When we last reported on Star Wars Battlefront 2‘s egregious loot box economy, EA announced that they’d be taking a hiatus from selling crystals for real money, effectively disabling the ability for anyone to purchase the game’s loot boxes for real money. The changes made to the economy since then have been notable, but barely change anything – they halved the cost for purchasing premium characters, but also halved the payout for the main campaign. They increased the payouts for multiplayer matches but didn’t fix the AFK problem, in addition to rewarding the top three players in the match with extra points (which is ironic, because the top players at the time typically had Star Cards earned from purchasing loot boxes).
Battlefront 2 still has an in-game economy dominated by loot boxes, and arguably worse multiplayer and map design than EA’s first Battlefront game – and it’s still a grind-fest. EA has announced that they’ll soon be bringing back microtransactions, but they’re not saying when players can expect this to happen.
In EA’s earnings call yesterday the company talked frankly about what their financial situation looked like. For the quarter ended on 31 December 2017, EA reported revenue of $1.16 billion, compared to $1.15 billion. EA posted a loss of $186 million during the quarter, $176 milion of which was a tax expense that they incurred to the IRS after the Trump administration closed a tax loophole allowing US-based companies to shore their profits overseas in tax havens. With some basic math, this leaves EA with a loss of $10 million compared to the $1 million loss they had in 2016.
For Q4 2017, digital sales revenue was $780 million, compared to $380 million for in-store boxed sales. For the same period in 2016, digital revenue was $685 million, compared to $464 for packaged sales. EA’s unit sales revenue for Q4 2017 compared to Q4 2016 only increased by $11 million, and most of their digital revenue increase came from people not buying boxed copies in a store – and keep in mind that this is across all platforms that they support currently, and across all their game lines.
So where does that leave Battlefront 2? In the first three months of the game’s life cycle, it has officially sold 9 million copies. That’s a million copies less than EA’s projections, but still on track for matching the lifetime sales of Star Wars Battlefront’s 15 million copies. When EA announced to investors that it was turning off microtransactions last year, they noted that “this does not affect our projections for revenue in 2017”. At the time, the safe assumption was that EA accounted for some kind of backlash to the microtransactions, but overall they expected enough unit sales to be profitable.
This has proven to be the case, unfortunately. Battlefront 2 has sold relatively well, and player hours logged has increased two-fold compared to the first Battlefront.
“Going forward, we believe that live services that include optional digital monetisation, when done right, provide a very important element of choice that can extend and enhance the experience in our games,” EA’s CFO Blake Jorgensen said in the earnings call. “We’re committed to continually working with our players to deliver the right experience in each of our games and live services.”
According to Wall Street Journal, EA’s plan is to phase in microtransactions back into the game over time, but they don’t mention when they’ll do it. “We’ll do it when we think it’s ready,” said Jorgensen.
Meanwhile, the game is still plagued by issues and bugs and faults in the in-game economy. Duplicate Star Cards are still a problem, and you don’t always get crystals to compensate for that, or enough crafting parts regularly to advance timeously. There is still no map selector, players still get thrust from lobby to lobby without a care for team-based mechanics, and DICE’s balancing acts for the various hero characters have made gameplay frustrating.
EA can call the Battlefront 2 loot box controversy a “learning experience” all day long, but that doesn’t change the fact that it seems they’ve learned nothing from it.