According to Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter, the popular hero-based shooter Overwatch is set to switch to a free-to-play business model this year despite significant success as a premium title.
In an interview with gamesindustry.biz, Pachter predicts that the switch will happen by mid-June, the third anniversary of the launch of Overwatch.
“I think that the 18 Overwatch League (OWL) owners have been assured by Blizzard that it will expand the audience for Overwatch. […] Make the core game free-to-play in order to attract tens of millions of new users, who ostensibly will convert to OWL viewers,” said Pachter.
The analyst added that Overwatch developer Blizzard Entertainment will have to appease the players who bought the game by giving them freebies, such as skins or cosmetic items.
Pachter also said that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4‘s battle royale mode, Blackout, will go free-to-play alongside Overwatch. Blackout is developed by Treyarch and published by Activision, part of the greater Activision Blizzard company.
The analyst predicted last year that Call of Duty would be getting its own battle royale mode, which turned out to be correct when Blackout was released in October, 2018.
The predicted switch to free-to-play for Overwatch comes with news of Blizzard paying its own employees to quit in an effort to downsize. This reportedly stems further from the developer’s desire to rake in more profits.
Other companies have proven that free-to-play titles can be very profitable. For example, Dota 2 and League of Legends are two of the biggest esports titles in the world despite being free-to-play. The massive success of Fortnite: Battle Royale also netted its developer, Epic Games, $3 billion in profits in 2018.
Should Overwatch and Blackout indeed become free-to-play games this year, it won’t be the first time that a premium title had done so.
In early December last year, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) became free-to-play and introduced its own battle royale mode, called ‘Danger Zone.’ While many of the game’s original players were upset with the switch, CS:GO posted its highest player numbers ever that month.
Whether Overwatch will be going down that path as well remains to be seen.