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Star Wars Battlefront II was supposed to make up for the flaws of the first game, which EA admitted was rushed out to be in time for the release of The Force Awakens. Whilst Battlefront II looks and sounds great, consumers were understandably angry to find that not only was it riddled with bugs, but the £47 game also contained the kind of premium currency and in-game purchases that you’d expect to find in a free mobile app.
The ‘crystals’ currency can be earned through play and spending money isn’t compulsory. However, allowing players to buy new heroes, equipment and perks is clearly pay-to-win. There is an obvious incentive for EA to make the progression system slow and “grindy”, detracting from the overall experience to encourage players to pay up. They seemingly did just this- one player calculating that unlocking all content would take over 4500 hours or $2100.
Of course, it was known that micro-transactions were in the game since it was announced at E3 in June: however, it wasn’t clear at this point how egregious they would be. In the game’s Beta-test prior to release, players made constant complaints over their inclusion, arguing that they ruined the balance of the game. EA made noises in affirmation, but apparently did very little to solve the problem.
The particular form of Battlefront’s in-game purchases also attracted criticism. Rather than allowing players to buy the upgrades they want, content had to be purchased in randomized “loot-boxes”. Recent games such as Middle Earth: Shadow of War were criticized for their inclusion of loot-boxes and, at the beginning of the month, Capcom took advantage of the controversy, declaring that Monster Hunter World would not shoe-horn them in. Loot-boxes are a prickly subject and EA in particular, having something of a stigma themselves, should have known to tread more carefully.
Loot-boxes have been claimed to be exploitative, taking advantage of addiction, and many have likened them to gambling. Whilst EA have countered that, unlike in gambling, loot-boxes guarantee a reward, the comparison has drawn the unwelcome attention of regulating bodies. Government officials in Belgium, Australia and the US are now investigating loot boxes in the wider industry, and Hawaiian officials described the game as a “Star-Wars themed casino”, warning that “it’s a trap!”
Amongst immense backlash, and allegedly at the command of Disney itself (who with Part VIII on the way were no doubt loath to have any controversy connected to Star Wars), EA have removed all in-game purchases. However, they announced that this was a temporary move, and that they will be returning at a later date.
Some are championing this as a victory for the consumer, hoping for an end to game publishers’ constant nickel-and-diming, whilst others are concerned that this might be paving the way for further, less beneficial government interference. Wherever you come down on that particular issue, this is arguably the first time anti-consumer practices within the games industry has received mainstream attention, and is a sign that the times are a-changing.