*Update, Nov. 20, 2017: Electronic Arts released a statement late Thursday that it had heard players “loud and clear” and turned off in-game purchases, including crystals, before the game was officially launched on Friday. According to DICE General Manager Oskar Gabrielson, “all progression will be earned through gameplay” as EA works on fine-tuning its system for microtransactions.
According to the Washington Post, this decision was made public hours after Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of Disney consumer products and interactive media, contacted Electronic Arts.
Star Wars: Battlefront II won’t be officially released until Friday, but the backlash is already several days strong.
The game, a sequel to the 2015 Star Wars: Battlefront primarily developed by the Swedish studio EA DICE, has been available on a 10-hour trial basis since last Thursday; standard and deluxe editions of the game (available for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One) cost $59.99 and $79.99, respectively. But that’s just for the game. From there, if you want to acquire additional characters for the game’s multiplayer mode, you have a choice to make. You can either grind for dozens of hours, or you can spend extra money. It sounds like something you’d expect from a mobile game pushing 99-cent transactions to keep you playing for longer, not a major-studio project that has already promised free downloadable content, including heroes, to customers.
The anger about the in-game economy began with a spreadsheet, posted to Reddit on Saturday by user TheHotterPotato, that suggests it would take 40 hours of game play to unlock just one of the more expensive playable heroes or villains, like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, with in-game credits.
The alternative is to spend real-world money to acquire a game-specific currency via microtransaction. This currency, called crystals, is sold in batches ranging from $4.99 to $99.99 that can then be used to purchase loot crates. So if you bought the deluxe edition for roughly $80, it will cost even more money (exactly how much is unclear right now) to acquire the materials to buy Luke Skywalker in a loot crate, unless you really want to get to know this game. But it’s not even a sure thing that you’ll be able to get the character you want, because loot crates deliver their spoils randomly. So you have to decide which you are willing to part with: more of your money or more of your time.
This is what one might call an unfortunate business practice.
A verified Reddit user representing EA’s community team then threw napalm on fans’ burning rage on Sunday by justifying the practice with what has since become the most downvoted comment in Reddit history, at -678,000 points and falling as of Wednesday: “The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.” Right. That’s the intent.
By Monday, it looked like Electronic Arts had realized just how flaming-hot the rage was. So it adjusted its in-game pricing with regard to unlocking top heroes.
The statement, written by DICE executive producer John Wasilczyk, seemed to impart a we goofed but now it’s better sentiment: “Unlocking a hero is a great accomplishment in the game, something we want players to have fun earning. We used data from the beta to help set those levels, but it’s clear that more changes were needed … Based on what we’ve seen in the trial, this amount will make earning these heroes an achievement, but one that will be accessible for all players.”
However, as Andrew Reiner at Game Informer noted, those lower costs were also matched by lower in-game rewards, functionally leaving the disparity in place. And the internet was not happy when it found out.
In a Reddit AskMeAnything thread on /r/StarWarsBattlefront Wednesday afternoon, a user verified as Wasilczyk wrote that the royal we will be “looking at the rate that players are unlocking Crates … and will continue adjusting values to make sure that players are able to progress towards their goals without it feeling like a grind.”
Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech has a deeper dive on the multilayered (read: inexplicably complex, might-need-an-economics-degree-to-understand) economy in Battlefront II, but the general gist here is that the game’s pay-to-win scheme will likely remain in place, continued price adjustments aside. Another player identified the rough cost of unlocking all of Battlefront II’s content on Wednesday, according to Polygon: $2,100, or 4,528 hours of your time
Battlefront II may be taking a beating right now, but it is not the only big-budget game in 2017 to have a tough time with its microtransactions plan, as players of Middle-earth: Shadows of War and Guild Wars 2 can attest. Is this bad for the overall market? Maybe. The argument against microtransactions in big-budget games is that, if you paid for a game, you probably did not intend to gain the privilege of spending even more money just to play it. On the other hand, the costs involved in producing a video game, whether it’s big-budget or independent, are only going up, and the profits from these transactions ideally (but not always) go back into making and improving games.
Electronic Arts Inc., which is headquartered in California, has long been a target of gamer wrath. It was voted “Worst Company in America” in 2012 and 2013 by readers of the recently defunct Consumerist, beating out corporations like Bank of America—which paid a $16.65 billion settlement to the Justice Department for financial fraud leading up to and during the Great Recession—and Comcast. Comcast!
From the outside, it’s hard for me to be too mad at DICE, which I can only imagine is scrambling to put out these PR fires pre-launch. It seems more likely that EA is to blame here. The developers who make a game don’t necessarily have the same priorities as the publisher that markets and sells it, and I’m sorry that both the makers and players of Battlefront II will have to pay for the consequences.
But maybe don’t pretend to be a developer at EA right now.