Last night, Star Wars Battlefront II developer DICE made a somewhat unprecedented move in announcing that the game’s paid microtransactions were being removed in response to absolutely brutal headlines over the past week taking DICE and Electronic Arts to task for Battlefront’s predatory progression system.
Here’s DICE GM Oskar Gabrielson’s full statement, which quickly went viral:
“Our goal has always been to create the best possible game for all of you – devoted Star Wars fans and game players alike. We’ve also had an ongoing commitment to constantly listen, tune and evolve the experience as it grows. You’ve seen this with both the major adjustments, and polish, we have made over the past several weeks.
But as we approach the worldwide launch, it’s clear that many of you feel there are still challenges in the design. We’ve heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. And we’ve heard that this is overshadowing an otherwise great game. This was never our intention. Sorry we didn’t get this right.
We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases. We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning. This means that the option to purchase crystals in the game is now offline, and all progression will be earned through gameplay. The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game. We’ll share more details as we work through this.”
While some quickly championed this news as a victory for gamers — a sign that if you speak loud enough and make a big enough stink, big publishers like EA will have no choice but to bow down to demands for change — many others were quick to seize on one particular passage in DICE’s statement: that Battlefront II’s in-game economy “will become available at a later date.” In other words, Battlefront II’s microtransactions haven’t been scrapped altogether; they’re just being turned off temporarily.
EA’s decision to disable Battlefront II’s premium currency system could very well be the act of goodwill the company is claiming it to be; that they’ve heard the complaints loud and clear, realized the error of their ways, and are now putting the consumer first. However, what seems more likely is that EA was afraid of taking a massive hit on launch day sales and only hit the panic button as a stopgap way to do some quick damage control … especially when you realize that the move may not have been EA’s idea to begin with.
According to a report from VentureBeat, Disney may have gotten directly involved in the Battlefront II controversy and ordered EA to do something drastic so as to not tarnish the brand:
“Earlier today, Electronic Arts chief executive officer Andrew Wilson had a phone call with The Walt Disney Company chief executive Bob Iger about Star Wars: Battlefront II, according to sources familiar with the situation. A few hours after that call, and players are finding that the option to purchase the premium crystals currency is no longer working.”
The fans — or at least the ones who took EA to task for this whole mess to begin with — aren’t being fooled by the company’s actions either: as of this writing, the top post on the Star Wars Battlefront subreddit is a warning to not be fooled by EA’s “trick” and that “this isn’t over yet.” To EA’s credit, it’s clear that they have realized how badly they screwed up here, as stripping a major feature from a game a day before launch is a pretty drastic measure. But again, there’s nothing in DICE’s statement that indicates they have any intention of permanently scrapping microtransactions; they just underestimated how pissed off people would get when they realized they were being sold a AAA, full-priced game built around a free-to-play style pricing model.
This is because Star Wars Battlefront II’s online multiplayer is built around loot boxes. Whereas games like Overwatch reward loot boxes to players each time they rank up, progression in Battlefront II is dependent pretty much entirely on earning boxes. The more boxes you open, the more Star Cards you’ll unlock, which in turn give you competitive advantages that theoretically will result in a higher loot box earn rate. In other words, the game is designed to sell you loot boxes and with the ability to actually purchase those loot boxes with real money now disabled, the only way to unlock them is through actually playing the game. The problem? Earning loot boxes through ranking up naturally is a considerable grind in Star Wars Battlefront II, so what happens when some players get fed up because they just can’t commit the time needed? Do we really think EA is going to adjust the game so that credit payouts are increased and the time it takes to level up is decreased? It’s all right there in DICE’s statement: “We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning.” Translation: “We’re trying to fight the right way to still make a ton of money off this that doesn’t piss you off enough to start sending us death threats.” (which, for the record, is completely uncalled for and exactly the wrong way to voice your displeasure with the way a video game was designed.)
What seems likely here is that EA is just waiting for the right time to bring back microtransactions, albeit with some adjustments to make them seem not so egregious and predatory. Think about it: AAA games like Star Wars Battlefront II live and die on the strength of their pre-order numbers and unit sales within the first few months of release. With Star Wars: The Last Jedi releasing in the middle of December, Star Wars Battlefront II is practically guaranteed to be one of the best-selling games in the lead-up to the holidays. Parents are still going to buy the game for their kids regardless because it’s a Star Wars game and most of them probably aren’t even aware of or understand the loot box controversy anyway. That being said, Star Wars Battlefront II has been the biggest story in gaming for the last week or so but for all the wrong reasons, so EA risked losing a ton of pre-orders from the core gamer crowd — and potentially even average consumers who may have just heard something bad about the game — if they didn’t make a show of trying to fix things. This is all feels like a ploy to maximize how many units of the game EA can sell at launch so that they can report something positive back to their shareholders. Once enough people have bought the game, microtransactions will be back because at that point, gamers can cry foul all they want but at the end of the day — EA still got their $60 out of you.
The unfortunate part in all of this it all could have easily been avoided. When Star Wars Battlefront II was first announced, EA trumpeted it as an apology for the mistakes made in the first Star Wars Battlefront, which was released as an incomplete game saddled with an expensive season pass. Their solution? A predatory, pay-to-win model that breaks the balance of the game for anyone not willing to spend additional money on premium currency. EA easily could have avoided all of this by copying games like Overwatch, Destiny 2, and MOBAs such as League of Legends and DOTA 2 (just to name a few), which have all built successful microtransaction models around loot boxes that are entirely cosmetic and don’t affect gameplay. Star Wars is one of the biggest media franchises in the world. Are you seriously telling me that EA and DICE couldn’t have packed loot boxes with a ton of different costumes and watched as the money rolled in?
It’s still unclear what EA will do with Star Wars Battlefront II once the microtransactions go live again. The obvious solution (at least in my mind) would be to go back to the drawing board, rebuild the progression system from the ground up, and if they still decide to keep loot boxes in the game, they should contain cosmetic items only. Whether that will actually happen is another matter entirely.