Temporary EAnity

EA has temporarily removed the loot boxes from Star Wars: Battlefront 2, right before the official launch of the game:

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.

I am honestly quite surprised. The negative press surrounding GTA Online’s Shark Cards or Shadows of War’s single-player loot boxes affected zero change, but here we have EA, of all people, turning off the cash spigot right before the water main gets connected. Then again, EA did get mentioned in half a dozen news article for having the most-downvoted comment in Reddit history (-676,000 at the time of this writing). Not exactly the narrative you want to be having right before the game’s release.

It’s tempting to pat ourselves on the back, at least those of us who actually care about game design and our fellow human beings. But the victory feels… well, like EA says, “temporary.” They did the right thing… under withering criticism. It’s like a politician apologizing for a decades-old scandal – an apology is more than we can expect these days, but it would have been nice if they had apologized before it was news. Or, you know, never did the action in the first place.

Alas, here we are.

It will be interesting indeed to see under what conditions the microtransactions return in SWBF2, and what possible new permutations they might take in other EA games. Will Battlefield Whatever’s design be impacted by this learning experience? Is this a learning experience at all, or simply an unfortunately-timed (for EA stockholders) zeitgeist?

We already know that the suits from TakeTwo don’t give a shit:

It appears that the GTA Online/MyCareer model is going to be the standard for big Take-Two Games going forward. People have expected a GTA Online type environment for Red Dead Redemption 2, which launches next year, though Rockstar has not announced what its online features will be.

“One of the things we’ve learned is if we create a robust opportunity, and a robust world, in which people can play delightfully in a bigger and bigger way, that they will keep coming back,” Zelnick told investors. “They will engage. And there is an opportunity to monetize that engagement.”

And that sort of underscores the vice gamers are put in to begin with. SynCaine pointed out that anyone buying SWBF2 is complicit with its monetization scheme, even if they don’t spend cash on loot boxes. That is technically accurate. But by that same token so is anyone who bought GTA V, given the Shark Card shenanigans. Do we really need to commit to never touching Red Dead Redemption 2 or the inevitable GTA VI?

I dunno. On the one hand, I am obviously an idealist when it comes to the purity of elegant game design. When the pieces fit together, when the various game systems synergize so perfectly… it’s orgasmic. Microtransactions have literally no place in any such gaming schema, any more than the concession stand does for the symphony performance. The symphony or game might rely on outside money in order to exist originally (artists have to eat), but once created, the art does (and should) exist independently.

Also, Consumer Surplus. It’s a thing.

On the other hand, we live in an absurd universe in which any sort of meaning or value is surprising. Thus, EA’s capitulation here, however temporary, is something to be celebrated. I certainly don’t think any of us expected it, especially given the likelihood that whales would have justified the PR hit by buying thousands of dollars of loot boxes on Day 1. And even if EA hadn’t backed down, if it’s possible for you to enjoy playing the game, what particular sense does it make to deny oneself? They’re microtransactions, not blood diamonds. Go have fun – nothing matters anyway.

All things considered though, I do think I’m giving SWBF2 a pass for now. Who is buying a game at full MSRP a literal week before Black Friday? Wait a month or two, save some cash, play your thirty other Steam games, and see how it all plays out. At least, that’s my plan. You do you.

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Posted on November 17, 2017, in Commentary, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I never understood the objection to shark cards. First, GTA:V was a complete AAA single player game (vs a FPS that is 90% about online PvP like SW:BF2) that, after release, had an online mode added. Anyone who bought GTA:V at release or prior to GTA:O didn’t do so knowing they are future-funding like people know for SW. If Red Dead 2 launches with an online mode, and the offline is 10% of the game, that will be far closer to the SW:BF2 situation than GTA:V was.

    Second, even in GTA:O, shark cards are just a pay-2-skip mechanic, aren’t they? I’ve only dabbled very briefly in GTA:O, but it seemed to basically be GTA:V with friends, so if you or a friend spent real money to buy items in GTA:O, you are just skipping and making your missions/gameplay easier than you would if you waited and earned that money/item playing the game, aren’t you? Unless I missed a huge chunk of what GTA:O actually is (do people PvP seriously in it?), what is the harm to others in that?

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    • Shark cards could only buy you weapons you have unlocked (from gameplay only) but there are plenty of op vehicles (fighter jets, armored cars with mounted weapons, attack helis, etc.) that you could buy that might be considered p2w. The grind to get these vehicles in game is pretty steep too, casuals need not apply.

      The majority of GTA:O is pvp. Missions and heists were the only pve and they havent added any of either since year 1 or 2. Most of the content they add (biker gang, import/export, smuggling) has to be done in public instances so rival groups can try to stop you. Then there are tons of deathmatch and racing types of game modes that they have added as well. Me and my friends played quite a bit on our own private clan instance and it was kind of shocking how little content was available to the pve type of players.

      Do you guys think Disney had something to do with EA’s actions?

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  2. I think Disney and the Belgian investigation are most likely behind this. For the lootbox/gambling issue to hit CNN, Forbes..etc, it says there is ample critical mass surrounding the issue at this point that an audience outside of the “vocal minority” of outspoken gamers/bloggers are now part of the audience weighing in on, and influencing this issue. A growing consensus, if you will pardon the term.. :)

    Whether the lootbox issue is considered gambling, or not, the fact that this game is rated and targeted at Teens speaks volumes about EA’s intentions, and I’m more than happy with this latest momentum against them.

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