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16th November 2017

EA deserves no praise for lowering microtransaction costs

Star Wars: Battlefront II remains a symbol of EA’s contempt for the consumer

EA have cut the in-game cost of playable heroes by 75 per cent in Star Wars: Battlefront II.

The change comes amidst widespread outrage from fans after realising that in order to obtain the more popular characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader players would face a 40-hour grind — if, that is, they don’t open their wallets to speed things up.

People were understandably angered by this anti-consumer implementation of microtransactions, designed for the specific purpose of wearing down players’ willpower with unreasonable in-game costs.

Attempting to quell the rage of players in the first few hours of the information surfacing, EA’s community team took to Reddit, arguing in a comment on one thread that the obscene grind is intended to fill players “with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes”.

Pride and accomplishment. That’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.

Here’s the thing though — allowing players to simply buy a reward other players have worked for completely devalues that reward. How can a player show off content they earned as a badge of ‘pride and accomplishment’ if there are other players in the lobby who simply dropped £50 on microtransactions for the same result?

No, a sense of pride and accomplishment is what you get when you hear that this comment from EA quickly became the most downvoted in Reddit history, with a score of -678,000 at the time of writing. For context, the second most downvoted comment of all time only has -28,000 — and is a specific request asking for downvotes.

This record-breaking customer dissatisfaction is of course what triggered the 75 per cent reduction in Hero prices, with Executive Developer of DICE John Wasilcyzk detailing the decision in a blog post labelled ‘Change will be a Constant in Star Wars: Battlefront II’.

They’re not lying about this part, at least. Change certainly has been important to Battlefront II — but this is not necessarily a good thing for the consumer.

The ‘change’ EA favours is the superficial kind that allows them to dodge controversies to keep their insulting free-to-play microtransaction model in a full-priced game. The kind of change implemented as damage-limitation to carefully manage headlines, steering them from “EA Exploits Players” to “EA FIXES Hero Costs”.

We saw this exact same superficial backtracking when players of the beta complained of the pay-to-win loot box mechanics which allowed players to buy game-changing bonuses like extra health or faster cooldowns to give them a tangible advantage over non-paying opponents. In response to the backlash, EA simply made some minor changes like removing the higher-tier bonuses from loot boxes and presented this as a pro-consumer fix.

For those doubtful that Battlefront II’s multiplayer is still one built around microtransactions, Star Cards offering player bonuses are still acquired through loot boxes. Meanwhile, blogger ‘STWOR Strategies’ calculated it would take 4,528 hours of gameplay or $2100 dollars of loot boxes to unlock everything. Players are even forced to wait until the next day to earn credits from arcade mode, undoubtedly to force them back into the multiplayer combat specifically designed to encourage loot box purchases.

EA has mastered the art of creating something initially so sleazy, so diabolically anti-consumer, that the dialled-back version — though still terrible in its own right — becomes palatable by comparison.

So the reduction of hero costs is not the meaningful fix EA would have you believe, but rather a plaster over a gaping wound. Hopefully, the ongoing negativity surrounding the game is evidence of a breaking point for consumer tolerance of predatory microtransactions in videogames.

If Battlefront II was EA seeing how far they could push it — they have their answer.

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