[Update 18-Nov-17: The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Fritz has confirmed that prior to EA’s announcement below, a letter was sent to EA from Disney CEO Bob Iger, advising Disney had become concerned with the public’s perception with Battlefront II.]
There’s been even more activity on the Star Wars: Battlefront II situation since our rundown the other day, leading to a temporary improvement to the game’s current ugly monetization strategy. With a big stress on the word ‘temporary’.
First, on Wednesday, three developers from DICE held an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit. We’re not sure if this was something DICE/EA always had planned ahead of Battlefront II‘s launch, or if it was decided on in reaction to the boiling fiasco earlier in the week, but it didn’t net the people behind Battlefront II any better public perception.
Most of the questions in the Q&A did not get answers, and the few that did were not reassured. In fact, unlike any other AMA we’ve seen before, answers from DICE were so rare and so disliked that they proved difficult to find, buried at the bottom of the thread under downvotes and unanswered comments. Here are a few examples of the interaction between fans and the developers that did take place:
Question from user Cheesegrater74:
“1. Are you aware that it will take a gamer who plays 2 hours per day over 6 years in order to unlock all of the content? Don’t you think that is a bit unfair that a large portion of content will be inaccessible for those who have other responsibilities like work, school, in a game they paid for?
2. Will you be looking to lower the number of microtransactions in the future?
3. Do you have any comment on the cool down to earn credits? Will it be lowered or removed in the future? Any concern that this will make the grind even more challenging for players who don’t buy microtransactions?”
“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. As we update and expand Arcade mode, we’ll be working towards making sure that players can continue to progress without daily limits.”
Question from user DreadPirate616 (excerpt from a larger post):
“1. Lootboxes should be removed. These ruin the feeling of accomplishment, are a form of gambling, and are obviously an incentive for players to buy credits using micro-transactions. Currently, Battlefront feels like a free mobile game, not a $60-$80 AAA title. There should be absolutely no micro-transactions that affect progression. While we recognize that you need money to continue creating free DLC, it should not come at the expense of fair gameplay. A compromise can be limiting lootboxes to cosmetic items only, so you can still make money.”
“I’ll take question 1. I think crates can be a fun addition as long as you don’t feel forced to engage with them in order to progress. I feel that’s where the issue is with our game right now and that’s where we’ll look to solve as quickly as we can. We’re looking to add additional ways to progress your favorite character or class, while allowing crates to be a fun thing for those who want to engage with them.”
“What do you plan to do to repair the backlash you’ve received and are you worried this will have serious impact between you and the consumers?”
“Jumping into this AMA is just one of the ways we want to start to repair the bridge to our players. Lots of people told us that we shouldn’t do this this as it wasn’t going to go like we hope it would. That said, we are committed to continuing this dialogue even if we need to face some harsh feedback. We welcome the discussions and criticisms, we’re not just here for the praise (although it is nice to hear!). And we’ll continue to be here, and on our forums, talking to our community as we strive to work with you to make a Star Wars game you enjoy.”
In a nutshell, DICE’s team repeated they were committed to getting the balance of their loot box and progression systems right, saying they want to work with player feedback over time to continue to tweak and adjust things until they work best. But they were unable to give any specifics about what would be changed or how, and neither would they agree that the existing system was predatory and blatantly designed to encourage the player to purchase micro-transactions. It seemed the message from fans was being heard by DICE, but nothing of substance was being done to fix it.
Then, the next day, EA tweeted out the following statement from DICE General Manager Oskar Gabrielson, announcing they would be removing all of their in-game purchases from Battlefront II at launch:
Today, we turned off in-game purchases for #StarWarsBattlefrontII. The game is built on your input, and it will continue to evolve and grow. Read the full update: https://t.co/asGASaYXVp pic.twitter.com/vQSOmsWRgk
— EAStarWars (@EAStarWars) November 17, 2017
The statement starts strong, until later clarifying that purchase of in-game crystals will become available, just at a later date instead, nullifying the change entirely. We wonder if the 180 turn from EA might have come from Disney, who have The Last Jedi coming out in theatres about a month from now. The Mouse House likely wouldn’t be pleased with the news that Electronic Arts is souring fans on their brand, and if the stink raised has gotten large enough, we can see Disney putting pressure on EA to turn their public image around.
Show_Me_Your_Husky, another Reddit user claiming to be a producer at another game studio, reacted to the tweet with their own theory behind this supposed goodwill gesture, and it’s worth considering:
“I’m a Producer at a AAA Studio (I’m more than happy to provide proof to subreddit mods)
This is pretty clear what they’re doing to anyone who works in the industry. They want to maximize their initial sales numbers to show to investors. Once the trade off is worth it (Probably 1-2 months in), they will enable the gamble boxes again because:
1. Everyone who was on the fence will have bought the game by now
2. You can’t refund the game at this point
3. The news will have died down, and if new articles do come out, it won’t be as relevant
4. They will already have good numbers to show investors
EA is going to royally fuck over the average gamer who doesn’t have a clue how the industry works on this. This is about as deceptive as it gets.”
We can’t confirm if Show_Me_Your_Husky is who they say they are, and the post has since been deleted, but regardless they raise a valid point and suggest behavior from EA that is far more reflective of their actions to date than the collaborative, caring persona they’ve been trying to cultivate.
As a kicker, even after all of this damage control and the perceived fix from removing in-game purchases, Polygon reports the special edition of Battlefront II continues to serve as a flat-out pay-to-win advantage over other players:
“The extra $20 doesn’t get you a season pass or a nice bundle of aesthetic options, although there are some nice aesthetic options included in the cards. But the real draw is getting access to powerful weapons and epic abilities from the moment you begin playing Star Wars Battlefront 2 online.
The official description isn’t subtle:
The Star Wars Battlefront II: Elite Trooper Deluxe Edition turns your troopers into the ultimate opponents. Every trooper class (Officer, Assault, Heavy, and Specialist) is upgraded, delivering superior firepower, deadly weapon modifications, and epic combat abilities.
I played without these cards and weapons during the 10-hour preview through EA Access and did OK online, but my kills went up noticeably after I purchased this edition of the game and made my characters more powerful, using weapons that more suited my play style.
I didn’t have to earn them, I just needed to pay more.”
Our own feeling is that removing the in-game purchases from Battlefront II at launch does nothing to reassure players that, when they’re introduced later, anything will be different. Consumers are being asked to fork out $60 for the game and then hope that EA will treat them fairly with the way they insert monetization to the mix later on, and the only evidence we’ve seen suggests the intent will be just as nefarious as originally planned.
Finally, if after all of this you still feel this is, at worst, an isolated mis-step specific to Star Wars: Battlefront II, you don’t have to look far to see that EA’s current mindset on micro-transactions stretches further than the one game: Some reviews of EA’s new racing title, Need for Speed Payback, highlight another situation where a grind-heavy progression system encourages buying randomized loot boxes for upgrade parts, and EA doesn’t even try to hide the fact they’re treating it like gambling on a slot machine:
The silver lining to come from this week’s flurry of activity is that the outcry has had an impact: EA’s shares have dropped 2.5 points on the stock market after the affair. We hope fans will continue to make their voices heard and refuse to engage in this kind of financial gouging.