I have a complicated relationship with Rocket League. On the one hand, I think it’s one of the best multiplayer games ever made and an example of near-perfect game design. Given that, it’s probably my most-played multiplayer game over the last couple of years, and while my obsession’s fallen off slightly over the last year or so, I still play at least a couple hours a week. It suffices to say that I love it deeply.
On the other hand, Rocket League is one of the most nefarious and aggressive microtransaction machines in video games at the moment, and that makes me uncomfortable. Not only does it offer cars and items that you can buy outright, but its loot boxes are especially problematic considering you need to pay to open them, the items inside are worth real-world money thanks to different trading services, and they’re in a game that’s rated E for everyone. That’s problematic at best.
Now developer and publisher Psyonix has introduced yet another way for players to spend their hard-earned cash on digital items in the form of the Rocket Pass, a blatant copy of Fortnite’s Battle Pass, complete with tiers, a premium track, and a bunch of cosmetic prizes. The only difference is that, well, Fortnite is a free game and Rocket League isn’t.
Like the Battle Pass, Rocket League’s Rocket Pass costs $10 to access the premium track, and Forbes quotes an estimate of 100 hours to unlock all 90 tiers in the Rocket Pass. But buying into the Rocket Pass isn’t the only way you can spend money on the Rocket Pass. You can also (again, just like Fortnite’s Battle Pass) pay to unlock tiers, essentially spending money to not have to play the game.
That’s where the comparisons start to make Rocket Pass look exploitative compared to the Battle Pass. Unlocking a single tier costs twice as much in Rocket League as it does in Fortnite, with more “valued” pricing that offers steeper discounts when you pay to skip a larger number of tiers. Unlocking 30 tiers, for example, costs $40, where as unlocking a single tier costs $2, so if you wanted to pay to unlock all 90 tiers, the least amount you can spend is $120, which is roughly as much as it costs to unlock all 100 tiers in a single competitive season of Fortnite.
The weird thing is that not all the tiers in the Rocket Pass will get you a new item. There are XP boosts, keys (which also unlock loot boxes), and decryptors (which also unlock loot boxes, except that you can’t trade up the items you receive with decryptors). But even when it comes to giving out actual items, Psyonix has taken a weird approach to what the game’s offering.
There are several base items: a couple of new wheels, a new car, a new goal explosion, and so on. But instead of offering a variety of new items, each one of these items also has “enhanced” versions that you will earn at later tiers. For example, you earn the “Troublemaker” wheels at tier 7, and then the “Troublemaker II” wheels at tier 15. They’re essentially the same item, with the same basic design, except the second set is a little shinier than the first.
The fact that Psyonix is introducing a new way to spend money in Rocket League isn’t the problem. Rocket League already has a horrendous track record when it comes to loot boxes, especially in a paid game, so what’s one more?
The problem is that Rocket League is a paid game, and it’s blocking off new content in the same manner of a free game that makes most of its money from players buying into the Battle Pass.
What’s really a shame is that the Rocket Pass has debuted right after what’s probably one of the best updates that Rocket League’s had in a long time. The new club system lets players create their own teams and play against other clubs. Seeing your own personal team name pop up in the winner’s circles and your personalized team colors shown off in the arenas is immensely satisfying, adds a level of competition to unranked modes, and generally just adds value to the game.
Some might argue that things like Rocket Pass are necessary evils for the future development of new free content. Others might argue that you don’t need to buy Rocket Pass to play the game and that nothing you earn through Rocket Pass actually affects gameplay. And both those things are (more or less) true.
But Rocket League isn’t a free game. It’s already got my $20, as well as that of around 30 million players, so what the heck is it spending my money on? I know it isn’t better servers. Letting a paid game copy-and-paste the microtransaction model of a free game is a slippery slope, and it’s probably not something we should continue to encourage by buying into it.