Or: How I learned that I just couldn’t say “The One About Star Wars” because this isn’t really about Star Wars it’s about corporate entities corrupting what should have been a home run and easy win when it comes to video games and the Star Wars brand.
Whew…that was a long subtitle. Let me preface this entire post by saying that I am a big Star Wars geek. I love Star Wars. Together with my older siblings, we ruined our VHS of “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi” from watching them so many times, and probably destroyed thousands of dollars worth of action figures and playsets, from actually playing with them!
With that out of the way, now we can talk about the real issue: Electronic Arts and microtransactions. Electronic Arts is a publishing company which has been responsible for publishing some incredibly popular games like the “Battlefield,” and “FIFA” series. They are also the company that had been voted “Worst Company in America” two years in a row, beating out some more nefarious companies, such as Bank of America (during the years of the housing crisis), and oil giant BP.
EA’s most recent game “Star Wars: Battlefront II” is from the seasoned developer DICE; which was also responsible for the ‘reboot’ of the “Star Wars: Battlefront” franchise in 2015. While the 2015 release was met with lukewarm reviews, ending with a Metacritic review score of 73 and 75 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, respectively. The main concerns with the game were a lack of a proper campaign or story mode, with all of the action relegated solely on multiplayer game modes, and very little customization. Overall, it seemed to be a fun game, though incredibly shallow with nothing special that set it apart from many other online shooter games, other than a snazzy Star Wars skin.
(Full disclosure: I passed on playing the 2015 Battlefront, mostly due to the lack of having a proper campaign/story attached to it, and all of my multiplayer time was being consumed by Destiny.)
Star Wars: Battlefront II (BFII) promised to solve all of the problems of it’s predecessor and elevate all of the mediocrity, while including an epic campaign that was supposed to span a few decades! Key words: Supposed to…
The build up and hype was strong with this game prior to release. Ads showed epic cinematic events, involving all major characters in the Star Wars universe, Sith and Jedi alike. Everything was shaping up to be, like I said earlier, a home run and easy win for all parties involved, corporate and consumer.
Then comes the early release of the game.
Currently, EA has a subscription service called EA Access, which allows early access to new release games, trials on the latest releases (even if you haven’t digitally purchased the release,) as well as access to over 50 older games in the “vault.” The feature is meant to entice players/subscribers into buying the latest release after having used up their allotted 10 hours of trial play time. With BFII however, this early access proved to have the exact opposite effect.
Those playing with their “early access” play time quickly noticed that the character progression within the multiplayer portion of the game seemed to make microtransactions, purchasing an in-game currency, with more real word money, almost a necessity. Players started posting preliminary calculations of how much money (alot) or time (even more) it would take to unlock the iconic heroes and villains of the Stars Wars universe on Reddit and other online forums. The initial projections estimated that it would take upwards of 40 hours of online play to earn enough credits to unlock Darth Vader. That’s saving every credit after every match and not splurging on any after match crates, to be able to play as one of, if not the most, iconic character in all of the Star Wars Universe. Or, you could just pony up an additional $2100 to buy enough needed crates to unlock everything.
That’s where the uproar began. In response to those fears, EA and DICE tried to explain the reasoning behind the progression system, in what quickly became the most downvoted comment in the 12 years of Reddit history! Both companies seemed to quickly shift into the most rigorous damage control campaign I’ve seen in video game history; EA announcing that they had cut the cost of heroes & villains by 75%, and lead developers of DICE taking part in a poorly received Reddit AMA (ask me anything,) which did little to assuage gamers fears of the seemingly pay-to-win mechanics of the game.
All of the furor even gathered the attention of Disney, who, I assume, didn’t like their family friendly name, and Star Wars brand being associated with allegations of predatory gambling mechanics aimed at children. This led to EA announcing that it had decided (after conversations with Disney CEOs) to disable all in-game purchases, and rely solely on multiplayer progression for unlocking Star Cards and crates.
This has also led to investigations into the practice of in game transactions, and whether they are presented in such a manner as to be predatory for children and a form of promoting child gambling. Hawaii state representative Chris Lee stating, “This game is a Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money. It’s a trap.”
So, now that you know the bulk of the story, here’s my take; The whole thing is both ironic, and could have been completely avoidable.
The ironic part of this public relations debacle is that, if not for EA Access, the majority of players would not have even known about credits, crates, and in-game purchases, until they had already purchased the game. I was poised and ready to go explore the Empire, use the Force, and hopefully disintegrate Jar-Jar Binks (Jar-Jar Binks is not available as a playable/disintegratable character.) WAS. Once I heard about the multiplayer progression being locked behind a gigantic paywall and random crates, it was an immediate pass. I’m sure others had the same reaction, as reported physical copy sales of BFII thus far have been low compared to it’s predecessor. Sure, the outrage would have probably still happened, but they would have already had my money, so it’s still a sale for them.
This could have easily been avoided by removing the progression of classes and characters from the purchased/earned crates, and filled those crates up with costumes and characters! The Star Wars universe is overflowing with obscure characters, colorful outfits, and stories, that DICE and EA could have easily had their cake (a home run and easy win Star Wars shooter that plays like any other) and eaten it too (in game purchases for extended revenue opportunities.) Do you want to turn your Darth Vader playable character (once he has been unlocked as a playable character in game) into a newly christened Anakin/Darth Vader, Darth Revan, Darth Bane, or Darth Malak? Do you want to put a “Return of the Jedi,” “Empire Strikes Back,” or “The Last Jedi” skin onto your Luke Skywalker? That will be $2.99 per character skin. Totally cosmetic, not affecting other’s gameplay, and doesn’t rely spinning the EA Star Wars roulette wheel, gambling your money away for a chance of what is wanted.
Jim Sterling, an outspoken video game ‘not-journalist’ put it best in a recent interview with The Washington Post when he said that “this is an industry run predominantly by alienated rich old guys who know little and care less about video games, so it would not surprise me in the least if they were completely taken by surprise when they faced their very own galactic rebellion.” He continued on to say “Emperor Palpatine always thinks his Death Star is invincible until they blow it up. Electronic Arts and its insidious ilk aren’t much different.”
What do you think, oh reader mine? Did you buy Star Wars: Battlefront II? What are your thoughts on the game and/or micotransaction economy that permeates our recreation? Leave a comment and start a rebellion.
At the time of writing, “Star Wars: Battlefront II” is sitting at a mediocre Metacritic score of 69, based off of 51 professional game reviews. The overall user score is currently a 0.9, based on 6097 community ratings!