So to recap, we’ve had an internet-wide protest against EA and DICE’s decision to include microtransactions inside the latest Star Wars Battlefront 2, which includes some pay-to-win mechanics through the use of skill cards for your character and your chosen vehicle, as well as holding back player progression by forcing you to grind endlessly to craft the Epic cards that grant you extra abilities on the battlefield. There’s also some limits on offline challenges and how much money you earn from the single-player campaign, as well as a time limit on how many credits you can earn when replaying offline matches. And the most downvoted comment in internet history on Reddit. Blizzard poked fun at them.
Things… just get worse for EA after that point.
In an interview with DualShockers, Electronic Arts CFO Blake Jorgensen told DualShockers that Battlefront 2’s future will be an evolving story, and that they’re not settled on the game’s economy or how they’re going to find ways to monetise it. Below is an excerpt from the article:
EA thinks first and foremost about “engagement” in its games: if they can keep people engaged in something they love, they can find ways to “improve their experience and monetize that along the way.” According to Jorgensen, the consumer “doesn’t mind that” as they are getting a chance to “go deeper and spend longer with the game than they ever did before,” and they can play a game for three or four years as the developers keep adding content.
Live events have also become “an incredible and enjoyable feature” for customers, Jorgensen continues, as they don’t talk anymore about “playing the game” as much as “playing the live services.” This is the direction the whole industry is going, and EA feels that it’s “incredible value” for the consumer and a lot of fun engaging with the game.
Needless to say, Jorgensen’s comments threw more fuel on the fire already going on in the Star Wars Battlefront subreddit. The thread that shared his remarks hit the front page and has more than 450 comments. It seemingly amplified the number of new threads that popped up discussing the interview and microtransactions in general, and by now the story had spread to online mainstream media, hitting sites such as Forbes, Fortune.com, and BBC News.
Shade was thrown in the form of memes made with reference to the movies and the older Star Wars Battlefront 2. Blizzard climbed on the bandwagon, and there were multiple other jabs by others like South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, a popular weather app for iOS called Carrot, and GOG.com got in on the action advertising the old original. Popular Youtubers and Twitch streamers discussed the issues and the changes EA made thus far, and it became the focus of the latest episode of the Funhaus podcast.
There’s even a website that cancels your pre-order for you if you can’t get EA Support to do it for you over the phone or the chat line.
And then EA and DICE decided to have an AMA on the same subreddit that had downvoted their initial comment into oblivion. This had not been pre-planned with the mods of the subreddit, and was organised within a day of DICE Associate Design Director Dennis Brannvall’s early statement about how they were taking the news of the fallout. As far as AMAs go, it was civil, but typical of AMAs that involve a company and its product – not a lot of substance in the replies, very few select questions were answered, and there was some controversy over a question that should have been answered, but wasn’t. In this case, the top-voted comment in the AMA was deleted by the subreddit mods for just over two hours before it was restored.
Some quotes from the answers by the DICE developers who participated follow below:
“We’ve seen the speculation about how long it takes players to earn things – but our averages based on the Play First trial are much faster than what’s out there. But as more players come in, that could change. We’re committed to making progression a fun experience for all of our players. Nothing should feel unattainable and if it does, we’ll do what it takes to make sure it’s both fun and achievable.” – John Wasilczyk, Executive Producer
“As you’ve noticed, we weren’t able to get the customization system into the game in time for launch. I’m actually having artists and designers walk up to me today showing me cosmetic stuff they really want to get out there. I think we have probably the best looking Clone Troopers ever made and I know players really want to customize them (I know I do).” – Dennis Brannvall
“We take into account not only your gameplay skills, but also inventory and time played, when we match players together in multiplayer. You should not ever be matchmade together with players who are much better than you are. Ultimately your effectiveness is going to come down to skill, not the Star Cards that you have. If it doesn’t feel that way, we’ll see it on our side, too.” – Dennis Brannvall
“As we want to let players earn Credits offline via a more relaxed game mode, we needed to also find a way to make sure it wouldn’t be exploited in a way that would impact Multiplayer. Because of that we made the decision to limit the number of Credits earned to stop potential abuse. We will be looking at data continually and make adjustments to make things as balanced as possible.” – Paul Keslin, Producer
Overall, the message remained that neither DICE nor EA were prepared to look at removing or significantly changing progression in the game, but rather that they were going to keep the system as is, and adjust payout rates and prices over time to make it more enticing to players. As of today, there’s still a pay-to-win mechanic that players with only $100 on hand can exploit readily, and it only costs around $20 to upgrade Rare cards to Epic cards, so long as your character is of a high enough level.
If that wasn’t enough, reviews of the game aren’t very positive. GameInformer gave Battlefront 2 a score of 6.5 out of ten, a whole half a point behind the first Battlefront made by DICE. Kotaku’s review said that the game was “disappointing” overall. IGN’s review in progress scores it 7/10, and Metacritic’s user reviews are being bombarded by low scores. At the same time, scores and feedback for Need for Speed Payback keep dropping for the same reason. Destructoid’s review only gave it a 3 out of ten.
Finally, if everything else wasn’t enough to induce anxiety in DICE employees and potentially give EA pause to think about the direction they’re heading, Belgium’s Gaming Commission is investigating complaints about the loot box system and its similarity to gambling. In Belgium, games of chance qualify as gambling in the eyes of the law, particularly if there is “either loss of the stake by at least one of the players or a gain of any kind in favour of at least one of the players”. If it results in a ruling in a Belgian court that lootboxes as EA has applied them is considered gambling, it may hinder their ability to sell games in the country without pre-approval from the commission in addition to applying for a permit. Gambling has an age restriction of 21 years, and theoretically would qualify Battlefront 2 to be rated adults-only.
Which ties in to the final update in this second round of the saga. There’s a Change.org petition online to pressure the US-based Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to reconsider their ruling on the use of loot boxes in games, and reclassify them as gambling. It has almost 34,000 signatures as I write this, and only 10,000 was needed to get the request officially sent to the ESRB. The ESRB’s ruling has been that loot boxes aren’t gambling because players always receive an item of value in return. What the petition aims to change is to persuade the ESRB to recognise that the items themselves may have no value to the player, which would change the way in which the organistion might view the issue.