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Star Wars Battlefront 2 season pass remarks cause a stir

EA walks back developer claim that the game won’t have one

EA DICE/Electronic Arts
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 got its official reveal yesterday, and then Mashable jolted gamers awake when it reported comments from an EA DICE developer that suggested the game would not sell a season pass of premium DLC. This is the latest red-line promise in a game’s hype cycle that rallies gamers to its flag. And those comments were almost immediately walked back by Electronic Arts PR.

Ordinarily, this contradiction would be little more than inside baseball for the world of video games writing, but for a property such as Star Wars, a publicly traded company such as Electronic Arts, and a format such as a multiplayer shooter, just the suggestion there might be no season pass deserved to be treated as front-page news, and it was.

Here's what Bernd Dierner, the creative director on Battlefront 2, said in comments reported by Mashable. "We don't have a season pass." Not much wiggle room there! Given the posture Titanfall 2 took with DLC — no premium game content, cosmetic items only sold for a premium — this claim had legs.

But Titanfall is a property owned by its developer, Respawn Entertainment. Star Wars is owned by, like, Disney. Electronic Arts paid it, like, eleventyzillion dollars for the rights to make Star Wars video games for consoles and PC, and that's a pure cost unit, millions in red ink before the first line of code is written.

DLC and microtransactions (and special edition offerings) are among the card tricks publishers use to still make money against high licensing costs while still preserving the illusion of a $60 price tag, which has held firm for more than a decade. This partially explains why THQ was liquidated in its 2013 bankruptcy, and why no one makes five-platform adaptations of every summer blockbuster movie like they did 10 years ago.

Shortly after publication, though, Mashable said "EA reached out to ask us to withhold the confirmation that there won't be a Season Pass for Battlefront 2." EA sent them a statement that read like it had been marked up by about 43 different people in investor relations and corporate communications.

While we’re not ready to confirm any live service plans just yet, what we can say is this we heard the feedback from our Battlefront community loud and clear. We know they want more depth, more progression, and more content. So we’re focused on delivering that in every dimension of Star Wars Battlefront 2. We’ll have more to share about our plans soon.

Here's what's going on: Dierner wanted users to know that DICE was well aware that having premium content — as the current Battlefront does — fragments the player base. "The community is falling apart because there are simply not many people playing the different modes," he told Mashable.

Then, mysteriously, he added — again in conversation with Mashable:

I cannot talk about the specifics of this, but we have something different in mind that will allow you to play longer, be [more] invested in the game without having a fragmented community.

A games developer is rightly concerned about dividing the installation base, and discouraging others from joining it, by parceling out game components in such a way that it suggests a $60 product isn't actually the full game. A games publisher is rightly concerned with making back the costs of building that game — big-time licensing included. Video games are not underwritten by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, after all.

But given the conflicting statements, you can probably guess which priority is gonna prevail here.

Look, Star Wars Battlefront 2 will have premium DLC in some form. Hell, EA has already announced a deluxe edition stacked with come-ons for Rey and Kylo Ren character skins and something pertaining to the Millennium Falcon. And given how adept publicists are at parsing words and statements, not bundling things into a season pass doesn’t mean there won’t be premium map packs or hero characters or some other thing we haven’t thought of on sale after launch.

But no one's going to say boo about premium DLC or a season pass until the fiscal quarter in which the game is released. Indeed, the season pass and four premium expansions for the first Battlefront were not announced until October 2015. Battlefront 2 launches Nov. 17; its predecessor launched on the same date in 2015.

DICE's candor so early is interesting, but it’s meaningful only in that it was a rare, unguarded comment on a triple-A publisher's plans. What you're hearing right now is a publisher and a developer trying to focus attention to the thing they announced as instantly and constantly worthy of your time and attention even though it’s not gonna get here for another seven months.

DICE is doing so from the posture of gamer advocate. EA is yanking the starter cord on the preorder lawnmower for its investors. It is all but guaranteed that both have more to sell to you in Battlefront 2. Whatever that is, it won't work without the base game. So wait for them to ship that first.

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