From an outsider's perspective, Blizzard Entertainment's multiplayer shooter Overwatch is doing incredibly well as a premium title. The game, which costs money to play (not including free weekends) has more than 40 million players across PC and consoles. But according to one analyst, this business model could be about to change in a big way.
In an interview, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter predicted that 2019 will be the year in which Overwatch goes free to play. Pachter says that he expects the game to have gone free to play by June 2019, which is just over three years after Overwatch originally launched. The analyst also states that Blizzard has already "assured" Overwatch League teams about the shift in the business model, telling them that it will help to grow the game's (and thus the League's) fan base.
Pachter also notes that existing Overwatch players who have already paid for the game will be disgruntled by the decision to go free to play. However, the analyst suspects that Blizzard will throw freebies at these upset players in order to placate them.
According to Pachter, these players "will likely be compensated by being given free stuff (skins or other cosmetic items)". Overwatch offers up tons of cosmetics, including emotes, sprays, and character skins including limited and themed holiday items. It stands to reason that Blizzard could add "founders" cosmetics that are unavailable to those who only began playing Overwatch after the free to play launch.
This wouldn't be the first time that there have been rumors and speculation about Overwatch going free to play. Two years ago, an executive at NetEase, which is Blizzard's partner for Overwatch in China, hinted that a free trial of the game could be introduced. While it sounded as though this free trial would be somewhat limited as opposed to a fully free to play experience, it does suggest that Blizzard has at least been considering shaking up the game's business model for quite some time.
Other whispers about Overwatch's business model came after it was revealed that Blizzard has been paying employees to quit in an effort to reduce its staff numbers. This reportedly stems from a desire to become make the company more profitable. Overwatch has been successful thus far as a premium game, but Blizzard bosses may agree that in order to make more money from the game, it will have to pivot the title to free to play. If that is the case, fans won't have long to see if Pachter's prediction is correct.
Overwatch is available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.