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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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Unfiltered

While I missed it Live, I managed to watch that Warlords Q&A over the weekend. You can watch it yourself on Youtube, and I recommend doing so. It was simultaneously the most raw, unfiltered interview I’ve ever seen, and the most baffling and ultimately a little demoralizing.

Before I get into the details though, here’s how I did on the BINGO front:

So close...

So close…

If you can’t bring yourself to watch the full hour of video, MMO-Champion has an extremely abbreviated synopsis and Wowhead has an interpretative transcript. What neither of them really gets across is the otherwise unbelievable number of times that Ion Hazzikostas comes right out and says “We screwed up” on a large number of topics. Like, I started getting a little embarrassed watching it, even though I felt Blizzard needed called on all of them.

Let’s start this in order though.

Flying

Although Ion stated that he “didn’t like speaking for the group,” by the time the Polygon interview went out stating flying was no more, that decision did represent a majority of the design team at the time. I have talked about this enough so I won’t belabor the point, other than to say how incredibly disheartening it is to hear that more than half of the design team are insane coming from such a bizarre different worldview. I mean, I would feel a little bit better if the argument was “flying takes too many resources” or something. In the absence of any explanation though, I must accept a reality in which the design team is either incompetent or are aligned with a completely different entertainment paradigm than myself. If they do not know how or why this game is fun to me, how can I expect them to continue delivering a fun game in the future? Or me to expect one to be delivered?

I’m glad that the majority of the design team ended up finding a compromise palatable to their alien sensibilities. But it’s getting pretty clear that any entertainment derived from this MMO will be in spite of the design instead of because of it.

Reputations

“I’m really not going to defend [the 6.0 reputations] and say that they’re awesome and fun and engaging. They are completely mob grinds.” No, really, Ion said exactly that. The explanation is that Blizzard wasn’t going to do reputations at all this expansion, but decided to throw some shit together at the last minute because of the Trading Post and “other hooks.”

Apexis Dailies

“Clear failure on our part.” Ion mentioned that Blizzard did the whole “thing Blizzard routinely does” in lurching from one extreme to another, in this case a reaction to the “World of Dailycraft” theme of Mists of Pandaria. The idea was that instead of doing 5 different quests in an area, you can do the equivalent of five different quests worth of miscellaneous stuff in that same area. Only this time, the rewards were shit and the lack of narrative makes the entire enterprise more nakedly grindy. That’s not even commentary on my part, that is what Ion basically said.

Lack of Endgame World Content

The design team was so caught up in making sure Garrisons as a system was worth doing, a lot of the activities you would normally do outside are instead done in your own little instance.

Professions

See above. Don’t worry though, Felblight will fix it.™

Alt Burnout due to Garrisons

Blizzard will nerf gold gains (Account-wide diminishing returns) to save you from yourself. In fact, they don’t like alts serving to enhance a single main character either. Which is another one of those “do you even play your own game?!” moments to me.

Dungeons Being Pointless

“That’s another one of our regrets.” Ion believes that Mythic dungeons will “salvage” the situation a little bit, before launching back into his whole “doing dungeons for Valor doesn’t make sense” tirade. Which is itself utterly bizarre given the fact that A) new reputation factions do this all the time, and B) Tanaan Jungle will be raining ilevel 650+ gear from the sky. Like literally what the fuck? Unless you are trying to actively “discourage the use” of the LFD tool – which I would not put it past them at this point – I don’t understand why else he or anyone would discourage group content in this way. Even if the dungeons are faceroll, it is at least social facerolling.

Why Are Demo Locks Being Nerfed?

“Because we’d rather you not play demonology.” That is a direct quote – look at Lore’s eyes when Ion says it. Hilarious. Less hilarious is the elaboration, which essentially boils down to Blizzard not liking how the spec plays out mechanically, but don’t want to actually fix it within an expansion, so they’d rather not have people playing the spec in the meantime. Which is… well, one way of doing it, I guess.

Ability Pruning

“We’re not trying to design rotations that feel engaging fighting a target dummy.” Again, direct quote. On the one hand, I can understand where they are coming from. If you are able to stand still and belt out your rotation with no downtime, chances are that the raid encounter itself is boring, e.g. you are not needing to move out of the fire, click the box, collapse for a meteor effect, etc. On the other hand… what? If your rotation isn’t engaging under perfect circumstances, when is it ever going to be engaging? So for all those hundreds of hours of clunky Retribution gameplay where you are desperately waiting for auto-attack procs to play your class, it was intended? Never going to be fixed?

Flabbergasted is the only way I can describe my reaction.

Absorbs Dominating the Healing Game

It’s better than it was in Mists, but every raid should have a Disc Priest, yes. Sorry.

_______________

Just to recap, Ion admitted to Blizzard screwing up Reputations, Apexis Dailies, endgame content in general, Professions, Garrisons, Dungeons, Demo Warlocks, requiring Disc Priests for serious raids, and that unfun ability rotations are intended.

Guys, I don’t even know any more. Maybe the developers have always been this way behind the scenes, and we just never saw them like this. Maybe the huge influx of interns have diluted the talent pool. Or perhaps we are just all trapped in an incomprehensible universe, devoid of meaning but otherwise working as intended.

I just… I dunno. I’m just going to play some videogames instead of thinking about this anymore.