It’s the year of the progression pass, and that’s a refreshing change as we come off the years of the loot box. These are events where players can level up to unlock cosmetic items by completing special challenges — and if you pay for the premium version, you get to progress even faster and unlock even more. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is one the latest games to incorporate this business model into its meta experience. I’ve spent some time with its Sanhok Event Pass. And it sure is one of those things.
You’re going to start seeing progression passes a lot more frequently in the future. Fortnite broke the seal and made them into a regular occurrence in the console and PC space, and now developer PUBG Corp. and Rocket League studio Psyonix are rushing to offer something similar. These companies are adding a premium leveling system because players have signaled that they want it, and they’re right — at least when it comes to me. I like the idea of working toward something from match to match even if I’m on a losing streak. That makes me want to play more, and I’m willing to occasionally pay to get the best version of that.
So over the weekend, I dropped $10 for my Sanhok Event Pass and hopped into PUBG. You can see some of that gameplay below. I was having a good time, and I obviously I should, since I just spent money on a game that typically sells for $30.
The Sanhok Event Pass does its job in that it gives you those hooks to keep coming back. For now, let’s ignore the perverse idea of paying a game to give you a reason to want to come back beyond the gameplay itself. The progression system has other problems. It seems like PUBG Corp. slapped it together without fully considering all of its choices. For example, if you play as a team, and one of your teammates dies, then they are sitting around not earning XP toward their Pass while the rest of the squad finishes. That is encouraging many teams to quit early if one of their players dies in the first moments of a match. The obvious fix for this is to award XP to an entire team even if players have died.
And a lot of people are spotting what they think are bugs because they are doing quests and not unlocking any XP, but this is probably due to the vague descriptions for these mission that are sometimes missing key details or are even misleading about what players must do.
But the biggest problem is that PUBG is already $30. I don’t mind paying $10 for a Premium Progression Pass because I’ve had the game for more than a year now. But if someone goes out and buys it today for $30, they are going to still feel left out unless they spend an extra $10 right away. PUBG does have a free version of its pass, but you would need to play six to eight hours every day for 28 days to get all of the items in that version, according to one players’ estimate. And if you start now, a few days into the Sanhok event, you’d have to play something like 12 hours a day.
This is fundamentally different from Fortnite: Battle Royale from Epic Games. That is free on every platform, so it makes sense that a new player would feel left out. They have to spend some money to get the full experience. With PUBG, however, it seems like the most recent pass should come with the game for anyone who pays $30 today. That might stink for someone who bought it last month, but I would imagine that PUBG Corp. would have these passes going forward, so that is a problem that will fade with time.
But if you’ll excuse me, I need to go grind some PUBG so I can get my levels.