Star Wars Battlefront 2 Isn't Going Far Enough to Fix Its Loot Box Problem [Updated]

It's not an issue of balance. Microtransactions that affect gameplay simply shouldn't exist.

Opinion by Kat Bailey, .

Update: The original story included quotes that appear to be directly attributed to EA. EA clarified to USG that they are currently evaluating Star Wars Battlefront 2's microtransactions and that they have nothing further to share beyond the original statment. The original story has been updated to reflect this.

In disabling Star Wars Battlefront 2's microtransactions last night, EA seemingly bowed to immense public pressure to back away from monetized progression. But don't celebrate too early: Microtransactions are eventually coming back, we just don't know what they'll ultimately look like.

EA is going back to the drawing board, but wishes to continue to provide a balanced experience to both those who are looking for traditional gameplay progression and those looking for an accelerated experience.

In microtransaction parlance, that means providing a way for players to bypass the normal grind by spending real money.

Proponents of this approach will argue that adults are busy and should have a way to enjoy a game without having to spend dozens of hours building up their character. Believe it or not, I almost understand this argument: Games are massive timesinks, and it's tough for working professionals and parents to allocate the time necessary to have a good character.

However, as I recently observed in my piece decrying grinding, accelerators can't help but tip the balance and compromise the gameplay.

That's because these mechanics are always going to be geared toward earning money in some way. One way or another, they're always going to punish those who opt not to monetize with an enhanced grind (in Star Wars Battlefront 2's case, a grind for credits).

This was evident in Battlefront 2's loot box design, which blatantly rewarded those who spent money. The advantage of spending on loot boxes is obvious: it makes it much easier to obtain key buffs that affect cooldown, health regen, and attack power.

It was definitely unbalanced. But what EA fails to realize in all this is that fans aren't just angry because they think there's a balance problem—they're angry because the microtransactions exist at all.

As I discussed in my review, microtransactions that directly affect gameplay are a red line that developers of premium games simply shouldn't cross. They compromise a game's balance in a way that is unacceptable in a premium release like Star Wars Battlefront 2.

Unfortunately, the mandate at EA appears to be "microtransactions at any cost." Having seen the continued success of microtransactions in their sports games and mobile releases, EA is pushing the boundary as far as it can. Need for Speed's progression is one such example.

This makes the publisher’s apology and promise to listen to the fans disingenuous at best. EA has no intention of removing the microtransactions that will affect gameplay balance. Instead, it is hoping to strike some sort of magic balance where normal gameplay progression can exist in harmony with monetization.

In my opinion, this balance doesn't exist. The only way for EA to make things right is to scrub the in-game microtransactions that affect gameplay entirely.

Unfortunately, there may be some consequences to this approach. Like it or not, triple-A development is expensive, and a $60 price tag isn't enough to account for the costs involved—especially for an expensive IP like Star Wars. It may be that EA has to renege on its promise to make upcoming DLC completely free.

The best possible solution is for EA to modify the loot boxes so that they are cosmetic only. The Star Wars universe is a rich setting, which makes it surprising that there aren't multiple skins for ships, characters, and heroes. Surely it's possible to include a special Last Jedi Luke Skywalker skin? Or unique shaders for every weapon similar to what's in Battlefield 1?

Whatever approach EA decides to take, it's clear that fans have rejected the notion of including accelerators in a premium game like Battlefront 2. Come what may, microtransactions simply should not affect the balance of a competitive multiplayer game.

Unfortunately, recent history has illustrated to EA that microtransactions can affect gameplay. The immense success of microtransactions in Madden and FIFA has taught the decision makers all the wrong lessons.

That makes continuing to push back more important than ever. It's the only way to ensure that EA grasps that this isn't just a balance problem that can be corrected with the right tweaks. And it's the only way to ensure that it won't try something like this again in the future.

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Comments 11

  • Avatar for moochan #1 moochan 8 months ago
    As long as companies are making money off these practices they will keep doing more and more shady practices. This really needs government interference regarding these things. Sadly right now I don't see them doing anything of sort (maybe certain state government might be able to force it). ESRB has talked about microtransactions just buying pokemon cards so that's a bust. Japanese mobile games has that locked and worried if it starts to migrate over to consoles but as of right now they seem to only be doing the same DLC as western games.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #2 SargeSmash 8 months ago
    @moochan : While I don't like all this microtransaction business, I am also extremely reticent about getting the government involved. We just need to get folks to stop spending money on these sorts of things. But then again, folks spend their money gambling or on lottery tickets in real life, so there's always going to be someone that buys this stuff.

