Star Wars Battlefront II, one of the most eagerly awaited games of the moment, is the subject of fierce criticism from players. EA’s commercial policy has altered the title’s gameplay to encourage micro-transactions. Soon the publisher reviewed his copy.

For several years now, publishers of all stripes have been pulling the microtransaction strings in their games sold at full price. First the first cosmetic gadgets appeared, then we got the first loot boxes, the first in-game priced benefits, paid companion applications and so on. 

In Forza Motorsport 5, it was already possible to buy vehicles with your credit card, while Dead Space 3 pushed the envelope to sell handcrafted components. In Assassin’s Creed Unity, a few euros could give you three minutes of invisibility to pass more easily a too delicate mission.

If publishers have gradually integrated micro-transactions into their business model, it is because of a simple observation. ” For years we’ve been making games where we expected time to be a resource that everyone has ,” said Chris Early, Ubisoft’s vice president of digital distribution in 2014.

Some players have more disposable income than free time, so you had to take advantage of it. Especially since commercially it works very well. EA, earning $650 million a year through card packages on FIFA Ultimate Team. For its part, Ubisoft has confirmed in its latest results that this can be very lucrative.

But by pulling on the rope…

Our dossier on the practice of loot boxes in video games:

  • Big-budget games are moving into the era of the surprise package
  • Star Wars Battlefront II: Like Anakin facing Obi-Wan, EA gets ripped to pieces by its community
  • In Belgium and France, the regulation of the loot boxes in question
  • Loot boxes: Arjel plans to crack down on gambling cases
  • Loot boxes: Arjel responds to UFC Que Choisir

Star Wars Battlefront II: the last straw

Yesterday, Electronic Arts learned the hard way that you shouldn’t push your luck too far (Mauritius), that players’ wallets (or their patience) can’t be stretched to infinity, and above all that the famous “silent majority” on which publishers rely so much could also rebel.

It all started three days ago, when EA announced that they wanted to change the formula by which the currency of Star Wars Battlefront IIis distributed to players. Rather than assigning an amount based on skill level during a game, as in the beta, the editor decided that the loot would depend only on the time spent in play.

So whether you have a Kill to Death Ratio of 10 or 0.05, the reward will remain the same. A player this weekend began a calculation to determine how long it takes to unlock a 4,000-credit loot box and a character like Darth Vader sold for 60,000 credits.

Thus, at an average of 11 minutes per game for 275 credits won, he determined that nearly three hours of play are required to purchase a loot box, and over 40 hours to unlock Vader. Of course, it is possible to bypass this stage of farming for a few dollars to buy “crystals”.

Star Wars Battlefront II
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The game site showed the old prizes for unlocking heroes. Here, 10,000 credits for Luke Skywalker…

This required level of commitment may seem reasonable on a free-to-play game. But in the eyes of gamers, it’s much less eligible on a game that sells for full price: 59.99 euros on Origin, EA’s online store. 79.99 euros for the Deluxe Edition which includes upgrade packs, maps, “epic” stars and exclusive skins.

The icing on the cake is that the credit costs posted by the publisher during the game’s open beta were significantly lower, suggesting that EA may have deliberately lowered them during the testing phase in order to gain pre-orders. At this point, the grumbling among the players begins to grow. 

A communication completely beside the plate

The affair could have ended there, but that was without counting on a message published yesterday on Reddit by a player very upset by the new policy of the publisher:

Seriously? I paid 80 bucks and I can’t play with Vader?[highlighted on the game box, editor’s note] It’s a joke. I’m going to contact EA customer service to get my money back… I can’t even play with that Darth fucking Vader?! It’s disgusting. This age of micro-transactions has gone WAY too far. You can always count on EA to push the boundaries. »

The Electronic Arts community team quickly tried to address the player’s concerns, but fell completely short. Judge for yourselves: 

Our intention is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment by unlocking different heroes. To set the cost, we selected starting values based on data from the open beta and made various adjustments to the rewards provided at different stages.

Among other things, we monitor players’ daily credit wins, and will make constant adjustments to ensure that players face challenges that are spellbinding, rewarding and obviously achievable while playing.»

To a player who spent $80 on the latest Star Wars game, hoping to play as one of the most charismatic heroes in the series, EA says he’ll feel a lot prouder to be Darth Vader after spending more than 40 hours in the game.

Furthermore, the publisher confirms here that this level of commitment required is not the result of a mistake or of a trainee passing through, but rather a clear will on his or her part.

