EA and DICE have earned praise after announcing that Battlefield 5 will have neither a premium pass nor loot boxes, but how the economy will work, and what exactly will be sold at what price, is still a mystery. So what happens when that mystery is solved?
This is the line that EA has to walk as it promotes the game. Battlefield’s official Twitter account is leaning heavily into its seemingly player-friendly monetization strategy, and it’s paying off; fans and the enthusiast press continue to share the “no loot boxes” message, as does EA. This is a talking point that’s gaining traction through repetition.
And fans continue to celebrate when they’re told that loot boxes won’t be in the game, especially after Battlefield 1’s robust, randomized Battlepack system.
There are no more Battlepacks. Instead, players will be able to choose their rewards directly or through rank up events.— #Battlefield V (@Battlefield) May 28, 2018
It’s no wonder players are glad to be rid of the loot box-style Battlepacks, as the whole system seemed wrapped in the complex, currency-within-a-currency bullshit that’s so common in big-budget games these days. Here’s the official description of Battlepacks from Battlefield 1:
You can get all kinds of items of any rarity in a standard Battlepack. There are however two modified versions of The Battlepack — Enhanced and Superior — which guarantee you a weapon skin of a specific rarity level. Get these modified versions by spending Scraps. If you are a Battlefield 1 Premium Member, you will get 14 Superior Battlepacks.
While Battlepacks are gone, Battlefield 5 will offer premium items that can be bought for real money. More concerning is that the game’s different launch versions seem to suggest that you can pay more money to have a day-one advantage and level up more quickly.
“Battlefield 5 will have currency available for purchase with real-world money. That premium currency can be used to buy cosmetic items for use in-game,” we previously reported based on confirmation from EA. (Curiously, EA had previously told Polygon the opposite: that cosmetics will not be sold for real money.)
Many in the community seem to be fine with this approach, especially if the random aspect of purchases is fully eliminated.
“I’m glad they’re going this route. I think having content that’s available to all and doesn’t split the community up is always a good idea,” one player wrote in a comment on Reddit. “Paid cosmetics are fine as far as I’m concerned, as long as they don’t directly impact gameplay or add a pay to win mechanic.”
Others think this as a the beginning of a slippery slope. If there’s money to be made in selling cosmetic items, EA and DICE have a financial incentive to get anachronistically goofy with the game’s design.
“This is the real danger that all games with Cosmetic microtransactions runs into,” they wrote. “When a game introduces new skins into the game normally its something that tends to gel with the game’s aesthetic in a normal way, or at least one that can be rationalized. With cosmetic options you can buy ... you’re trying to sell a product to people, and that usually means its an arms race of things people want. They get flashy, gaudy, and over the top at an ever increasing pace and break the games aesthetic rather quickly.”
DICE itself has already argued that Battlefield has never been about historical accuracy when it comes to what is and isn’t possible. (Fittingly, this discussion came up during a thread about whether female soldiers should be included in the game.)
The Battlefield sandbox has always been about playing the way you want. Like attempting to fit three players on a galloping horse, with flamethrowers. With BFV you also get the chance to play as who you want. This is #everyonesbattlefield. pic.twitter.com/jZkzSRjIwL— Oskar Gabrielson (@ogabrielson) May 25, 2018
This all puts Battlefield 5 in a weird spot. It’s getting positive buzz for ditching aspects of monetizations that many players dislike. We know that some items will be available for purchase with real money, or at least there will be a currency that can be purchased with real money and then that currency can be used to buy items. But we have very few details about how that will all work or what anything will cost.
So EA and DICE can continue to drum up positive support by repeating these talking points, but that strategy could backfire if the as-yet-unexplained cosmetic economy is seen as predatory.
And that’s the danger for EA, which can’t control how players perceive that economy after the publisher reveals the details, especially when it had spent weeks or months celebrating the lack of loot boxes and premium passes. You can call it anything you want, but at the end of the day, the important thing is whether your player base feels cheated. That’s what Battlefield 5 ultimately has to avoid, no matter what it calls the things it’s selling.
It’s going to be an interesting juggling act leading up to the game’s launch on Oct. 19.