Tag Archives: Crates

EA May Get Sued Over FIFA Loot Crates in Belgium

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It has been almost a year since the insulting, expensive microtransactions in Star Wars: Battlefront 2 started a backlash against loot crates in games. Electronic Arts was behind the Star Wars loot crates, so it may not come as a surprise that it has been hesitant to remove loot crates from games in Belgium, which decided earlier this year that the randomized loot crate mechanics in games from EA and other publishers constituted illegal gambling. Now, that decision may be headed for court.

The Belgian gaming commission was quick to decry the loot crate mechanisms highlighted by the Battlefront 2 controversy. In April of this year, the country decided that loot boxes that return random rewards in exchange for money count as gambling, and are therefore illegal in Belgium. The Netherlands followed shortly thereafter. Game publishers like Blizzard and 2K pulled the offending microtransactions from their games in the country, but EA seems determined to test the ban.

The firestorm of criticism over loot crates in Battlefront 2 led EA to remove them from the game, but the publisher’s FIFA titles still use loot crates. The loot crates are live everywhere, even in Belgium and the Netherlands. In Belgium, the gaming commission has reportedly referred the EA matter to the country’s public prosecutor’s office, which is investigating if EA has broken the law by leaving loot boxes in FIFA.

EA’s FIFA games sell players card packs, and those packs contain players of various skill levels. EA recently decided to disclose the odds of getting the best cards in these packs, and it uses this as part of its argument for keeping loot box mechanics. EA CFO Andrew Wilson also asserted earlier this year that loot boxes aren’t gambling because it doesn’t offer players any way to sell or cash out their cards for real money. It sure does feel like gambling, though, with some players spending thousands of dollars in pursuit of the ultimate team.

A legal case in Belgium may be exactly what EA wants. If the public prosecutor decides to bring a case, EA will have the chance to go before a judge and argue that loot boxes are not gambling. A favorable ruling could help EA justify the use of microtransactions in future games.

While Belgium is leading the way in fighting loot crates, some other countries have gone in the opposite direction. The US and New Zealand decided loot crates don’t count as gambling, but some US states have started investigations. No legislation has come of it, though.

Now read: Disney May Have Pushed EA to Pull Battlefront II Pay-to-Win Loot System Last WeekMost Gamers Hate Buying Loot Boxes, So Why Are Games Using Them?, and EA Remains Committed to Microtransactions, and That’s Partially Our Fault

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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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EA Frantically Defends Loot Crates in Battlefront II as Gamers Strike Back

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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:

Armchair-Developers

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.

Battlefront-Pic

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.

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