The community gets excited

Not surprisingly, the community’s reaction to this response was very strong. At the time of this writing, the community team’s response to Reddit has received more than 666,000 negative votes. To understand the extent of this reaction, the previous record was 24,000 negative votes, held by a troll who wanted to accumulate as many as possible.

The comments in response to the EA representatives also provide an indication of the extent of the problem. ” I think the main problem here is that you’re selling a game at 70 pounds with half the content locked behind a pay wall. I know you’re going to say but you can win it by playing, however, two days of play [effective] for a hero that can be bought in 2 minutes, it counts as a pay wall,” one player noted.

Others claim that the publisher’s intention ” is to frustrate players into buying characters with cash“, warning that this practice ” predatory ” becomes psychic. ” I had a sense of pride and accomplishment when I cancelled my pre-order,” ironizes another.

Another widely shared feeling is that not everyone has the time to spend 40 hours of gameplay to unlock a single hero. A point that is precisely in line with the opinion of the Ubisoft manager mentioned earlier, thanks to which EA was probably hoping to round out the revenues from its blockbuster.

I can play 3 or 4 hours a week […] and you’re telling me that my rewarding progression is saving every credit I earn for 3 or 4 months to play Darth Vader?[…] I don’t need you to give me a sense of pride and accomplishment. I shouldn’t even need this to play a central character in my favourite franchise” asserts another disgruntled player.

And that’s only a tiny fraction of the reactions published on Reddit, and it doesn’t take into account all the reactions that may have been posted on social networks. In the end, several hundred thousand players wanted to make their voices heard against this process, a grouping of a rare magnitude. 

While most of the reactions were courteous, others crossed the yellow line by coming to insult and threaten developers on social networks. One of them, before going private on his Twitter account, explained that he had accumulated in a few hours 1600 messages of insults and 7 death threats. ” I count them for legal reasons ,” he said.

An express solution…

In a blog post, Electronic Arts announces that it has reduced prices for all the game’s heroes by 75%, reports Kotaku. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader are now available for 15,000 credits, compared to 10,000 for Chewbacca, Leia Organa or Emperor Palpatine. Iden Versio, the hero of the single-player mode, sees his cost increase to 5,000 credits.

But that’s not the only change the publisher has made. The loot box offered at the end of the single-player mode has also been reduced by 75%, adding only 5,000 credits to the player’s account, down from 20,000 previously. Rewards won in multiplayer games remain unchanged. ” It’s a big change, which we were able to make quickly ” comments the editor.

Origin in downgraded mode to make repayment more complex ?

Another point that EA is not communicating about is the tampering with the refund process on Origin, reported by some users on Twitter or Reddit.

Usually, the customer has seven days after the date of purchase, seven days after the game launch date (in the case of a pre-order) or 24 hours after the first launch of the title to request an unconditional refund of his product. The option is no longer available once one of these terms is reached.

If a game is still eligible for a refund, simply log on to this page, and make a request, which is then processed automatically, just like on Steam. Problem: As of yesterday, this automatic procedure would no longer be offered to buyers of Star Wars Battlefront II

To obtain their refund, they must contact a customer service chat room, which is imagined to be overloaded with requests due to the minimum wait of one hour before they can discuss with a representative of the publisher.

Some people see this as an attempt to discourage players from seeking redress, but it is actually considered “normal” behaviour. But that doesn’t mean EA won’t have to change it in the face of a horde of unhappy gamers.

A lesson for other editors

It is still too early to judge the effect of this case on the sales of Star Wars Battlefront II.For good reason, the title is currently only available to EA Access subscribers and those who have pre-ordered it. It is therefore difficult to estimate the impact of cancellations and claims, which appear to be numerous. 

However, the rest of the industry can already draw some interesting conclusions from this case. First and most importantly, no matter what the sales figures say, players don’t want any compelling micro-transactions in their AAA games, let alone game mechanics that make them want to put their hands back in their pockets. 

The beta versions have also been singled out, which for many publishers have become an argument for accumulating pre-orders, showing the games in a sometimes too favourable light. It is now clear that presenting a fast progression curve during a beta before switching to a much slower commercial version is not acceptable, especially when this change is made to favour microtransactions.

It is also in the field of communication and practices that we will have to learn from this case. Responding quickly is one thing, doing it in ” I’m fine, everything is fine” mode is another. And that can make the situation worse rather than better. Especially when this is followed by detestable practices such as limiting refunds.

Activision, Blizzard, Konami, Square Enix, Ubisoft and all the others have been warned. 

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