Whether one plays casually or truly claims the title of ‘gamer,’ microtransactions are a hot topic of conversation among gaming communities as a whole. So much so that even before the release of EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront II in November of 2017, tension was building around the prospect of them including microtransactions.
Whether or not they are good for the gaming community or the gaming industry at large are sizable topics I would like to tackle here lightly. I mostly want to zero in on those aspects in this instance and see what can be learned from it.
A quick note: I have nothing but good hopes for EA in their journey in fixing Battlefront II, because I do really like the game. As I write this, I’ve definitely played my fair share and am looking forward to the content to come like the rest of the players. Discussing the controversy at hand simply seems to hold value, given its seeming increase in depth and frequency for this particular industry as of late.
All my opinions, though, so take each with a grain of salt.
A ‘social outcry’ of disagreement:
This section title is really what I feel this whole controversy has been. EA had budgeted to sell around 10 million copies, far less than it’s 2015 predecessor at 14 million, and landed in the 8 to 9 million range. They fell short, but not by nearly as much as the internet’s complaining might lead you to believe. In fact, despite all of the complaining, EA is hard at work to release patches with specific changes the players have requested. Nerfing and buffing particular characters, balancing various levels on specific game modes, and even refining non-critical things such as the audio and graphics appeal.
All of those changes, mind you, are while they are updating and maintaining servers, developing new and fresh content, and receiving hate from every corner of the globe with internet access. They are hearing the players, many developers even interacting over Reddit and Twitter in fact, and this should not go unnoticed.
Where I think they have missed the mark, however, is that very fact: they are listening to the players. The players do have solid recommendations, and I myself am experiencing the slow-but-steady implementation of balance to the game. But why should we care? The game still has many issues that are much more critical than the occasional quick death by a character or class that deals too much damage in one part of a round. The overarching game function should without a doubt be the main focus!
I would hope I’m not alone in that thought process…
This is actually what a lot of modern gaming has come to. Executives presume the players will have internet access, especially with the majority of games being developed around this fact. They then pressure the developers to complete a product by a particular deadline, and they sell it by the millions. Now little Johnny is opening it up for Christmas as expected, instead of waiting for the Spring or possibly Summer seasons, and what does he have? Patches on top of patches to fix a product that was not truly finished.
But wait, there’s more!:
A bug fix here, a balance to the damage output there… all the while we find ourselves stuck in geometric limbo and crashed loading screens, forced to restart the game– again! What does that say about the marketing teams? Complete and utter ignorance. So much ignorance that among all of this chaos in the developers’ worlds and the players who are fanboying – raging or otherwise – they make a big announcement.
If your cynical side sprung to life to that like mine did, you know exactly what that means. They have announced Battlefront III. (Which you can expect in fiscal year 2020, reports say)
That decision is, without a doubt, the most disconnected from reality one they could possibly have made. Perhaps not if their goal was to catch the short attention of modern day players, but those who have reliably paid their bills for decades now? It’s a harsh one to swallow.
Of course, it’s also sort of a head game. On one hand, an already frustrated community wants to hate on EA (and the many developers who do this). On the other, that same community’s inner child is jumping for joy overwhelmed with dreams of “more lasersword action!”
The gaming industry:
I am sure that by now almost everyone has seen a clickbaity headline stating “Child spends thousands of parents hard earned money on iPhone app!” Which happens, but that speaks more of the parents and their ineptness to password creation and usage than the industry as a whole.
Could, or rather should, these developers instill locks and warnings to games after a certain amount? Setting aside the question of how much. Sure they could, but I do not necessarily think it is their responsibility in the long run. We have enough government programs and people trying to parent our children, we don’t need the electronic babysitters doing the same!
How about instead of adding to the already enormous institutions that are failing the families and children of the West, we ask a financial question. Which is more efficient in the end for all parties, in this case specifically the companies:
Creating and selling a poorly tested game, running as a fun but broken product, only ending up in many gigabytes of repairs along the years following initial bad press. Or crafting a solid product, only focusing on extra content to maintain interest until the next iteration is ready for release?
My hunch leans towards the latter, with the original Battlefront II by Pandemic Studios from 2005 being an excellent example. Nostalgia aside, the reviews on that game speak for themselves. That was in the time before countless patches, regularly expected DLC and all the other frills that a game comes with today.
Basically, build a product right. Sell it for the value that it holds. Anything extra can be on the players to make among the community or willingly purchase additionally. From a guy raised in the Nintendo 64 era, that sounds pretty good to me.
In the end, somewhere along the line the right person is making money and this madness will continue so long as that is so. The incomplete content continues to be released, then it is criticized to the moon and back. A year or so later, everyone is purchasing the next product, and the cycle repeats.
Interestingly enough, EA is stating that the controversies did not sour their relation with Disney, and Disney is notorious for maintaining the maximum bottom dollar. This being said, what sort of plans are up EA’s sleeve to keep their name on the contracts instead of their competitors?
Well, one being they did sell a lot of games. With plans to sell even more, and the announcement of free DLC for all of 2018 will definitely sweeten the deal and bring more sales. The second factor being the game is still good, despite all of its technical flaws. Then the third and final point, microtransactions are not dead. It was clear from the initial pull of in-game purchases that “they will return.” Of course, now we know that that is a matter of a few months away, but not necessarily what it will contain. My personal hope is they veer away from the ‘pay-to-win’ style of purchases, and focus more on cosmetics.
Realistically, it does break the game – no matter how balanced you make each character – when players can purchase items, upgrades and abilities early on with no effort but a credit card transaction. It does not break the game, however, to let someone playing as Chewbacca run around with a broken C3PO on their back in the game. In fact, that would be something to look forward to playing the game to earn, or tossing EA a few bucks to have right away.
I for one will purchase a few skins if this is the case, just to support the creators of a game I do genuinely enjoy. I’ll say this, if you see a pink Darth Vader running around… that’ll be me.