EA exec says they won’t repeat loot box mistakes

Years of growing discontent over loot box monetisation in games came to a head with 2017’s Star Wars Battlefront II‘s lousy loot-based unlock progression system, raising such a stink that governments weighed in on arguments and EA disabled the microtransactions.

“We can shy away from it and pretend like it didn’t happen,” Patrick Söderlund, EA’s new chief design officer, told The Verge, “or we can act responsibly and realise that we made some mistakes, and try to rectify those mistakes and learn from them.” He swears blind that they’ve chosen option B, and they’ll try real hard not to guff up games like Anthem and the mysterious next Battlefield.

“We had the intent that was designed for us to have more people play it over a longer period of time,” explains Söderlund of the decision to include loot boxes. “And like a lot of other games on the market, to be able to afford to do that we had an idea of getting returns from that. But at the same time, we got it wrong.”

They sure did. Battlefront 2’s loot box progression system was a grind with optional microtransactions to skip some of the chore. As nice as it is that EA seem to be stepping back from blasting £45 of DLC, instead releasing new maps and modes for free in several games, that’s a miserable way to fund post-launch additions.

“We have taken significant steps as a company to review and understand the mechanics around monetisation, loot boxes, and other things in our games before they go to market,” Söderlund said. “For games that come next, for Battlefield or for Anthem, [players have] made it very clear that we can’t afford to make similar mistakes. And we won’t.”

With Battlefront 2, at least, Söderlund says the rethink is working out, noting that “players are coming back, and we’re seeing stronger engagement numbers.” EA launched a new progression system in March, which removes that box-based progression and some of the grind. Needing to unlock anything in a multiplayer game still sucks but it is less sucky now. Microtransactions will return this week, but they’ll only be able to buy player skins – far more palatable.

EA will need to back up this friendly chat, though. It’s all good and well ‘fessing up afterwards, but something must be severely broken at the company for them to ever think this was a good idea. As much as big-budget game development is incredibly volatile and looks increasingly unsustainable, this was a damned foolish solution.

“It’s clear to us that players see the company differently than we do,” Söderlund said. “And in that situation, as a member of the executive team, as the guy who runs all of the studios, I have to take that seriously. And we have to continue to listen and understand what’s triggering that. We have to be very cautious of what we do.” And they have to do better.

“We have to take action and show people that we’re serious about building the best possible products, that we’re serious about treating the players fair, and we’re here to make the best possible entertainment that we can. And in the cases where we don’t get it right, we just have to listen and learn from it and be better.”

You really do.

50 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Yeah, they screwed up.

    Still, it’s neat to see a huge company like EA actually admitting it.

    I don’t expect anything will change and the next game they put out will have the same thing, slightly modified, and they’ll still be surprised that people get mad.

    • dangermouse76 says:

      “Still, it’s neat to see a huge company like EA actually admitting it.”

      Yeah but they admit things like this a lot. Doesn’t mean they change necessarily.

    • WombatDeath says:

      I don’t think they’ll be surprised at all, and I don’t think they were surprised this time. No doubt someone at EA has a document estimating the revenue lost by pissing off a percentage of their customer base vs. the revenue milked from those remaining.

    • Artist says:

      Its not admitting as in “admitting” but to compesate the PR desaster it brought over them. Just a cheap Mea Culpa PR move.

    • Freud says:

      Remains to be seen how much of it is genuine and how much of it is damage control.

      I suspect the next FIFA game will have the same fleecing of players as the past.

    • Faldrath says:

      I think we should always keep this comic strip in mind when talking about corporate behavior:

      link to smbc-comics.com

  2. Nelyeth says:

    That guy. I like him. He does good talking.

    But after all that, I believe we’d like to see more than talking. So how about we raise a collective eyebrow, applaud politely at the speech, and ignore the shiny preorder button for now?

  3. aircool says:

    The game is still crap though. As long as the high scoring players get access to the powerful heroes which can just tear through normal players, then the game just isn’t fun.

    As for the next Battlefield, I hope they revisit Battlefield: Vietnam. Battlefield 1 is practically WWII already, and don’t get me started on 2-3 crewed machine guns that can be lifted by one person into the shoulder to aim down the sights. Sure, it’s fun and silly, but if followed that philosophy with a WWII game, we’d be running round with dual miniguns and shoulder launched missiles.

    • mitrovarr says:

      Yeah, one of the decisions I respect most from the Overwatch team was realizing that any progression system is poison for an competitive multiplayer game and scrapping the entire idea completely.

      • msterofthe says:

        I don’t play competitively, but this is the exact reason why I’ve been enjoying Overwatch so much, and also why I liked arena shooters in the late 90’s-early 00’s. Most modern online-shooters have some kind of progression system or another, and it always feel like it’s there just for the sake of itself, or providing “incentive” for people to keep playing.

        Team Fortress 2, which I played a lot for many years starting shortly after its release, was genuinely fun. Even though it later got unlockable items that affected gameplay, they fit right in as true side-grades rather than tiered upgrades. It was also easy enough to get the ones you want without spending any money at all.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Earl-Grey says:

    I am Loot Box Man!

