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.