EA’s Battlefront 2 loot crate PR disaster could be an important precedent-setter at a pivotal time, as publishers restructure their monetization, tempted by profitable micro-transactions.
A quick refresher: Pre-release, we learned Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2017 version) would lock away popular characters (Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader etc) until the player purchases them with either in-game or real-life currency. During the beta, a player did the math and estimated it could take 40 hours to unlock just one. EA’s Reddit post said they were sticking with the system, calling it ‘rewarding’. The post became the most down-voted Reddit comment of all-time.
The story spread while EA tried to mitigate the fallout with a Reddit AMA. It was tough to even find the answers as most were down-voted to oblivion, but there wasn’t much more than corporately safe non-answers.
The uproar partially worked as EA quickly announced they were cutting the cost of Hero unlocks by 75%
Luke and Vader went from 60,000 credits to 15,000 (57 matches at 260 credits per game)
Leia, Chewbacca, and The Emperor were 40,000, and will now cost 10,000
While 75% is a large reduction, the Heroes are still locked behind walls that cost either time or money, and that’s still a huge problem in my eyes.
EA shocked the industry again when – just hours before release – they temporarily removed the ability to purchase in-game items with cash. The loot crate and unlock system will still remain, but only in-game progression can be used. Their statement mentioned the purchases will return, but could be structured much differently.
While it’s a fantastic sign that the fanbase can influence change, even without MTs, the loot crate system is flawed in many ways. Popular characters are still locked behind huge time-sinks and the competitive balance is completely out of whack when influenced by the powerful Star Cards acquired via crates.
An argument for?
An argument for locked characters could point towards commonly seen progression systems in nearly every game. RPGs often take dozens of hours to unlock the most powerful spells. Why is this different?
For two galaxy-sized reasons.
1) Battlefront 2 makes money because it is a Star Wars game. If they dropped the license and released Battlefield Lite: In Space, it would sell a tiny fraction of the copies and receive much more flak for the barebones gameplay. Because millions will buy the game to play in the Star Wars universe with Star Wars characters, locking them behind a gated system that greatly encourages spending more money is disingenuous.
But Knights of the Old Republic – one of the highest-rated Star Wars games – doesn’t allow you to play as a Jedi for roughly half the game? Isn’t that the same?
Reason 2) Where KOTOR was a finely tuned single-player masterpiece that balanced your character’s progression alongside the story, Battlefront 2 is (mostly) a competitive multiplayer game. The powerful Heroes, and even more powerful Star Card abilities are all locked away. It’s not possible for players exclusively using in-game currency to keep up with those that spend money, and that destroys competitive balance. Imagine playing chess but first-time players only get pawns? As a psychological ploy, every death shows which cards your opponent used to defeat you, encouraging you to give in to the dark side to get revenge and simply compete.
EA isn’t the first to use these methods, but they’re most often seen in free-to-play models. While the psychology of preying on those sensitive to addiction and gambling is still predatory, at least the admission is free. For EA to still charge full price up-front while locking away the most iconic elements of the sales pitch is downright offensive.
This is a depressing topic, but there is a glimmer of hope that players can effect change with a few hundred thousand Reddit votes. The next test will be how EA handles the mess they’ve created. Players that pre-ordered have already been grinding and buying the most powerful loot, ruining the launch-day experience for many. Re-introducing the MTs after the temporary removal lured fans back would be even worse, breaking the trust again. Getting fooled again grows tiresome fast.
EA altered the deal. Let’s pray they don’t alter it further