Electronic Arts, America’s most-beloved game publisher, ran face-first into controversy earlier this week when a player looking forward to Battlefront II dared to touch the most fearsome Dark Side power of them all: Math. When EA was initially asked to justify why it would take up to 40 hours of gameplay to unlock major heroes like Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker, EA responded with a meaningless word salad that amounted to “So?” Later, a member of the Community Engagement team at EA dumped fuel on the fire with this now-deleted tweet in response to the controversy:
He claims to have been misunderstood.
EA has since backpedaled, reducing the credit cost of various heroes by 75 percent, but this does surprisingly little to solve the problems facing the game’s economy. Ars Technica has an extensive breakdown on this, but the root of the problem is this: The economic choices EA has made fundamentally cripple Battlefront II by severely penalizing gamers who don’t pony up real cash for loot crates.
Loot crates are *great* for publishers, since they don’t promise any given reward. For players, not so much. Image by Ars Technica.
Like Battlefront, Battlefront II gives you Star Cards, but unlike Battlefront, BF2 ties those unlocks to your Star Card level. Star Cards are critical elements of play; they deliver various in-game bonuses or capabilities that have a significant impact on how effective your hero is.
Loot crates can be purchased with either credits (earned slowly in-game) or crystals (bought with real money). The crates you buy can contain Star Cards, upgrades for Star Cards, crafting parts (used to build your own Star Card upgrades) weapons, emotes, and victory poses. Buying more loot crates means more chances to get a higher tier Star Card or upgrade parts that allow you to improve the ones you have. Ars writes:
The performance divide between “only one low-tier Star Card” and “three souped-up Star Cards” can be substantial. Star Cards let you do things like speed up health recovery, reduce damage taken, increase damage output, and upgrade special abilities… You can either luck into higher tiers via loot box earnings or craft them with those crafting parts, which exist primarily in loot boxes. There is one incredibly fast way to rack up Star Cards, bump their tiers, and get that all-important number-of-slots upgrade for the class you love, and it’s by paying out for loot boxes.
We’ve talked before about how systems like this fundamentally change the games they’re parasitically attached to. While some capabilities can be unlocked via completing in-game challenges, the majority are locked behind loot crates. The old incentive to gain power or unlock abilities by leveling up at least carried an implicit promise that doing so improved your game play. Now the loop is pay-to-win, without any pretense. That might be tolerable, barely, in an F2P game. It’s intolerable in a title that runs $ 60 to $ 80. And it’s a real shame, because Battlefront II looked much stronger than the original, with deeper gameplay and an actual storyline this time around.
Fans have already blasted Battlefront II’s utterly clueless initial reddit response, but controversies like this aren’t going to help sales. I’m certainly not going to recommend BF2 to anyone who likes multiplayer without spending tons of money to “equip” themselves — there are too many other great games you can play where how much money you’ve dumped into EA’s coffers won’t impact how much fun you have in-game. The single-player component might be decent — we don’t know yet — but we wouldn’t touch the multiplayer.