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For EA To Get The Message About Microtransactions, Battlefront 2 Needs To Fail

by Jelani James

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By now there’s no doubt you’ve heard about the chaos surrounding Star Wars Battlefront 2. Loot boxes, death threats and other topics concerning the game have dominated the news cycle for the past two days.

And with the ongoing fallout over microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront 2, one thing has become increasingly clear to me: we’re at the crossroads of how loot boxes will be handled in the future and it seems the only way EA (and the rest of the industry) will get the message is if Battlefront 2 fails.

To be clear, I don’t have a particular grudge against EA. Though my gaming inclinations leans heavily towards the niche, like many out there, EA has been involved in some of my favorite IPs, such as Battlefield, Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Just like with those games, a plethora of talented and dedicated employees devoted countless hours towards Battlefront 2 and the overwhelming majority of them certainly had nothing to do with loot boxes or how they were implemented.

Similarly, I’m not calling for a boycott of the title. The game has seen at least one significant improvement and it wouldn’t be too surprising if more come in the next few days or weeks. As such, players should be able to sit down and come to their own conclusions about the title knowing that improvements could potentially be on the way.

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However, even knowing that Battlefront 2 has the potential to get better, it still needs to fail.

There are two primary ways microtransactions are handled in video games:

a) Annoying, yet avoidable due to them generally not having any serious impact on gameplay. For example, in Blizzard’s Overwatch, players can attain loot boxes just by playing the game that include costumes, sprays and emotes. This is generally benign in nature, but seasonal items can quickly become a source of exasperation for collectors.

b) Linked to gameplay in a way that “encourages” players to pay with money. An example of this would be Warner Bros.’ Middle-earth: Shadow of War where the ideal way to obtain the hidden ending was to pay your way to it due to the excessive amounts of time needed to obtain it through normal means.

You could make the argument that both instances are bad and you won’t really get an argument out of me, however what has happened with Battlefront 2 is an extreme example of the latter. Battlefront 2 is designed from the ground up to have loot boxes inextricably linked to progression and though you don’t have to buy any loot boxes, you still have to deal with them because they are the only way to progress, improve and remain competitive.

Of course, a major facet of this model is to “encourage” players to pay even if they don’t necessarily have to and in this instance the player is given incentive to pay due to the amount of time needed to progress otherwise. According to a calculation, players would need to spend on average 4,528 hours in order to unlock and max out every Star Card in Battlefront 2. It’s hard to imagine that even those who like the game would spend that much time on it, so being able to pay as an alternative would be attractive. Unfortunately, paying, as it turns out, isn’t that attractive since players would still need to spend $2,100 to achieve the same end.

In other words: progression is monetized.

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What’s troubling here is that all this came after the reduction. Imagine what the dialogue would be like right now if EA released the game in its original state.

Now, that would be a disaster.

That said, don’t believe that EA wasn’t at least courting the idea. Microtransactions in gaming has become a common point of conversation in the latter half of 2017 and there’s no way that EA wasn’t aware of it — especially since people had already voiced concerns about its place in Battlefront 2 beforehand. Yet, despite this ongoing discussion EA went ahead and implemented loot boxes in just about the poorest way possible.

And it’s with that in mind that I say Battlefront 2 needs to fail so that EA and the industry at large will get the message.

At it’s core, Battlefront 2 is solid. It’s a Star Wars game with great gameplay, high production values and all of our favorite Star Wars characters. But when loot boxes are so closely tied into everything, it takes away from what the game could have been. However, if this game either becomes a huge sales hit despite these protests or people still buy these loot boxes in droves, then that is essentially telling EA that it continue doing the same. What’s more this would have larger ramifications for other members of the industry who will see this as a successful tactic by EA and will seek to emulate it.

This can’t happen.

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We often talk about how too much greed can lead to ones undoing and this is a prime chance to see it happen. While there is no doubt that EA will at least make some money off of loot boxes, it needs to be able to look at its competitors who are making several times more money off of loot boxes implemented in a less intrusive way. If nothing else, EA has shown that it is aware of trends in the market and is willing adjust to adjust as required. It can do better, it just needs a reason to.

Conversely, downvotes and harassment — whether it actually happened —  aren’t the answer. That just gives room for some to steer the conversation in a different direction.

Calling for the failure of any game leaves me in an awkward position. Like I said before, there are many people who worked countless hours on what would otherwise be a remarkable game. In an industry where your livelihood is linked to the success of the games you work on, someone calling for their project to fail comes off as cruel. On the other hand, if Battlefront 2 uses this model and sees success then you can be sure we’ll see more games like this in the future.

So as much as I don’t like saying it, I’ll say it again: all Battlefront 2 has to do is fail.

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