How Star Wars Battlefront 2’s Pay to Win Scheme Blows Up In EA’s Face
It’s no surprise to people that follow gaming industry trends that 2017 is, as Jim Sterling of the Jimquisition puts it, “The year of the loot box”. Loot box microtransactions and related morally questionable money-making schemes have been steadily making their way from free to play games (where they are much more, though not completely, justified additions) to full price $60 AAA games published by the trifecta of giants EA, Activision, and Ubisoft. Just in the past two months we’ve seen a range of different schemes from the relatively benign addition of easily acquirable loot boxes in Assassin’s Creed Origins (an otherwise good game negatively impacted by their addition, but not overly much) to the recently revealed Activision patent for microtransaction driven matchmaking (currently unimplemented, though Call of Duty: World War II did give us “lootbox voyeurism” as an in-game feature).
None of this seems to have significantly impacted the sales or popularity of these games, but as we’ve come to expect Electronic Arts has managed to find the line people are not willing to forgive once crossed and have sprinted across it. Star Wars Battlefront 2 is pay to win, there’s no other way to put it. Unlike most other loot boxes in games, which either contain purely cosmetic items, are easily obtainable via in-game currency and play, or both Battlefront 2 manages to take all of the classic defenses of microtransactions and make them completely moot. “They’re just cosmetic!” does not fly, as the boxes contain significant gameplay advantages in the form of Star Cards that unlock a variety of special abilities, class specific boosts, ad all around power increases for various weapons, vehicles, and other options. Particularly frustrating is the way progression works: The power, variety, and number of equippable cards you can have is determined by your Card Level, a statistic that is boosted by owning more cards. A player that purchases loot boxes is going to become more powerful, much faster than a non-paying player. Though that is a misnomer since this is still a full priced $60 game; Every player is a payer, you are simply being disincentivized to play the game without paying even more.
Which leads us to the second nullified defense “It can all be gotten in the game, you don’t really need the loot boxes!” While technically true, it’s only just. Many of the more powerful cards require immense grinding, saving up to minuscule amounts of rewards from play for the exorbitant prices.
It used to cost 60, 000 credits to unlock Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker (not coincidentally the two most iconic and popular characters in the franchise, whom everyone is going to want the chance to play) a feat which was mathed out to require at least 40 solid hours of grinding missions and playing to achieve. I say “used to” because the price was lowered considerably to 15, 000 credits just recently. Of course, this quartering of price is matched by a quartering of some mission rewards as well, making the grind shorter but still too long. Players that had already ground up the funds necessary to purchase the heroes were not, to my knowledge, refunded 45, 000 credits either creating a whole different set of problems. Customers do not generally like wildly fluctuating prices in goods – and that’s what microtransactions are, make no mistake, even if there is no physical component – so it will be interesting to see what the response to this change will be from those who feel cheated out of hours of their time in two distinct but related ways.
EA also attempted the usual PR response on a prominent Reddit thread at the time. The results were amusing.
As you can see, players and posters were not happy with the response given. At the time of this writing, the post is the most downvoted post ever made on Reddit at 682, 000 downvotes. Less than two hours before this writing it was at 656, 000 and is still growing steadily.
This kind of concentrated backlash is heartening to see. It shows there is a limit to what audiences are willing to take, and if even half of the people who downvoted this post also vote with their wallets, it might be enough to make EA take notice and let the developers fix their game. In an ideal world it would also mean the executives at the company might step back and reflect on how anti-consumer their business practices are and aim to fix that across the board, but I won’t be holding my breath for that to happen without many more instances like this. I am interested to see how the Reddit AMA tomorrow goes, and will be following it for any updates to this story. There is already a thread planning to present a unified front to prevent EA from spinning the narrative or planting employees and cut out toxic posts from the Reddit side of things to keep the conversation civil and direct (a problem already apparent in death threats sent to DICE employees…it’s not their fault guys, they can’t do anything about it. Stop.).
Expect an update tomorrow if significant new information is revealed.
#How Star Wars Battlefront 2’s Pay to Win Scheme Blows Up In EA’s Face