Editorial by Dungeonbuster

Star Wars Battlefront II's Loot Box Problem

Star Wars Battlefront II's Loot Box Problem

Battlefront II's release this week is also highlighted by the growing debate over loot boxes – specifically those that players believe to be P2W (pay to win). The arguments supporting this vary from the corporate side of things (additional revenue channel needed to fund expensive development for this and future projects) to those completely opposed to it (introducing unfair advantages in multiplayer between the haves and the have-nots). 

It's no surprise that EA would want more out of their games – 63% of their 'total net bookings' for the past twelve months are now made up of digital sales (which added up to $3.240 billion) according to their recent quarterly. Take-Two, in its own quarterly call, noted 'recurrent consumer spending options' (microtransactions) are going to be a part of their business going forward thanks to the strength of such titles as GTA V's online component. Red Dead Redemption II is certain to have something similar.

There is some meat to the corporate side of the argument. EA has eschewed a season pass approach for Battlefront II in favor of free 'seasons' of DLC content  presumably to be subsidized by these transactions. On the face of it, it's a remarkable turnabout from the 'paid DLC' and season pass widely used in the gaming industry today attempting, in part, to moderate studio churn and keep talented developers working on content.

It's also a talking point on Wall Street where 'virtual goods' as part of the bottom line for a company like EA have become a regular refrain. An analyst for Jeffries LLC, Timothy O'Shea, voiced concern over whether Star Wars' virtual economy will bear as much fruit as a FIFA title noting “...this is not a certainty” . Yet right now, what is certain is that an increasingly vocal portion of the player base has all but staged a revolt against it just days before its official release. 

Historically, loot boxes have been mostly about cosmetics such as those found in Overwatch. EA has also experimented with purchases like these before in games such as Dead Space 3 where you could buy, using real cash, resource kits to help accelerate crafting better weapons if you didn't want to harvest resources. Or with those in Mass Effect's multiplayer (as introduced in ME3 and continued in Andromeda) which can all be earned with in-game credits or sped-up with real-world cash (the exception being the in-game credit only Wii U version). Yet in both of those examples, such purchases always felt secondary to the context of their single-player experience. Battlefield II, despite the welcome addition of a single-player campaign, is mainly going to be a multiplayer experience where the perception of balance and fair play are especially important easily making the merest hint of wrongdoing all that is needed to create a social firestorm.

In the days leading up to its release, Origin/EA Access subscribers were able to play ten hours of the game on a 'trial' basis with a select group of maps and a small part of the SP campaign. While most of those I've seen either via Twitch streams (such as JackFrags and rivaLxfactor) have said that the game is actually good , what seems to be universal is the disdain for the loot crate progression system even after DICE/EA had adjusted things based on feedback from the beta. RivaLxfactor clearly enjoyed his time with the game, and he had also spent $90 on unlocks. But he has also pointed out that he's not a fan of the loot box system and as he played, fielded questions and his own concerns over the advantages he now had for buying his way to get ahead of other players – particularly where starfighters were concerned. JackFrags also posted his own view on the loot crate system on Youtube where he clearly enjoyed the game but also acknowledges that the current system is deeply flawed. Other streamers that I've observed simply opted not to talk at length about the controversy and focus more on playing the game instead.

The issue has also been broken down at places like Reddit Star Wars HQ (a Youtube channel dedicated to Star Wars), to the journalists at Gamespot PC Gamer, and Eurogamer . While it doesn't sound as if it has the scale of time-gated grinding spread over weeks or months (or sometimes years) that your typical F2P MMO does, it certainly sounds as if the game is borrowing lessons from the genre and even from EA's experience with mobile gaming to encourage additional revenue from players. Only now in a full-priced game.

Another issue revolved around the convoluted way heroes were unlocked. “Heroes” are super characters that you can purchase while playing a match using points earned. They have devastating attacks compared to everyone else. The problem is that even if you can score the points to use them in your current battle, you might not be able to play as Darth Vader because you didn't grind up the (then) 60k credits you need to unlock him first in the collections screen (which the Redditor mentioned in the earlier link calculated to be 40 hours based on their efforts...and that's for one hero, not to mention the massive amounts of crafting mats needed for epic Star Cards that can buff their effectiveness). 

Other complaints include the low credit payout at the end of matches, regardless of how well you perform, contributing to the length of time it takes to unlock these heroes and purchase loot crates – crates that are needed to drop Star Cards that aid in leveling up classes along with potentially providing buffs, additional credits, or crafting materials that can be used to upgraded cards (which, by another recent estimate, would take "4,538 hours of gameplay (or $2100) to unlock base-game content"). The Star Card system was pretty confusing for me at first when I played the Beta because despite how long I played as one class, it was bizarre seeing other classes I hardly bothered with race past it in terms of progression. EA claims to have tweaked the system so that rewards are more focused for the class you are playing since then.

This past Sunday, these concerns were further exacerbated when Mat Everett, one of EA's global community managers, messaged “The arm chair developers on this internet.” in a Tweet since deleted . Narwhal Dave, a Youtuber dedicated to covering all things Star Wars Battlefront, was one of those that replied to the said Tweet asking “are our points invalid because we aren't developers?”. Dave is also a 'game changer', one of several individuals hand picked by EA's community managers to provide feedback directly to the developers. These individuals are specifically chosen from a wide variety of backgrounds ranging from fan-site moderators to Youtube personalities, but all share one thing in common – a huge base of knowledge on the games and worlds they are chosen to provide feedback on from a player's perspective. The subreddit dedicated to Star Wars Battlefront has since changed how it describes its participants there as “armchair developers” on the sidebar.

But perhaps one of the biggest, and relatively understated, issues is that this is it for many players as far as Star Wars games are concerned. Visceral's closure and the reboot of its project which had been slated for release in 2018 has made Battlefront II the only major Star Wars title for the next year or so thanks to EA's exclusive license. Only Respawn Entertainment's title is still in the running and that has no set date as of yet beyond 2018. 

It didn't take long for EA/DICE to respond to these concerns directly on Reddit  on Sunday as they are “reading all your feedback and working as fast as we can to adjust the game to your liking.” In another thread, a response by EA  has received over 679k downvotes as of this writing hypering past the last “most downvoted” thread which stood at a measly -24333 and that was after the the person posting that asked for the downvotes. The volunteer mods for that subreddit had also been forced to step in as death threats and general toxicity began to creep in along with the outrage.

On Monday, DICE's John Wasilczyk posted a blog response addressing one of the concerns. The price of heroes would drop by 75% meaning that instead of having to grind up to 60k credits to unlock Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader, both would now only cost 15k. Other heroes, like Emperor Palpatine and Chewbacca would only cost 10k, and so forth. An AMA (ask me anything) with a few of the lead developers is also scheduled at Reddit for Wednesday (today) to address further questions. 

It's a step in the right direction, but only time will tell whether this, as part of what will hopefully be an ongoing process to win back players put off by these issues on the eve of the biggest release for Star Wars by DICE and EA, will be enough.

Star Wars: Battlefront II releases for everyone on November 17th for the Xbox One, PS4, and Windows.

Dungeonbuster quests to discover old games and new, sometimes writing about them when not being devoured by a grue or in space hiding behind an asteroid. You can follow him @Dungeonbuster on Twitter.

Editorial by - 11/15/2017 8:42 AM1350 views


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