As late as yesterday afternoon, EA appeared firmly committed to its decision to release Star Wars Battlefront II with a pay-to-win system that had been slammed from every quarter. An explosion of gamer fury last Sunday over the idea of spending 40 hours to unlock a new hero had pushed it to reduce hero costs when purchased with in-game credits, but the development team had also cut how many credits you earned from the single-player campaign. Meanwhile, the AMA DICE did this week may have lacked the desk-shattering face-plant of EA’s initial responses, but it didn’t leave users very satisfied about the upcoming state of the game. But sometimes companies surprise you — and EA definitely surprised us.
EA’s statement, from Oskar Gabrielson, General Manager of DICE, acknowledges a great deal of fan concern about the topic of pay-to-win. He then apologizes for the way the loot battle has overshadowed the launch of the game and apologizes for EA and DICE not getting the balance right. Gabrielson goes on to say:
We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases. We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning. This means that the option to purchase crystals in the game is now offline, and all progression will be earned through gameplay. The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game. We’ll share more details as we work through this.
This back-flip, hours before the game launched, was clearly a Hail Mary pass aimed at assuaging readers and dealing with the poor reviews the game has been racking up. The loot system has been a major topic of discussion and in virtually every case, reviewers have hated it. TrustedReviews wrote: “Star Wars Battlefront 2 is a great game spoiled by a terrible business model.” Heather Alexandra at Kotaku described it as: “Star Wars: Battlefront II frustrates me in ways I never knew I could be frustrated. It is both a lovingly crafted companion to the films and a tangled mess of corporate meddling. There is a strong heart at the center but finding it means peeling back layers of unnecessary and infuriating nonsense.” (I’ll give you a hint where all the “unnecessary and infuriating nonsense” are located).
The fact that EA has reversed itself in the 11th hour is heartening, but gamers weren’t crazy to smell a rat here and no development studio could’ve possibly failed to see this coming. In Battleground II, you don’t earn loot for the class you’re playing, you get random loot drops from inside loot crates. That’s a terrible loot system no matter what, since it means you could be getting equipment and gear improvements for classes you literally don’t play. And while I have no idea how Battlefront II ended up with the loot system it has, or how much EA dictated versus what DICE wanted, there are massive problems with the way Battlefront II distributes loot that should’ve been instantly obvious to any game developer or publisher.
EA has limited the number of credits you can earn in Arcade Mode. It cut credit earnings in the single-player mode. It designed a loot system that it knew would require players to work for tens of hours to unlock a single hero and justified this by claiming it would give players a sense of accomplishment.
I’m glad the company has seen fit to delay implementing one of the worst pay-to-win systems proposed for AAA game, but this was a blatant, shameless cash-grab from day one. It’s decisions like this that make people hate EA. And until EA announced a loot system overhaul that doesn’t ask people to spend thousands of hours grinding to unlock much of the game’s content, the company doesn’t deserve a pass. Just because you didn’t implement the worst system ever doesn’t mean the current one is good. And EA absolutely knew all this before the game was hours from launch.
If EA wants to fix Battlefront II, it can start by dramatically increasing how quickly you earn credits, offering the option to earn loot relevant to the character class or game type you’re actually playing, and either nuking pay-to-win from orbit or making main loot unlocks fast enough to make the point mostly moot.