PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS is one of the most popular PC titles of this generation, and with popularity comes controversy, whether we like it or not. This week’s hot topic seems to be microtransactions, as the game’s Steam Store page has been bombarded with negative reviews attacking the developers’ implementation of lootboxes. For those uninitiated in the ways of PUBG, doing well during matches will net us BP, a currency that can be used to purchase crates which are currently free to open, and will grant us a cosmetic item. Aside from the free crates, last week’s Gamescom Invitational tournament saw the introduction of “pay to open” lootboxes which required a key valued at US$ 2.50. According to a Discord post that has been making the rounds, the game’s director, Brendan Greene, has expressed his intentions of making all post-Early Access crates “pay to open”.
Critics attacking Bluehole for the way they introduced lootboxes to PUBG seem to be mainly divided into two camps, with some claiming that the game will become “pay to win” once free crates are removed, and others stating that the developers are not being true to their word, since Mr. Greene promised in the past that Bluehole would not feature microtransactions during its Early Access phase. I personally believe that the former of those two groups is wrong (and will elaborate on that in the next few paragraphs) but I can’t say the same about the latter, as it is true that the developers didn’t keep their word on this specific matter.
As for the “pay to win” concerns, many Steam users claim that lootbox items can be used to camouflage the player, thereby giving an advantage to gamers who start a match with a full set of camo clothing obtained from the lootboxes/Steam Market, as opposed to those who are new to the game, or don’t wish to spend money in cosmetic items. If their claims were accurate, this would mean that Bluehole is breaking their vow to keep items that affect gameplay out of the lootboxes, and we’d be facing a big issue. Luckily for us, the only camouflage item that makes a real difference during gameplay is the ghillie suit, which can only be obtained from ingame airdrops that are not tied to lootbox mechanics. There are a few clothing items that have camouflage patterns on them, but in reality, a player who drops into the game with the basic set will usually be as visible as one who’s wearing a full camo uniform from the lootboxes.
A full set obtained from the lootboxes consists of three items, camo parka, pants and hat. Out of those, only two will stay with us during the course of a normal match, as the hat doesn’t provide any protection from bullets, so we’ll quickly swap it out for a helmet. And even then, the camo parka and pants will only be useful if we are hiding inside a bush (and our opponents don’t look twice), or on a shadowy hill, as camo items that aren’t the ghillie suit are quite dark, and will always stand out against the grass’ lighter tones. This means that the basic starter set will actually offer better camouflage options on most situations, as its combination of grey and brown parts can be used to hide our body in city areas or thick fields.
So, are we facing a real “pay to win” situation with PUBG‘s lootboxes? So far, I believe that the development team has been honest and true to their word (with the exception of the introduction of microtransactions during the Early Access period) and Battlegrounds is anything but “pay to win”. There are a few camo items that can be obtained from the lootboxes but they aren’t really useful in a fight. I can see an outsider or a newcomer thinking that the dark camo patterns featured in the “premium” sets would give them an advantage over someone wearing a starter set, but most veteran players will agree that this is simply not true.