When 2017's Star Wars Battlefront II was first previewed at E3 this year, people were cautiously optimistic. Its predecessor was slammed for being thin on content, but initial showings of the game looked promising and it seemed like EA had added the things fans wanted out of the game’s sequel, like a single-player campaign. Now, everything has turned to shit.
Here’s a breakdown of what happened.
June 10th, 2017: EA previews Star Wars Battlefront II at E3, and they seem to have committed to fixing things that were unpopular in the first game. For instance, Battlefront II will have a single player campaign, something players clamoured for in the previous game. Though Star Wars fans had been burned once, they seem willing to give it another go.
August 4th: Developer Monolith Productions announces that Middle-earth: Shadow of War will have loot boxes that can be either be earned through gameplay or purchased with real money. The boxes aren’t just cosmetic; they can contain experience point boosts and better gear. Fans aren’t pleased.
September: In the fall leading up to Battlefront’s release, the ire against loot boxes and microtransactions intensifies. NBA 2K18 is riddled with microtransactions, and Destiny 2 gets a bit of attention for its Bright Engrams, which are loot boxes containing cosmetic items that you can buy with real money. The idea is that not only does this encourage consumers to “pay to win,” and pressure them to spend additional cash, but that the random nature of loot boxes basically makes it gambling. Angry fans are actively mad about loot boxes as a concept and swear off buying games that contain them.
October 10th: Battlefront II goes into public beta and alarm bells begin to sound. While our own Heather Alexandra enjoys playing the beta, she also notes the return of star cards. They give players passive bonuses or new abilities and are specifically for use in multiplayer mode. The intent is to allow players to customise their units during multiplayer, but they come in—you guessed it—loot boxes. Star cards were in the last game, but the loot boxes are new. They also have four different rarities, and the most rare, “epic” cards are available in loot boxes. Theoretically, a player could gain an advantage during multiplayer just by buying a shit ton of loot boxes.
“The spectre of microtransactions hovers over Battlefront II,” Alexandra writes. At this point it is unclear whether or not people will be able to buy loot crates with real money. However, the game’s beta indicates that Battlefront II will have multiple currencies, and usually that means one of them will be purchasable with cash.
On this same day, Shadow of War is released. Fans sure are mad about the loot boxes, although Patricia Hernandez says they weren’t that bothersome in her review.
October 12th: EA writes a blog post saying that epic tier star cards will not be in Star Wars Battlefront II’s loot boxes in response to players expressing their displeasure. This is the first of what will be many instances of EA having to change features in Battlefront II in response to angry feedback.
October 31st: EA makes further clarifications and changes to the game’s loot box system, removing “epic” loot from crates.
November, 9th: Battlefront II becomes playable in a pre-release trial period for subscribers to EA Access. Now that the game’s currency system has been revealed, fans have some problems with it.
Battlefront II allows you to purchase loot boxes with real money, as fans suspected. The game has two main currencies: credits and crystals. You can earn credits through play, but you can only buy crystals with real cash.
If you get duplicate star cards, you can exchange them for credits, which you can use to buy heroes in the game. You can also get credits and scrap (which is used to craft new star cards) in the loot boxes you can buy. Alexandra compared how much you can earn without spending money and how much you’ll get by buying loot boxes, and concluded, “You can quite literally pay money for statistical advantages in Star Wars Battlefront II.”
November 12th: Players find some more issues with the game. In Battlefront II you can unlock iconic characters like Luke Skywalker using credits. The most famous characters are the most expensive, with Luke himself costing 60,000 credits. How long does it take to get that many credits? Players on Reddit estimate that it would take about two full days of grinding to unlock. Given that credits are available in loot boxes, it seems to fans like the developers of Battlefront II have made all of the characters expensive in order to convince players to fork over more cash.
Players are understandably angry. A representative from EA responds on Reddit, saying, “The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes. We selected initial values based upon data from the Open Beta and other adjustments made to milestone rewards before launch. Among other things, we’re looking at average per-player credit earn rates on a daily basis, and we’ll be making constant adjustments to ensure that players have challenges that are compelling, rewarding, and of course attainable via gameplay.” In less than 24 hours, this becomes the most downvoted comment in Reddit history.
November 13th: EA lowers the cost of unlocking certain heroes. Luke goes from 60,000 credits to 15,000. At the same time, the number of credits awarded at the end of the single-player campaign is reduced from 20,000 to 5,000. Players assume this means all credits rewards throughout the game have been reduced. This isn’t true, but thanks to social media, misinformation spreads.
Outlets like CNBC and Waypoint pick up on the controversy, saying that EA developers were receiving death threats, citing a twitter user named BiggSean66. BiggSean66 has “Game dev @EA” in his Twitter handle, so when he tweets out that he’s received seven death threats and upwards of 1,600 personal attacks, developers and journalists send their sympathies and signal-boost the tweet.
November 15th: Turns out, BiggSean66 might not actually work at EA. After Jason Schreier sends him several messages asking if he can confirm that he works for EA, BiggSean66 locks his account and removes the reference to being a game dev at EA from his bio. In this entire saga, this is the most surreal thing to happen.
The Belgian Gaming Commission is reportedly investigating Battlefront II’s lootboxes. The general director of the commission says they may constitute gambling. This is especially concerning because the game is rated PEGI 12, and thus available to and marketed towards minors.
November 17th: EA “temporarily” removes microtransactions from Battlefront II wholesale, just hours before the game was set to launch. This doesn’t remove loot boxes. It just removes the ability to buy crystals, which you could then use to buy loot boxes. It’s a bold move, but it feels like a band-aid on a much larger problem, namely, a progression system that relies heavily on the randomness of loot boxes. EA does say that microtransactions will be back “at a later date.” The Wall Street Journal reports that this decision was made after Disney head of interactive media and consumer products Jimmy Pitaro sent a message to EA, upset about the controversy.
November 18th: A representative from Lucasfilm tells The Washington Post, “Star Wars has always been about the fans—and whether it’s ‘Battlefront’ or any other Star Wars experience, they come first. That’s why we support EA’s decision to temporarily remove in-game payments to address fan concerns.”
This story is still continuing, and it’s likely we haven’t heard the end of the Star Wars Battlefront II controversy. It might be up there with the SimCity debacle as far as EA PR disasters go. As always, Kotaku will be there to keep you updated on whatever else happens.