle passes to the game to try to eliminate the impact of FOMO. Old battle passes will be able to be purchased after new ones are introduced, with the only limitation on players is that they can only progress along one battle pass at a time.
- Jordan, Jon (July 2, 2018). "Why Fortnite's monetisation is easy to copy but its success hard to replicate". Pocket Gamer. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Davenport, James (July 5, 2018). "Battle passes are replacing loot boxes, but they're not necessarily a better deal". PC Gamer. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
- Carter, Chris (March 26, 2018). "Fortnite loot box and Battle Pass beginner's guide". Polygon. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- "Do you buy battle passes, and do you complete them?". PC Gamer. August 5, 2020. Retrieved June 14, 2021.
- Wright, Steven (June 19, 2018). "'Rocket League' Director Talks Rocket Pass, Loot Boxes, Bonuses and Penalties". Variety. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
- Knezevic, Kevin. "PUBG's Fortnite-Style Event Pass Available Today With New Update". Eurogamer. Retrieved July 9, 2018.
- Van Allen, Eric. "How Exactly Does Dota 2 Come Up With Over $20 Million In Prizes For Its Biggest Event?". Kotaku. Archived from the original on July 14, 2017. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
- D'Anastasio, Cecilia (June 21, 2018). "Battle Passes Are So Hot Right Now". Kotaku. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
- Thursten, Chris (January 26, 2016). "The Winter Battle Pass is Valve's best Dota 2 event yet". PC Gamer. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
- Pereira, Chris. "Valve Overhauls Dota 2 Battle Pass With Subscription-Based Dota Plus". GameSpot. Retrieved March 12, 2018.
- Wilson, Nick (July 2, 2015). "Team Fortress 2's Gun Mettle update adds CS:GO like weapon skins and campaigns". PCGamesN. Retrieved January 24, 2019.
- Meija, Ozzie (January 24, 2019). "Here's Everything Featured in the Team Fortress 2 'Jungle Inferno' Update". Shacknews. Retrieved January 24, 2019.
- Saed, Sherif (December 15, 2017). "Fortnite Battle Royale gets Dota 2-style Battle Pass, loads of new items". VG247. Retrieved July 14, 2018.
- Valentine, Rebekah (May 25, 2018). "Fortnite sold 5 million battle passes on the first day of Season 3". GamesIndustry.biz. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Parker, Jason (May 24, 2018). "Fortnite tallied almost $300 million in April, with no signs of slowing down". CNet. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
- Ashley, Clayton (May 21, 2018). "What Fortnite's Battle Pass gets right". Polygon. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
- "Battle Pass is a hot trend in mobile games - like it or not". GameRefinery. December 17, 2019. Retrieved October 29, 2020.
- Goslin, Austen (June 14, 2021). "Halo Infinite's battle passes will never expire". Polygon. Retrieved June 14, 2021.