    Anyway, do what you can. Vote with your wallets, and convince as many of your friends as you can to do the same!
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #3 Monkey-Tamer 8 months ago
    They do it because it works. It generates revenue. This wasn't even thought of as a possibility in game design during the heyday of Quake and Unreal. The widespread acceptance of video games as a pass time fueled growth of the industry, but now there's a target on its back as well. The game is a number on a spreadsheet to corporate boards and shareholders, not a creation lovingly brought into existence. Older gamers will decry these tactics, but there's a whole new generation that is having these practices normalized. Once a practice is par for the course nobody bats an eye. The uproar about horse armor will never happen again. It took me a while, but now I'm used to not having physical games, and just download everything from services like Steam and GOG.
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  • Avatar for Fade2Gray #4 Fade2Gray 8 months ago
    While the move may very well be highly disingenuous for EA, I strongly suspect Disney stepped in here. Look at the timing. Two counties declare that they're investigating the microtracation tactics EA is using for potentially violating gambling laws (which EA strongly rejects) and suddenly EA is making a potentially costly about-face (even though it's only temporary, this is still the golden release window). Gambling investigations were probably a step too far for Disney. They don't want Star Wars to be synonymous with "gambling for kids."Edited November 2017 by Fade2Gray
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #5 UnskippableCutscene 8 months ago
    Disney runs more pay to win mobile games than almost anybody. I have both Disney Emoji Blast and Gameloft's Spider-Man Unlimited, just to name two Disney properties that do this thing.

    Speaking of SMU, I guess I'm guilty because it's an endless runner where, yes, I once paid $20 to secure my favorite hero because having that obscure character was my "end game" goal and now I can enjoy it casually a few times a week or month instead of having to play the daily grind to keep getting free currency and hope I eventually get the hero I wanted.

    But I still don't want money-based game factors in a competitive online game.Edited 2 times. Last edited November 2017 by UnskippableCutscene
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  • Avatar for Fade2Gray #6 Fade2Gray 8 months ago
    @UnskippableCutscene I agree, but none of those games are the subject of high profile controversies generating news articles containing the name of a Disney IP and "gambling." It's one thing to be engaging in this sort of behavior where it's low profile and commonly accepted. It's another when headlines and world governments are involved.
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #7 UnskippableCutscene 8 months ago
    @Fade2Gray The point is Disney has licensed dozens of pay-to-win games. A few Reddit activists that live in smaller, mostly European nations that have a much tighter direct democracy between ordinary residents and their representatives have managed to bring it to their attention. But all that likely means is that they don't offer purchases to people playing on IPs within these countries.

    At the crux of the issue here is that a big AAA $60 game is meaningfully distinct from a free to play mobile game. For us older gamers, that's the case. For EA, who spent so much money on artists and coders for this game only to watch their efforts get burned on monetization schemes, it's a big deal. But for Disney, as optics focused as they may be, big tentpole AAA games and small cheap disposable games aren't distinct. Battlefront's success or failure is a relatively small blip on their radar. It's no different than Toontown Online, Club Penguin, and the dozens of mobile games they've run over the past decade.Edited 2 times. Last edited November 2017 by UnskippableCutscene
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  • Avatar for docexe #8 docexe 8 months ago
    Sigh… The worst part about this entire kerfuffle is that EA could still have made a ton of money just offering cosmetics in the Lootboxes. Tying progression mechanics to them wasn’t necessary at all. It’s one of the most blatant examples of a publisher getting unnecessarily greedy and, at the risk of sounding extremely cynical, I can’t help it but conclude that they really thought they could get away with this given that Star Wars is a money making machine. They might still do it in the end, if the micro-transactions return without any significant change once the controversy has died down a little.
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  • Avatar for docexe #9 docexe 8 months ago
    @SargeSmash Yeah, I honestly dread more the possibility of government intervention here. People often act as if legislation and government intervention are a panacea that will absolutely ensure the protection of consumers, but the older I get, the more I get to the conclusion that such is often not the case. Indeed, looking at the long history of anti-“vice” legislation in several countries, I can’t help it but think that government institutions are going to cause an even bigger mess if they start treating and regulating Loot boxes, IAP and the like as if they were gambling. As things stand, voting with our mouths and our wallets is really the best we can do.

    @UnskippableCutscene @Fade2Gray
    There are some rumors that, apparently, Disney did intervened in order to get EA to shut down the micro-transactions (at least temporarily). Although, from the look of it, it seems that they didn’t really care about authorities investigating potential gambling laws violations, so much as that the online outcry finally got loud enough to make them fear permanent damage to the Star Wars brand.
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  • Avatar for hemant786 #11 hemant786 5 months ago