When DICE and EA announced that they were temporarily turning off microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront 2 as a response to the great loot box backlash, fans celebrated, but cautiously. Right there in the initial statement it was made clear that microtransactions would return, in some form, at some point:
“The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game,” said the statement. “We’ll share more details as we work through this.”
Soon after, USgamer posted a quote attributed to EA that they ultimately had to retract, that microtransactions affecting progression were still being considered, but the question remains, how can EA possibly reintroduce microtransactions into Battlefront 2 after everything that’s happened? And what happens if they don’t?
I’m not sure I understand how EA can say in an SEC filing that “this change is not expected to have a material impact on EA’s fiscal year 2018 financial guidance,” when the following is true:
- We don’t have all the early numbers yet, but it’s likely that $60 box/digital sales will be down from BF1 to BF2 after all this, which we are already seeing in a few markets. And Battlefront 2 was not being sold with an expensive season pass like the first game, given that it was switching its microtransaction model to be entirely loot box-based.
- There’s no way to switch back, though. Can you imagine the outcry if DICE said it was going to start charging for upcoming maps and heroes as a replacement microtransaction for loot boxes? That would be catastrophic.
- Similarly, it’s hard to see how progression or power-based loot boxes could come back at all. It’s not like they can just flip the switch back on and have everything cost 75% less as a solution. That would restart the outcry all over again, because it would be all the same issues, just at a fire sale price. I’ve also heard rumors about “boosts” being sold for increased currency gain, but if those are paired with the current loot box system, that’s still going to be problematic.
- Honestly, I’m not even sure if Battlefront 2 can go back to the concept of loot boxes at all after what’s happened here. Even if the pool was changed to being entirely cosmetic items, with news stories about government legislatures looking at Battlefront 2 as a “Star Wars casino aimed at children,” putting any kind of randomized, purchasable loot box back into the game after all this seems like it wouldn’t quell that firestorm. Does it matter if kids are gambling for increased TIE fighter damage or a legendary Luke Skywalker skin? Probably not.
The sweet, sweet irony of all this is that EA has essentially gotten itself stuck back in the stone ages, where you sold a game for $60, and that was it. They can’t charge for DLC they already promised would be free. They can’t reintroduce the same loot boxes. They might not even be able to do cosmetic loot boxes. They’re stuck with trying to get people to pay a flat $60 for the game with no real way to reintroduce “games as service” monetization without sparking a second inferno among fans and making legislators look at them even more closely.
The only thing I could see EA doing to remonetize Battlefront 2 is to go to the intermediate step between DLC and loot boxes, a standard microtransaction store for cosmetics. No loot boxes to avoid stepping in that bear trap again, but if you want to pick up a sweet paint job for your X-Wing, you can buy it for $5, or if you want a Jango Fett skin for Boba, that’s $15, and so on. It wouldn’t be charging for DLC, it wouldn’t be using loot boxes, and it wouldn’t be affecting progression or power level in the game. It also probably wouldn’t make as much money as any of those, but it’s the only middleground I can think of.
And fundamentally, EA doesn’t need to be thinking about ways to remonetize the game before it works on fixing the entire progression system. If it can’t start selling loot boxes again, then a priority needs to be stripping them out of the game’s progression system entirely. If you cannot and will not be able to purchase Star Cards, then the game is going to start skewing heavily in favor of those who grind like crazy, and when newer players pick it up over the holiday, they’re going to get murdered by those with enormous stat advantages. We can’t forget that selling powerful loot boxes was only part of the problem. The other half is these stupidly powerful Star Cards that have no place in a balanced multiplayer game to begin with.
I feel bad for DICE, but it is almost too delicious to see EA get its just desserts here, forced to try and move copies of a $60 title with no extra bells and whistles, and nearly no way to re-introduce an ongoing revenue stream without throwing fuel on a still-burning fire. Get out your popcorn, because the next few weeks sure are going to be interesting.
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