Star Wars has long been a money spinner, but gamers have let publisher EA know they're unimpressed by attempts to keep taking their money even after they've handed over up to $99.95 for the standard edition of its new game Star Wars Battlefront II.
- Star Wars Battlefront II players slam EA for charging time and money to unlock significant characters
- EA accused of pushing the boundaries when it comes to micropayment systems
- EA says it wants players to have a sense of pride and accomplishment
So much so that EA is now responsible for the most downvoted Reddit comment ever at a massive -529,000 votes. (According to this list, the previous record was -24,333 … and that was for a comment which requested downvotes.)
Battlefront II features a single-player story mode — which lets you take control of a member of the Empire — but the controversy has surrounded its multiplayer.
"Fans are annoyed at having paid full price and then having to grind or pay more money to play the experience they feel was promised," said Angharad Yeo from ABC ME's Good Game: Spawn Point.
On Reddit, a user vented their frustration that they wouldn't be able to play the game as Darth Vader until they'd earned (or, controversially, bought) enough credit to unlock the character.
Without stumping up cash, it looked like that could take dozens of hours:
"This is a joke. I'll be contacting EA support for a refund… I can't even playing f***ing Darth Vader?!?!? Disgusting. This age of 'micro-transactions' has gone WAY too far. Leave it to EA though to stretch the boundaries," said MBMMaverick.
EA responded, in part: "The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes."
That went down as well as you might expect:
"The hours I worked at my job to get the $[US]60 for this game already gave me all the sense of pride and accomplishment I need," Crotalus_Horridus said.
"This is a cop-out answer. There is no pride if a different players can pay money to unlock Luke/Vader in seconds, and I have to grind 40 hours," Brandacle said.
"Come on, it's Luke and Darth Vader in a Star Wars game. Why on earth would you lock them," Spartancarver said.
Yeo points out that saving all your credit to unlock heroes means you can't use it to upgrade or benefit your character in the meantime.
"You're at a disadvantage, in some ways, for unlocking for yourself something that's a major drawcard for the game," she said.
EA backed down, announcing it would reduce the amount of credit needed to unlock characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader by 75 per cent.
"This amount will make earning these heroes an achievement, but one that will be accessible for all players," it said.
But the concerns about Battlefront II's micropayments system go beyond this issue.
Many are also worried about how much credit can be earned through gameplay and how loot boxes — which, when opened, offer randomised rewards — bought with real money provide competitive advantages, including better items and faster progression.
"It's a larger issue than purely the hero unlocks — people are upset that the system seems to favour and encourage people to pay continually for a better standing in the game," Yeo said.
"That's more fundamental, and unfortunately hasn't been entirely fixed. I think it's great that EA are listening to their community and trying to be flexible, but they'd need to go above and beyond to change people's minds completely."
Micropayments don't have to be a bad thing, though
For publishers and developers, the obvious advantage of loot boxes is that they provide another way of making money.
Yeo said they can serve lots of different purposes, and they're not inherently bad.
"Dota 2 is a free-to-play game that makes all its money from loot-box style microtransactions, and Overwatch is a full retail-priced game that has loot boxes you can both grind out or purchase with real money," she said.
"But they're not considered bad because they don't affect gameplay.
"The big issue comes in when it fundamentally changes the game that you're able to play — especially when you've already paid to play that game."
She also notes loot box gambling can become a problem — "mostly when those boxes contain randomised items which include things that impact your gameplay experience".
"I don't think I've ever heard of anyone developing a serious gambling problem with buying loot boxes, but I know a lot of people who have spent a lot of money on it," she said.
Yeo says this isn't great for the games industry because it can cause it to focus more on creating false values for items rather than creating compelling games.