There are a lot of ways that EA could deal with its Battlefront 2 program. The company could announce it was redesigning the progression system so that early players didn’t have a huge advantage over those who bought the game later. It could bring its microtransaction ideas back, but use them for cosmetic upgrades that don’t affect gameplay. But being EA, it decided to double down on the worst aspects of game design. And now it’s defending that decision, claiming that it only wanted to respect Star Wars canon. Here’s EA’s CFO, Blake Jorgensen, speaking at the 21st Credit Suisse technology conference:
“The one thing we’re very focused on and they’re extremely focused on is not violating the canon of Star Wars,” Jorgensen said, as reported by GamesIndustry.biz. “It’s an amazing brand that’s been built over many, many years. So if you did a bunch of cosmetic things, you might start to violate the canon. Darth Vader in white probably doesn’t make sense, versus in black. Not to mention you probably don’t want Darth Vader in pink. No offense to pink, but I don’t think that’s right in the canon.”
That’s an absurd argument that doesn’t stand up to the slightest bit of investigation. First, there were subtle differences in Vader’s helmet and armor design across the canon Star Wars films and television shows. Second, there’s at least one alternate canon design that could work for Vader — Anakin Skywalker, after he fell to the Sith, but before Ben Kenobi carved him up like a roast. And why stop there? You could offer a cosmetic option for Vader to fight with the Darksaber — a weapon that we know exists in canon — rather than with his own lightsaber blade. EA’s single-player storyline in Battlefront II might be canon but that doesn’t mean the multiplayer match-ups are.
And even if Vader was off-limits for cosmetic changes, this scarcely applies to most of the game’s other heroes. Luke, Leia, and Han all had various outfits and costumes across the films, and surely outfits could be designated for the other characters as well. Later, Blake implies this delay was entirely LucasArts’ fault, but that doesn’t excuse the completely random, entirely loot crate-dependent advancement system EA designed.
EA Mischaracterizes the Pay-to-Win Mechanics That Wrecked Its Launch
Jorgensen, not content with shoving one foot into his mouth, goes for broke. “We pulled-off on the MTX because Disney told us to the real issue the consumer had was they felt it was a pay-to-win mechanic,” he added. “The reality is: there’s different types of players in games. Some people have more money than time, and some people have more time than money, and you want to always balance those two.”
The reality, Blake, is that gamers loathe being nickeled and dimed for content that’s been made artificially difficult to earn by slashing payout rates while keeping prices high. Furthermore, players really hate being dropped into a battlefield where the people they’re playing against have access to powerful weapons and modifiers (Star Cards can boost your starfighter’s damage, turning radius, and HP, and are considered more lopsided than trooper cards). When new players are getting rolled by more experienced ones game after game, it creates a hostile atmosphere. People don’t like being fed to a meat grinder with little hope of escape in the near-term.
EA is trying to blame everyone but itself for its own problems. It created a game economy that explicitly favors people who spend tons of money to win, only to claim the players are the ones in the wrong. Its game leverages exactly the same mechanisms that casinos use to keep you coming back for one more spin of the wheel or a slot machine win. In reality, gamers don’t like being asked to pony up $ 60 to $ 80 for a AAA game, only to then be asked to spend tens or even hundreds of dollars buying gear to put them on a level playing field. Battlefront II’s randomized loot system and total reliance on loot crates didn’t happen by accident. Nobody hit a wrong key and accidentally created it. It was a deliberate decision by a company more interested in monetizing players than providing a fun game.
Jorgensen also affirmed microtransactions are here to stay:
We’re not giving up on the notion of MTX…We’re learning and listening to the community in terms of how best to roll that out in the future, and there’s more to come as we learn more. But I would say we’re certainly not changing our strategy. We think the strategy of deeply engaging games, keeping the community together, and allowing people to play those games with new content coming via events over time is critical to the future of our business. We feel like we’ve nailed that in the sports games, and we’ll continue to try and find the best model that works in the non-sports games.
Keep on dreaming.