Holy shit!! What a week in the escalating Microtransactions War!
The much anticipated Star Wars Battlefront 2 has finally been released and it has been welcomed with open arms by passionate fans… except those weren’t exactly loving arms.
While Battlefront 2 seems to have overcome the main down points of the previous game, adding a single-player story and much more multiplayer content, DICE made the brilliant decision to put most of that content behind a ridiculous progression system. A system that can, of course, be skipped with microtransactions. This set off a course of events this past week that felt like an actual Star Wars movie. The evil Empire makes you pay to play as your favorite heroes and the avid gamer Rebellion takes up arms against it.
No, this fight wasn’t physical, but there sure were battles fought, and just like the movies, it looks like the Rebellion may have won… for now.
But let’s go back to the beginning. The fears of Battlefront 2 being pay-to-win first came up during the beta in October, and those fears were realized when players who have EA/Origin Access started playing the full version early. Some of these players immediately went to calculating how much time it would take to unlock the game’s 2 most expensive characters, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. The rough estimates were that it would take around 40 hours of multiplayer gameplay to unlock just one character. That’s 80 hours before adding the time for the other, lower-tiered heroes.
EA’s Community Team responded on Reddit stating, “The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.” Bullshit was called on this in epic proportions with the reply becoming the most downvoted Reddit post of all time.
So, in response to that, DICE decided to cut the credit cost of all the heroes by 75%. The excuse for the original cost of the heroes was that they used data gathered in the beta. I didn’t get a chance to play the beta, but I doubt anyone who gave feedback asked for that shit. They made it sound like a mistake, but being able to reduce the cost by that much isn’t an act of incompetence or misunderstanding data, it’s pure greed.
While, 75% is a major cut, is it enough? According to Soeren Kamper, from Star Wars Gaming, no, not really. His calculations for unlocking everything in the game puts the time needed just over 4,500 hours. That’s at least 75 fucking days. And what if you’re okay with paying for microtransactions to get it all? That’ll cost you $2,100. What in the midichlorian fuck?! Oh, and this doesn’t take into account the amount of time necessary to fully upgrade the cards that give you special abilities in game, which are also tied to the loot crates you’re spending credits on.
But, the battle didn’t stop there. In the post, DICE announced they would be holding a Reddit AMA to have a… “discussion” with fans. Three of the developers were on hand to answer questions. You can head here, where the "BattlefrontModTeam" created a handy list of all the questions answered by the developers. I’m not going to go through them all but, there were some noteworthy responses.
When talking about the best way for gamers to convince developers to stop with loot boxes, Dennis Brannvall, Battlefront 2’s associate design director, he says, “When we can change things, we will. When we can’t, we can’t, and as much as possible we’ll explain why.” I find that to be a really polite way of saying, “We want your money, deal with it.”
Paul Keslin, a producer on the game, answered a question about the offline Arcade mode that rewards credits but is capped to only give 500 a day. He said, “As we want to let players earn Credits offline via a more relaxed game mode, we needed to also find a way to make sure it wouldn't be exploited in a way that would impact Multiplayer.” But, is it really an exploitation if you just don’t want to pay for progress, but also don’t feel like playing against human players? It’s completely acceptable to want to play against A.I. to help you practice.
Brannvall closed the AMA with an apologetic message saying that the development team “were incredibly saddened by the negative response from you, the community on Reddit about the game. In-fact, we hated it, we truly did, because we want to make a game that you love.” He also stated that they will “fix this.” The message sounds sincere, but it is really hard to believe that these developers were so naive to think that this crazy system was okay and would not get any backlash.
Of course, the AMA did little to calm this PR storm. With seemingly nothing left to do, EA and Dice decided to actually listen to the gamers and did something crazy, they removed the microtransactions completely. This happened late Thursday, hours before the game was released at midnight.
So, is this finally a victory against the big bad video game companies? Yes... but only for now.
In the announcement, EA says that the microtransactions will come back after they “spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning” the system. I wouldn’t be surprised if that return comes when the fire has died down in a few months and with little changes.
The optimist in me hopes that that won’t happen. I personally haven’t bought Battlefront 2 and don’t really plan to until I see how the game is changed and updated in the next few months. This whole week does also give me hope that these publishers and developers who put these aggressive microtransaction systems in games will begin to see that their customers are only going to take this for so long. Just like how the Rebellion didn’t take shit from the Empire for very long.
UPDATE: After writing this good ol’ Greg notified me of a new article saying that Disney may have pressured EA into pulling those microtransactions. According to The Wall Street Journal, Disney’s executives got word of the massive outcry against Battlefront 2. Disney’s CEO, Robert Iger, was supposedly “alarmed,” by the response. So, it would seem we have The Mouse to thank for this decisive victory in this ongoing war.