Counter-Strike: Global Offensive went free-to-play and had an official Battle Royale mode added to the game last month. Long-time fans of the franchise were initially both confused and highly sceptical, but new numbers show that the game was played by over 20 million people in December alone, which is the all-time record. What does this new direction mean for the classic shooter? What is the thought process behind it from Valve’s side?
There is no shortage of Battle Royale games. As we head into 2019, the genre is still as hot as ever, but few expected Counter-Strike to join in. Compared to Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Call of Duty: Blackout, the Battle Royale mode in Global Offensive is set on a much smaller map, with up to 18 players. In Danger Zone, all players are dropped down from a helicopter after choosing a spawn point. The twist this time is that you can see where other players are choosing to land before the match starts. When you finally begin, you start without weapons as per usual. Weapons and ammunition are found in breakable crates, but it is very limited.
Instead, Valve has chosen to incorporate the already existing purchase system from the main game. Money is found throughout the map or by killing enemies. This can, in turn, be spent on new weapons, equipment or ammunition and when you do, a flying drone comes to deliver the crate to you. The drones are easily visible to other players and following one can lead you directly to an enemy. This adds an element of fresh tactic to the game. Since ammunition is so scarce, using the purchasing system is a vital part of the match. It very much feels like Counter-Strike – the same tight gameplay, with slightly longer time to kill. It is just as intense as always to engage in firefights.
The question here is: Does it have legs enough to stand on its own? Danger Zone certainly has a number of ideas that set it apart from other Battle Royale experiences and while it is not as fleshed out as it could be, it has the potential to grow. Valve is certainly hoping that the free-to-play model will do wonders to its popularity, just like it did for Fortnite.
Photo from The Games’ Edge
Free-to-play – only benefits?
By going free-to-play, the game has attracted many more players, which comes with a lot of benefits to the existing player base. Having more people play means that getting into matches will be faster than before. It also means that existing players are more likely to match against newcomers, thus having an easier time winning matches and progressing faster.
However, there is another side to it. Counter-Strike is one of the most praised and well-known competitive shooters of all time. As an eSports title, it is incredibly big and has helped the scene to grow rapidly over the past few years. By going free to play, some argue that Valve is exposing the game for cheaters. This is because cheaters have less to lose – since the game is free, a permanent ban is less of a threat. While the experience will still be separated into free-to-play servers and premium servers to those who paid for Global Offensive, cheaters can ruin the first impression of the game for newcomers. Over 25 000 users on Steam have left bad reviews of the game after the free-to-play update, highlighting this issue.
With so many new players, the number of bans due to cheating have also increased. Over 530 000 people were reportedly banned last month, which is a high number. In the end, the hope is that the number of cheaters will be few compared to the overall player numbers and not impact the game experience for everyone.
Valve is making a lot of money from the game service Steam and they view their own games as a way to introduce newcomers to the platform itself. Dota 2 is free, just like Team Fortress 2. A free version of Counter-Strike has without a doubt been planned for a long time because of this. If these free games can get more players exposed to the frequent sales and the huge library of games available on Steam, it is a win for Valve.
Photo from The Games’ Edge
From a marketing perspective, it not only makes sense to jump on the Battle Royale bandwagon because of its popularity but also because Counter-Strike is an unexpected choice for such a game mode in the first place. Secondly, going free-to-play is a sure way to gain new players. People love free things and if there is even the slightest interest in trying out one the world’s most iconic multiplayer shooter franchises, many will give it a go. Who knows, they might even get hooked and then buy into the microtransactions system?
In the end, going free to play and adding a Battle Royale mode has caused Global Offensive to become hot again. It has always had great player counts, but there has been a noticeable downward spiral for a long time. For such an old game to make a comeback like this is impressive and Valve is smart about keeping their franchises alive.