Get with the times
Ah battle passes: the “natural evolution” of the loot box.
But it’s not so natural for a lot of studios, who saw the legislative writing on the wall for loot boxes and decided to give their playerbase another rat race to run. While several big companies are surprisingly doing right by the system, Magic: Arena still has a long ways to go, even after a number of course corrections.
This great Reddit post sums up a lot of what I’ve been saying since the mastery pass debuted [which I’ll refer to as the battle pass from here on out for simplicity]. For those of you who don’t follow Magic: Arena, I’ll give you a quick breakdown.
The short of it is that several months ago, Wizards of the Coast reworked the battle pass for the Ikoria set to provide less rewards, specifically less gems (premium currency). The excuse at the time was that “this [was] intentional, due to the set duration being a lot shorter.” But when players looked into the rewards for the much longer and upcoming Zendikar Rising pass, they found that they weren’t proportionally changed. For reference, both battle passes cost the same amount of money.
Having completed every pass each season myself, I’ve seen many avenues for improvement. Here’s two big ones.
Uncap daily progress for the battle pass
Make no mistake, the original system sucked, but the current implementation of the battle pass just isn’t cutting it in terms of how much progress you earn on a regular basis. Right now, you can complete daily quests, grind out 15/15 wins weekly, or 10 wins per day to make headway on the pass.
This is a stark contrast to just about every other battle pass on the market, which allows players to grind out as much progress as they want. Even if it’s a small amount, Wizards should allow people to earn unlimited progress toward the pass. Most companies know this is a win-win, as it gets players more invested in the game instead of doing their 10 daily wins and quitting until the next cycle.
The current method seems to prey on FOMO: asking players to invest in broken up chunks of time instead of allowing them to play at their own pace. Given that Wizards often provides “catch up” events with constant XP rewards near the end of a pass period, there’s no reason why they can’t flip a switch and allow players to earn XP on their own time.
Actually allow players to earn back the money they put in
Forget all of the marketing about the “value” you get out of battle passes for a moment (read: the price of the packs you earn and the cosmetics).
The battle pass in Arena costs gems: the game’s premium currency. Unless you play certain modes and earn gems by going “infinite” (investing currency in a tournament-style limited mode, getting a top spot, then re-investing those gems to win again and repeat the cycle): you’re likely putting real money down on a battle pass. Here’s the thing though. Unlike just about every other pass on the market (even big-time ones like Fornite and Apex Legends, or even the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers), you do not earn back all of the gems you put into it after completion.
The pass costs 3,400 gems and you’ll earn 1200 gems back for Zendikar Rising (Ikoria was a mere 800 gems). That’s far from break-even. Not letting people grind out progress on their own time is enough of a problem in isolation, but this issue is more opaque and confounding. Didn’t Wizards of the Coast look at how every other company does it before pulling the trigger on their pass? The expectation has been set, and it is not met. Understandably, you do get cosmetics, draft tokens and packs for playing in the current battle pass system. But it is built to get casual players to spend money and not see a return on their real-money investment. Arena‘s battle pass does not inherently need to be linked to packs.
Even one of these suggestions would be an improvement, and time will tell if they decide if the prospect is worth it or not. It’s a shame, as Arena has made a ton of strides since its launch, and is a fantastic game in just about every mechanical respect: I still play regularly despite my frustrations with the pass. It can be better!