My strongest criticism of Star Wars Battlefront 2 was that I simply didn’t know what its priority was. The game’s opaque progression system, tied to a random draw of buffs out of loot boxes — whether or not they could be bought for real money — drew attention away from what really is a strong-playing first person shooter made by a studio that does it very well.
The changes announced today, coming March 21, directly address Battlefront 2’s misplaced priorities. Secretly, I had expected that Electronic Arts would wait until Star Wars: The Last Jedi was out of theaters (it is, incredibly, still playing in some domestic markets) and then introduce real-money microtransactions, restoring the original progression model used just prior to the game’s launch in November. Instead, EA DICE has effectively reinstated the first Battlefront’s advancement system: When the update is live, players will boost their performance through a traditional experience-point system. The odor of pay-to-win, even if EA cut off actual paid microtransactions a day before launch, has been cleared.
Depending on how you feel about EA, the upcoming progression system update is either a gutsy call or a mercy-begging mea culpa. In either context, the company still did the right thing by its players.
For those who don’t play Battlefront 2 or its multiplayer modes with dedication, advancement in the game is a byzantine system of checkpoints and random drops, some of which can be bypassed or sped up with funds. Originally, that included real money — at least until those transactions were jettisoned at the final hour following a tremendous public outcry.
Weapons — the truest determinant in shooter gameplay — are gated by in-game milestones (kills by a certain class, for example). But “Star Cards,” which are class- and character-specific buffs, drive a lot of a player’s performance in the game. There’s a side-door into getting the Star Card you really want or need (“Parts,” which “craft” a card) but, like the Star Cards themselves, Parts are also awarded in varying amounts through a loot crate.
What’s the point?
There have been many nights since Star Wars Battlefront 2 launched where I simply checked in, got my daily crate reward (or the factional award for being on the “winning” side of a community goal) and either filed away the latest Star Card or applied the Parts to get one I didn’t have. That, and that alone, constituted playing the game for me that night. A couple of months ago, I finally got every Star Card applicable to every vehicle or unlocked “hero,” despite being very bad at and, honestly, uncommitted to the actual multiplayer game.
So EA’s backtracking on Star Cards is significant, because it acknowledges how out-of-whack Battlefront 2’s original priorities were, regardless of how they were monetized. Moreover, there’s no schedule of premium DLC extensions to sell, like the maps and playable heroes over four installments in the first Battlefront. Electronic Arts expects nearly all of its games (except for the indies it publishes as a public service) to have some kind of open-ended revenue plan now. The company blamed the loot crate controversy and grudging removal of real-money transactions for poor sales of Battlefront 2 and lower revenues than it had told investors to expect. This is as significant a sacrifice as it is an admission.
Because every time I have checked in after opening my loot crate, I’m reminded of the thoughtful balance that’s gone in, the strong post-release support, and the fun of running around as a Wookiee warrior or being one of the countless Stormtroopers hurling themselves at a doorway barricaded by outnumbered Rebels.
That does not mean microtransactions are gone. “Crystals,” only acquired with hard cash, will finally return in April, and they’ll be able to buy all kinds of new character skins and looks that fans have asked for. They were available in the first Battlefront, too. But loot crates as we’ve known and hated them are finished, at least for the biggest perpetrator in a scandal that has drawn lawmakers’ ire. Loot crates will still be awarded as a daily login incentive, but they will only contain cosmetic items (not skins, however) or straight in-game credits.
I never believed that EA DICE one day woke up twisting a Snidely Whiplash mustache, scheming up ways to catfish money out of pie-eyed Star Wars fans, many of whom are younger than 18. But I also don’t think that statements from EA’s top management, particularly chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen, have been very helpful to its image, either. That’s what made this solution so striking. Restoring Battlefront 2’s progression to that of Battlefront 1 without a DLC and season pass is a significant sacrifice — and acknowledgment that the company blew it the first time around.
Let’s hope this is taken as a kind of leadership, an affirmation of boundaries that other publishers will also follow — certainly Electronic Arts’ later productions will. If loot crates are, as the ESRB’s president insists, simply “a fun way to acquire virtual items,” then let them be that and only that, and separate them from gameplay.
That will do far more for consumers than meaningless box labels or state legislation that’s sure to be challenged in federal court. In the end, all we wanted to do with Battlefront 2 was run around and play Star Wars like little kids. Changing the progression system respects that desire and excitement and makes it clear that’s the goal. That’s the real game.