EA blames Star Wars story canon for lack of cosmetics (and loses $3 billion stock value in two weeks)

The controversy about Battlefront 2 and its progression system has completely taken over the gaming industry and its news outlets recently, and it seems like there’s no end in sight to the saga. Unfortunately for EA, their social media team keeps digging that hole deeper, and both the company and developer DICE have been quiet on the issue so far. Well, until today, that is. EA chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen appeared at the Credit Suisse Annual Technology, Media and Telecom Conference held this week in Scottsdale, Arizona, and during EA’s presentation of its financial status and future plans, revealed that the company didn’t offer cosmetics as the primary option in Star Wars Battlefront 2’s loot crates because they were wary of messing with the official canon.

In the presentation, which you can listen to here, Jorgensen answers a question posed by an analyst about the monetisation of Battlefront 2, and why the company chose game-altering benefits instead of cosmetic outfits.

“The one thing we’re very focused on and they are extremely focused on is not violating the canon of Star Wars,” said Jorgensen. “It’s an amazing brand that’s been built over many, many years, and so if you did a bunch of cosmetic things, you might start to violate the canon, right? Darth Vader in white probably doesn’t make sense, versus in black. Not to mention you probably don’t want Darth Vader in pink. No offence to pink, but I don’t think that’s right in the canon.”

Jorgensen continued, saying that “there might be things that we can do cosmetically, and we’re working with Lucas[film] on that. But coming into it, it wasn’t as easy as if we were building a game around our own IP where it didn’t really matter. It matters in Star Wars, because Star Wars fans want realism. But Star Wars fans may also want to tailor things — a different coloured lightsaber, things like that. So you might see some of that.”

As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I’m not sure I and many others would agree. Canon has been a subjective topic to many fans since Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, and in the Extended Universe Vader definitely had a white suit, though he rarely used it. Pink Vader could have been included not as canon, but as fan service to people who remember the “Darth Vader in Love” skit from a popular TV show back in 2010.

But perhaps, as Polygon’s Michael McWhertor notes, it could be that Disney’s preference was to keep the characters authentic and only allow basic player customisation as an option, like changing lightsaber colours. This would mean that EA and DICE are working on customisations, but it’s not yet ready for prime time.

Thanks to a recent reveal by a well-known leaker by the name of “Uninspired Zebra”, it looks like this will be coming in a future game update.

A video is making the rounds of a hidden character customisation menu in the game that might have been added in a recent update. It shows off some alternative skins for the Stormtroopers, featuring armour sets from different timelines in the movies and other canon media. Only the body armour seems to change, with the headgear staying the same.

Access to these skins might only be possible through loot boxes, however. Jorgensen’s statement about character customisations doesn’t say how they’re going to make them available to players, and including them in loot boxes to sweeten the deal is one way of doing it. Customisations for vehicles might also be on the cards because it was customary for pilots in The Alliance to paint their ships, while there were several versions of the TIE fighter in the movies.

And, as we all know, EA isn’t resting on the microtransaction business model. The feature is still only temporarily disabled in Battlefront 2, and it has been promised to make a return eventually.

In related news, as of today, EA’s stock has fallen by over 8% since the game launched to early access players as part of Origin All Access. That’s a loss of over $3 billion in just two weeks. It’s not an insignificant number (next to the power of the Dark Side, it definitely isn’t), but it’s not something that investors can let go unnoticed. The company needs to get in front of the problem and figure out how to fix it, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how Disney is handling the news of blunder after blunder by EA’s team along with all the politicians promising to look into loot boxes as a form of gambling.

And in the background, Ghost Games is probably hoping and praying that the same fury doesn’t come to their doorstep.

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