The title is, perhaps, sensationalist, but I want to be clear. Battle Passes are not a good way for children to interact with their video games. I’ll spend the rest of this piece defending that position.
Let me begin by saying that up until recently, I was all for Battle Passes. They are a somewhat cheap way to gradually unlock content without paying the premium you would when buying things individually. Kids and their friends can measure each other’s progress by which skins they’ve unlocked. This turns it into a mostly healthy competition to see who can get the best skin first.
Children are Naturally Inquisitive
My kids come home from school every day asking questions about the world so they can better understand it. My nine-year-old is learning about politics at school and has already taken a position regarding Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford.
Like other kids, there’s nothing wrong with my boys’ inquisitiveness. The six-year-old went to a birthday party in the summer, which included an animal presentation. He was right up there with the other kids, eager to touch the lizard, snake, rabbit, and hedgehog. We went to China to visit family in 2018. My older son took every opportunity to explore the Chinese city we stayed in. He tried exciting new foods and explored a variety of new places. He did his best to communicate with strangers in Mandarin, even though he’s out of practice.
Battle Passes Interfere with Normal Gameplay
But when it comes to their after-school game time, one thing rarely changes: Apex Legends. Like its previous seasons, Apex Legends’ season 3 had a Battle Pass. The kids were loving Apex, so we bought them Battle Passes. I got the Battle Pass too. And during that season, I realized the Battle Pass forced us to play Apex Legends. Even when we didn’t want to. Games like Fortnite and Apex Legends exacerbate this issue when the weekly challenges require players to go to a specific area or use a particular weapon or character, forcing you to not only play a game you don’t want to play but also play in a manner you may not want to play.
Over the course of seasons 2 and 3, I watched my kids become increasingly frustrated with challenges. Fortnite and Apex Legends both require players to visit specific places to fight. This can be problematic when those areas are unpopular. Not making progress on the Battle Pass creates a sense of failure, which diminishes the fun of game time. Many times during season 3, I’ve had to interrupt them and say, “If you’re not having fun, why don’t you just play something else?” We have dozens of games, but finishing the Battle Pass is too important.
Battle Passes Interfere with Exploring New Games
Update: It’s come to my attention that I forgot to open this section. When writing, I had intended to compare the 2019 roundup to our 2018 roundups, showing that in my 2018 roundup I had hundreds of hours in The Elder Scrolls Online, linking to an article I wrote before about how kids shouldn’t play MMOs, but I wound up deleting the paragraph during edits and never replaced it. Basically, the 2018 roundup for my 9-year-old had great variety, as he explored new games all the time. He still had a favourite, of course, but he was open to trying new things. In 2019, once he got hooked on Apex Legends, he stopped giving most other games more than a passing glance.
To illustrate this, I’ve saved images of my and my older son’s 2019 PlayStation Wrap-Up. This shows how many games we played in 2019 and the total hours played all year.
My top three games were Apex Legends, The Elder Scrolls Online, and The Division 2. His were Apex Legends, Fortnite, and Realm Royale. But while his top three games accounted for 493 of his 586 total hours (or 84%), my top three games clocked in at 626 of my 1186 total hours (or 53%). These numbers seem skewed when you consider that children are inherently more inquisitive than adults. When I was a kid, I played new games every week. But then, that was because of weekend rentals more than anything else.
Battle Passes Interfere with Adults too
I bought the Season 3 battle pass for myself as well. I finished it early, but that’s because I don’t mind playing by the challenges. On a side note, adding challenges that require you to land in certain areas should always be paired with a solo mode.
During those six weeks of working on season 3, I played nothing else. I stopped playing Days Gone, Elder Scrolls Online, and Death Stranding. Not until I finished the Battle Pass was I able to bring myself to play something else. On days where I have class or errands, I might only get thirty minutes to play. The last thing I want to play in my limited time is an often-frustrating shooting game. But, when I’m only a few levels away from the end, I feel like I don’t really have a choice.
When my wife bought me Red Dead Redemption 2 on Stadia, I started to play Red Dead Online again. I purchased the Battle Pass—called the Outlaw Pass—but, thankfully, Rockstar made every action in the game level the pass. It took less than a month to finish. Red Dead Online is an excellent example of a healthy Battle Pass structure. I never felt pressured to play, and I had more than enough time to finish. As a result, I just went out and enjoyed the game.
Without Battle Passes, there is no incentive to play the game
Most of these games do not give much, if any, incentive to non-Battle Pass players to play the game every day. Rewards in Apex Legends include a handful of “Apex Packs,” which are the loot boxes I (and many others) have ranted about before. You earn experience when you play a match of Apex, and after a few matches, you gain an account level. Every 1-2 account levels earn you a free Apex Pack. Every 30 Apex Packs guarantees a Legendary reward.
Since I finished my Battle Pass, I started playing other stuff. I returned to Days Gone, started playing Red Dead, Smite, PUBG, and Cuisine Royale. My wife and I also started playing Dead by Daylight again. Now that the kids are done with their Battle Passes, I’ve noticed a variety in what they play too. Yesterday, they played Smite together. The day before that, they both played Dead by Daylight. Turns out my older son loves playing as the Demigorgon, so we might need to watch Stranger Things together.
Recently, the kids even showed some interest in playing Stardew Valley and Lego Worlds again. But there are only four days before season 4 starts. Can I keep them playing a variety of games? Should I care? We’ve been playing Apex Legends for a year now—season 4 marks the one-year anniversary of the game’s release. Isn’t it time to move on?
What’s the solution?
Battle Passes create a sense of urgency in all who play these games. But Battle Passes still offer tremendous value (usually). In games where individual skins can cost as much as $30, a $15 Battle Pass sounds good. Kids will be playing anyway, and the steady trickle of rewards keeps them engaged. But, they’re also a significant time investment, and most kids need help.
So my solution is along the same lines of what I always recommend: help your kids. Take some time on the weekends, or after work, and play Apex Legends with—or for—them. Find the most tedious challenges and grind them out so the kids can focus on the fun challenges. They’ll feel less pressured. They’ll have more fun. They’ll be more inclined to try other games. Game time will be a healthy, positive experience.
Like everything else, kids need help. You tie their shoes when they’re in kindergarten, you cook their food until they’re teenagers—help them with their Battle Passes. Show them that you’re available to help them with the more difficult or tedious challenges, and you might just find that it creates new bonding moments—and they’ll develop some great memories along the way.
At the beginning of this piece, I argued that Battle Passes are not good for children. But that’s with the understanding that they’re intended to be completed by one person. By working on a Battle Pass with your kids, you can create a positive environment for everyone.