Fortnite: Battle Royale does microtransactions perfectly... with one big exception

A photo illustration showing Fortnite s Reaper and Sun Wukong skins

The Fortnite: Battle Royale Season 3 Battle Pass achieves that most elusive of feats: getting me to spend money on a F2P game without immediately regretting it. In fact, the more I play, the more I love it. Handling microtransactions well is like doing a high dive into a shower stall surrounded by a minefield (and the mines are somehow shouting profanity at you the whole time). But the season 3 battle pass? It sticks the landing with full points. Unfortunately, the rest of Fortnite's microtransactions aren't nearly so graceful. $20 for…! Sorry, I should start with the part that actually works.

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Every season - currently about two and a half months - Fortnite: Battle Royale sells a new Battle Pass for 950 V-Bucks. The smallest quantity of V-Bucks you can purchase is 1,000, so a Battle Pass is about $9.99 / £7.99 (you can also earn a modest quantity of V-Bucks by playing the game for free). Buying the pass gets you a few immediate rewards such as a new astronaut character skin and XP bonus, but the real value is all the extra stuff you can earn by playing: more skins, more emotes, more backpacks and skydiving trails, and - most clever of all - more V-Bucks.

Rank your Battle Pass up before it expires, and you'll earn more than enough in-game cash to unlock the next Battle Pass. That eliminates the dread of having to pay more and more cash to stay up-to-date in a living game, and it encourages you to keep playing for the whole season and into the next. So smart! And that's just the dry economical side of it - the Fortnite: Battle Royale Battle Pass has Weekly Challenges that make the game more fun while staying miles clear of pay-to-win territory.

Last week's set of Weekly Challenges included directives to visit three giant animal sculptures placed around the map (easy) and rack up two sniper rifle eliminations (hard because I suck at Fortnite). This week they want you to dance in forbidden locations and track down a hidden treasure by following some mundane landmarks. Players divert from their usual habits to complete these challenges, converting otherwise quiet locations like Wailing Woods into impromptu warzones.

Each round of Battle Royale subtly shifts as many of the players pursue an additional set of objectives beyond the usual "be the last one" goal, particularly in the first days after a new set goes live. Folks who don't own the season pass aren't disadvantaged by missing out on these in-match skirmishes (in fact, they'll probably live longer by avoiding them), they just don't get that extra carrot on a stick. And there are plenty of free challenges to pursue as well, they just aren't as fun.

Exit through the cash shop

The rewards for advancing your Battle Pass are easily the most tempting in the game. You can cosplay as Star Lord or some kind of Daft Punk-style astronaut, and if you make it all the way to the final level, you can even become gosh darn John Wick (technically an unlicensed cartoon knockoff thereof). And those are just the skins - tons more cosmetic items are waiting to be unlocked as well. Unfortunately, the quality of these rewards just makes Fortnite: Battle Royale's non-battle-pass microtransactions seem all the more abysmal. The cash shop is a strange and unwelcoming place.

Exhibit A), the 2,000 V-Buck Sun Wukong skin.

The Sun Wukong outfit which looks like a proper Monkey King

Don't get me wrong. This Monkey King getup is pretty cool. But 2,000 V-Bucks?!? I frequently hesitate to buy entire games that cost $20! Granted, you can cut some or all of the cost by spending the cash you earn in-game, and not all of the microtransactions are quite that steep. For instance, you could drop 1,500 V-Bucks on Exhibit B), a rusty anchor replacement for your default pickaxe.

The Bottom Feeder harvesting tool which looks like a rusty anchor

Or 800 on Exhibit C), a handsome Scarlet Defender outfit… which is a re-textured version of the default uniform.

The Scarlet Defender outfit flashy yet familiar

Comprehending how one half of Fortnite: Battle Royale's business model could be so generous and complimentary of the base game, and the other so distant and stingy, is impossible. It's like imagining the sound of one hand clapping; the answer will eternally elude you (though if searching for the answer brings you enlightenment you're welcome, I guess). Every time I look at the in-game store I feel repulsed by the price tags, the polar opposite reaction I have toward all the engaging challenges and rewards in the Battle Pass.

"At least it isn't random loot boxes," some might argue, "the prices are high but you know exactly what you're getting."  Sure, but I'd rather spend $20 on Overwatch lootboxes because I know from experience that I'm likely to get several items I'll enjoy instead of just one, even if none of them are the single thing I want most of all. Either way, this kind of system and pricing makes me spend a lot of time thinking about what is the most economical, how much time versus cash I want to sink, and whether the purchase will be worth it to me down the line. Those aren't things I want to think about when I'm trying to have fun!

Fortunately, the Battle Pass is rewarding enough by itself that I rarely feel tempted to even load the cash shop tab. I spend most of my time between matches scanning challenges to see what I want to try for next, and looking ahead to see what goodies await me. I said at the beginning that I immediately regret most of the cash I drop in free-to-play games. It often feels like giving up; "Fine, I'll throw you a few bucks to circumvent this annoying part of the game you built in to get me to spend money." Fortnite: Battle Royale's Battle Pass is different because it feels like unlocking an extra layer of fun and motivation, like buying an extra game on top of the game you already liked. As more developers around the world try to learn from Fortnite: Battle Royale's stratospheric success, I hope they take those lessons to heart… and whoever sets those Fortnite cash shop prices, too. $20 for one skin! Damn! 

See what other developers think of the strange new world of video game spending with this look at microtransactions and loot boxes in video games.