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Last May, Blizzard released a limited-edition Mercy skin, in partnership with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The promotion lasted for two weeks, from May 8 to 21. The Pink Mercy skin, priced at $15 apiece, managed to raise millions of dollars for the charity institution. Along with a promotional Mercy shirt that cost $30, Blizzard raised well over $12 million (~Php636,000,000) for breast cancer research.
Healing more than pixels
The character Mercy plays a support role in the game Overwatch. Designed as a valkyrie that can fly and glide across the battlefield, Mercy can either heal allies or boost their damage. She can also resurrect fallen comrades a few moments after their elimination. The character has become the epitome of healing as the game’s battle medic.
A lot of players have grown attached to the character, and it clearly shows in the success of this partnership. The $30 shirt may have been the more expensive option, but the bulk of the $12 million came from the sales of the Mercy skins, as was recently reported by Blizzard. All the proceeds went to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, with the money aimed to fund “prevention strategies, improved treatments, survivorship and quality of life for breast cancer patients worldwide,” according to BCRF Chief Strategic Alliance Officer Stephanie Kauffman.
A different kind of microtransaction
In the midst of all the loot box drama that Overwatch was part in, the promotion was a nice change of pace for microtransactions. Overwatch’s loot boxes and skins have always been available for free, albeit some grinding is needed to get them.
Many have criticized the financial predatory nature of loot boxes, given that players can actively purchase loot boxes to skip all the grinding and simply get the rewards. Even if you’re only after a particular skin, you’d have to open multiple loot boxes to get it. The chances of getting a skin you want from loot boxes is slim. Given that most skins are only available for a short period of time, players would find it difficult to get the skin they need just from getting the free loot boxes. This necessitates the purchase of loot boxes until players finally get their sought-after skins.
What sets the Mercy promotional skin is that it was the first time Blizzard offered a character skin to be directly purchasable. Players who want the skin didn’t have to open multiple loot boxes to get it. This might also have been a factor why the promotion was so successful. For once, players who wanted a skin could get it directly, making it more accessible and realistic to obtain. That’s great news for cancer research, regardless of the questions on the morality of microstransactions in general.
New microtransaction model
The charity event may have been a test run by Blizzard to see whether or not directly purchasable character skins, and other items, would bring them more profit than the controversial loot boxes. Through this charity program, they’ve seen how much money they could make from readily-available skins. We might even see more characters receive the same treatment in the future, charity or not.
It’s not probable that Blizzard will quickly move away from the loot box model. However, this new microtransaction model could go side-by-side with the loot boxes. Blizzard may feature in-game items either from a loot box or as a direct purchase. This will give players more options on how they want to get their loot.
Gaming for a cause
Blizzard is far from being the only people in gaming that does charity work. Youtube star Felix “Pewdiepie” Kjellberg raised a million dollars within three months in 2014 for charities like the World Wildlife Fund, St. Jude, Save the Children and Charity: Water.
The speedrunning community gamesdonequick also regularly donates charities. They do this through livestreaming their speedrunning attempts. Fans of gamers involved in the project would donate money when the players perform something amazing. Others would simply donate to support the cause. Most recently, they raised $2.12 million for Doctors Without Borders, a non-profit organization that delivers emergency medical aid worldwide to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from health care.