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Need for Speed Heat has no microtransactions — and that might be a bad thing?

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Does EA have confidence in a flagship brand?

Need for Speed Heat artwork with a yellow sports car facing off against a Corvette police car at night on rainy streets Ghost Games/Electronic Arts

In Need for Speed Heat, the elephant not in the room is microtransactions. Don’t get me wrong, having a clean game, free of that kind of icky, pocket-picking influence, is a fundamentally a good thing. But the fact EA launched this without any microtransaction marketplace is the strongest sign the publisher has little to no expectations for it. This may go the way of the Medal of Honor series.

Flashback: Need for Speed Payback launched in 2017 alongside Star Wars Battlefront 2 with a similar loot-box model — random draws, available for real money, that upgrade your experience and drive your career progression. But, because it wasn’t Star Wars, and also because Need for Speed didn’t have a companion movie launching at the same time, fewer lawmakers in Hawaii, Belgium and elsewhere noticed.

EA’s product focus during Andrew Wilson’s tenure as CEO has been software-as-a-service. The publisher’s games — even NBA Live 19have had to show some kind of open-ended revenue model. Titles like NCAA Football and EA Sports UFC forced in Ultimate Team modes, no matter how incongruent that concept is with the sport being played.

Need for Speed Heat has zero microtransactions at launch. Again: good thing! But it’s perverse that, in 2019, a mainstream observer could see that meaning it’s a stepchild product to the publisher. And unless you think I’m being too inside-baseball with that analysis, Target already put out a Black Friday ad discounting the game to $35 one week before its release.

I can remember sludging through Need for Speed: Undercover a decade ago and being grateful that I could buy the Bugatti Veyron to blow by the rubber-banding police pursuit and finally finish the son of a bitch. Need for Speed Heat doesn’t even offer that. There may be some DLC car packs later on, but at this point, it’s a total throwback. Everything on the disc, unlockable, like we’re back in 2005 or something.

I agree, given all of the specialty press’s coverage and scolding of microtransactions and premium DLC, that it may be unfair of me to interpret this first as a corporate lack of confidence, rather than celebrate Need for Speed Heat as a high-value product that all gamers should enjoy. I stand behind my review, the racing systems are enjoyable, the progression is understandable, it’s kinda grindy, but so is Death Stranding and Need for Speed Heat at least has more payoff earlier in the game.

But still, this the landscape that EA and its peers have shaped over the past decade. If a game launches with a big microtransaction component, they think they have a winner. If it doesn’t ... well ...

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