How Star Wars Battlefront 2 Pushed Microtransactions Too Far [Update]
The launch of any new Star Wars product is typically a big deal with lots of marketing, PR and excitement from fans surrounding the famous franchise. Video games are no exception to that and the run up to the release of Star Wars Battlefront 2 which launched last week saw fans and gamers cautiously optimistic about EA’s second attempt at a multiplayer focused shooter. Their first attempt, Star Wars Battlefront in 2015, was praised for its visuals and authenticity but criticised for being light on content particularly at launch. DICE seemingly heard these concerns and part of the marketing surrounding the game made a big deal of the new single player campaign, prequel locations and planets plus plenty of new vehicles, weapons and customisation for players.
Unfortunately any improvements or additions over the first game have been overshadowed in recent days and weeks by a controversy over the game’s progression system which is tied up with microtransactions and loot crates. When the game hit beta there was concern from the community about the balance of the game in particular regarding Star Cards – these provide bonuses and additional abilities only for the game’s multiplayer mode. Star Cards were a feature in the previous game but were now only attainable in loot crates, which seemed to be earned by playing the game and accruing enough credits or using another currency called Crystals which later turned out to be bought via real world money. This led to some accusations that the game would be ‘pay-to-win’, a multiplayer less about skill and more about how much money you’ve spent.
In October, EA and DICE took some notice removing epic tier items and Star Cards from loot crates and making them only available via crafting. The extent of the ‘pay-to-win’ nature of the game became clearer when Star Wars Battlefront 2 entered a pre-release period for EA Access subscribers. This confirmed that crystals were indeed a currency used to buy loot crates for real world cash and that buying crates not only gave you a chance of earning a Star Card, and therefore potentially statistical advantages, but also granted scrap used to craft Star Cards. Kotaku’s Heather Alexandra stated after playing the game: “you can quite literally pay money for statistical advantages in Star Wars Battlefront II.”
Star Wars is renowned for its iconic characters from Luke Skywalker to Darth Vader and gamers quickly discovered that Star Wars Battlefront 2 asked for a hefty chunk of your time in order to unlock these characters for use in multiplayer matches. Both Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader cost 60,000 credits at the time and one Reddit user calculated that would take 40 hours of grinding to unlock assuming you didn’t purchase anything else with the credits. This seemed to fans to be an excessively long time aimed at pushing players towards buying loot crates where they could earn more credits. A member of EA’s community team chose to respond and had this to say about the high unlock rate for heroes:
“The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes. We selected initial values based upon data from the Open Beta and other adjustments made to milestone rewards before launch.
“Among other things, we’re looking at average per-player credit earn rates on a daily basis, and we’ll be making constant adjustments to ensure that players have challenges that are compelling, rewarding, and of course attainable via gameplay.”
This comment quickly became the most downvoted comment in Reddit history prompting angry responses from many Reddit users and gamers generally. In response EA reduced the number of credits required to acquire heroes, some by 75%. They also reduced the number of credits rewarded for completing the single player campaign from 20,000 to 5,000. This only brought more negative attention to EA as players accused them of coming up with an arbitrary system in the first place. Non-gaming sites picked up the story and begin to question if the game’s system partially aimed at children constitutes gambling.
After intense scrutiny from the media and a PR nightmare, EA and DICE decided to temporarily remove microtransactions from the game entirely just a few hours before the game launched to the general public.Unconfirmed reports suggested that EA was somewhat pressured into this action not by gamers but by Star Wars owners Disney themselves who contacted EA head Andrew Wilson to express their concern. The status of microtransactions in the game currently remains in flux at the time of writing with no word from EA when the system will be put back into the game.
The prospect of regulation on such methods as loot crates has become more of a possibility with the Belgian Gambling Commission seeking to take the issue to the European Union whose consent would be needed for a total ban. Furthermore, Hawaiian democratic state representative Chris Lee described Star Wars Battlefront 2 as a “Star Wars-themed online casino” and that there are talks with other state legislators on preventing this type of system becoming the norm.
Microtransactions and loot boxes have been around for a while yet EA and DICE managed to craft a system that in the eyes of the consumer and it seems some legislators took things too far. By directly tying progression to the spending of cash on loot crates Star Wars Battlefront 2 has received a lot of attention in all the wrong ways.
I will update this article as new information comes in.
At a Credit Suisse event, EA’s CEO Blake Jorgensen explained why the publisher had opted not to use cosmetic customisation in Star Wars Battlefront II:
“It’s an amazing brand that’s been built over many, many years,” Jorgensen said. “So if you did a bunch of cosmetic things, you might start to violate the canon. 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 offense to pink, but I don’t think that’s right in the canon.”
Later the same week a dataminer by the Reddit username uninspired_zebra uncovered a host of cosmetic customisation hidden in the game’s menus with different skins for characters from all six factions in the game:
It’s unclear at this time why cosmetic customisation didn’t make it into the final build of the game and whether Lucasfilm and Disney had a hand in it or if EA decided to move in a different direction. One thing that’s clear though is that these customisation options were in an old version of the game at one time or another.
As promised previously by DICE, changes to the game have begun to roll out. In an official blog post changes were announced including more credits at the end of a game especially for players at the top of the leaderboard, the daily reward for Arcade mode has been increased from 500 to 1500 credits and daily login crates will now provide more crafting parts. EA acknowledged that these are ‘initial steps’ as they make adjustments to the game’s economy.