Battlefront II Loot Crates Declared Gambling, Investigated in Hawaii

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EA continues to take a hammering on all fronts over Battlefront II, and the game isn’t going to be helped by declarations from Belgium and Hawaii. Belgium, after announcing it would investigate whether Battlefront II’s use of loot crates constituted gambling, has decided that they will.

“The mixing of money and addiction is gambling,” a spokesperson for the commission told Belgian news site VTM (translation via Eurogamer). “It will require time, because we need to go to Europe with this. We will absolutely try to forbid it.”

To date, most nations have reached opposite conclusions, on the idea that gambling is only gambling if the player is receiving something of intrinsic value. The rise of loot crates and earlier Steam controversies regarding the sale of various skins seems to blow holes in that theory. Players may be spending real money in the hopes of acquiring virtual loot, but they’re still spending money in the hopes of “winning” a lottery.

Meanwhile, two Hawaiian state legislators are looking into similar bans or legal requirements that would prevent EA or other game publishers from deploying similar models in the future.

“We are here today to ensure future protection to kids, youth and everyone when it comes to the spread of predatory practices in online ingredients and the significant financial consequences it can have on families and has been having on families of this nation,” said Hawaiian state representative Chris Lee during a press conference. “This game is a Star Wars themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money. It’s a trap.”

The question of whether loot crates should be considered gambling has a number of facets. First, loot crates, by design, rely on what’s known as a variable ratio reward system. In a variable ratio reward system, players don’t know if they’ll received desired items after they purchase one, five, or 50 loot crates. All they know is that if they buy enough loot crates, they’ll eventually receive the items or enhancements they’re looking for. Research has repeatedly shown that variable ratio reward systems induce high, persistent rates of response more reliably than any other method. It’s also the method used by slot machines, lotteries, and roulette — all of which we recognize as gambling.

Second, all loot in Battlefront II is controlled by loot crates, and all loot crate contents are completely random. EA’s decision to temporarily cancel its pay-to-win system just hours before it launched gave it no time to design an alternative. Even with the P2W system disabled, there’s still no way to earn Star Cards save by grinding credits, and the Star Cards inside loot crates have an enormous impact on how well you’ll survive against other players. It’s also very time-consuming to grind credits, which is why some players have already taken to hacking the system to earn minimum credits per match via a bunch of rubber bands.

To be clear, EA’s current, microtransaction-free version of the game can’t qualify as gambling, since you literally can’t buy chances to open loot crates. But so long as the company maintains that its microtransaction suspension is temporary, it’s fair to evaluate how the system was designed to work and how it’ll work in the future if reactivated.

Battlefront 2

EA made multiple mistakes with Battlefield II. It designed a loot system that was almost entirely based on pay-to-win mechanics, then divorced pay-to-win from any core gameplay competency. Polygon has details on how this plays out:

[W]hen you start the game, only one of those card slots is open. In order to unlock the additional two slots you have to increase the level of your Star Cards. Not the level of your main account, mind you, but the level of the random cards you get from the game’s loot crates…You’ve got two options for leveling your Star Cards: either buy more loot crates or craft higher level cards. But you can’t craft higher level cards until you reach level 10 on your main profile!

Polygon goes on to discuss how, despite ranking highly on the leaderboards game after game, Battlefront II requires you to serve as cannon fodder against vastly better geared opponents before you can craft Star Cards that give you a fighting chance against them.

The current state of the Battlefront II economy illustrates how deeply broken the game’s progression system was from the start. There’s always a skill gap between new players and old hands in any title, but the various Battlefield games regularly offered ways to compensate for being a newbie. Not great at playing infantry? Hop into a ground vehicle and provide ground support. Not great at scoring kills? Play an engineer and use your rocket launcher and repair tools to knock out enemy aircraft and tanks while fixing your own. All indications suggest these roles aren’t as balanced in Battlefront II, possibly because EA spent more time dreaming up ways to screw its players and less time grappling with how to offer an interesting and fun gaming experience.

We don’t know how well Battlefront II is selling, but reports from the UK suggest its physical media sales were down 60 percent compared with Star Wars Battlefront. The new one is certainly not a game we’d recommend. While the single-player campaign has been well-received (if short), there’s no way to know how the economy will change in the future. Until EA announces concrete plans, we’d stick to games known to be more respectful of your time and money — which is basically all of them.

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