    Has he lost his mind?
    Can he see or is he blind?
    Can he walk at all
    Or if he moves will he fall?

    Is he live or dead?
    Has he thoughts within his head?
    We’ll just pass him there
    Why should we even care?

    He was turned to shit
    In the great corporate field
    When he monetized tat
    For the future of EA

    Nobody wants him
    He just stares at the world
    Planning his vengeance
    That he will soon unfurl

    Now the time is here
    For Loot Box Man to spread fear
    Vengeance from the grave
    Kills the IPs he once saved

    -Thanks for the alt-text, Alice, I had to change very little of the lyrics for them to make sense in this context.

  5. SaintAn says:

    They’re re-adding loot boxes to Star Wars, so they already did. People need to learn to boycott. EA games aren’t even good so it’s not hard. And the recent movie was awful, so there’s not even anything to be hyped up from enough to buy such a bad game.

    • Artist says:

      Agree! Boycott EA and buy from Ubisoft instead… wait a second..

    • HiroTheProtagonist says:

      Boycotts don’t work when it comes to video games. Even with the coordinated backdraft against the Devil May Cry reboot, it still sold millions of units. Modern Warfare 2 was the highest-selling game of all time for a while despite protests over killing dedicated servers. Left 4 Dead 2 outsold Left 4 Dead 1 despite all the cries that it was an expansion pack at best and the formation of multiple groups for a boycott.

      Nowadays, you’ve also got the compulsive gamblers who love lootboxes as well as the chance to pay to win. Even if you don’t buy a game and convince your friends, there will still be a dozen more people lining up to buy it with a handful of whales who will preorder, season pass and buy the GOTY edition when it drops.

      • Addie says:

        A boycott where people keep on buying the goods and services concerned just sounds like a not-very-good boycott, as opposed to a specific failing of video games. With respect, the examples you’ve picked out all still sound a little niche to me. If we managed to rally everyone round a popular cause, it would have to work – ultimately you could bankrupt any company by causing them to have no return on investment.

    • skyturnedred says:

      I prefer to buy my games on a case-by-case basis.

  6. Jokerme says:

    If they don’t find something even worse for their next big game I will donate all my money to EA.

  7. Kollega says:

    I originally misread “We can shy away from it and pretend like it didn’t happen” as “We can’t shy away from it and pretend like it didn’t happen” – and wanted to applaud that as factually correct. But this is EA we’re talking about, so they couldn’t even get that right.

    • skyturnedred says:

      Try reading the whole quote next time.

      “or we can act responsibly and realise that we made some mistakes, and try to rectify those mistakes and learn from them.”

      • Kollega says:

        I have read the entireq quote. What I was getting at is that “we can’t shy away from this” is far more definitive language than “we made some mistakes and can try to rectify them”. If there is any reflection in this (and hey, there is), it’s more watered-down than it should have been.

        • Caelinus says:

          Using “can’t” in that context would make the sentence rather strange. The statement compared two possible responses to the same situation, and saying “We either can’t do _____, or we can do _____.” does not make sense. It is obvious, even from a casual reading, he is saying they must do the latter.

          There is nothing wrong with what he said or how he said it. Whether it happens or not is a completely separate issue.

  8. Zenicetus says:

    Count me unimpressed. It’s obvious that the reason the next “Bioware” game will be online co-op only, instead of traditional singleplayer with MP on the side, is that it’s a better platform for encouraging post-purchase microtransations. Even if they’re just cosmetic, that’s still the model.

    So the lesson they learned from ME Andromeda wasn’t that it should have had better writing and more time in development, but that it wasn’t the right platform for sucking every possible dollar from the player base.

  9. Love Albatross says:

    I’m interested in their take on Warframe, but don’t for a minute believe they learned anything from the lootbox debacle besides how to better make money the next time round.

  10. KidWithKnife says:

    Ehhh, this all does sound good, but I dunno. This is not exactly the first time EA has stepped in it and swore to do better next time. I do hope they’re serious, but I’ll wait to see some results.

  11. peterako1989 says:

    Same old, same old. It’s the EA cycle. They do something really scammy, it bites them in their flassid bottoms, and then they come out with some sort of insincere nonsense to patch things up. And soderlund has turned into the king of insincere pr apologies.

  12. Someoldguy says:

    Like politicians, they’re good at saying things. We’ll have to see what they do. If other companies get away with loot boxes full of tat they won’t want to be left out.

  13. Quadruplesword says:

    Considering EA has spent the last 10 years showing how much it detests its customers, I’m inclined to call bullshit on them. This is just corporate speak meant to minimize the damage from the PR nightmare that Battlefront II generated. Isn’t it convenient how we’re suddenly seeing all these developers come out and say that EA never forced them to do anything and how supportive they are? Yeah, sorry, ain’t buying it.

    Just like how their decision not to release server code and to move all hosting in-house was for security (and not so they can artificially control the lifespan of a game), and the inclusion of microtransactions in single player games is for “player choice” (blegh). EA would tell you the sky is green and grass is pink if it meant getting your sale.

  14. Hoot says:

    I’m dead, right? Like, I actually died in my car today or something and now I’m in a world that makes no sense except in the hopes and dreams of my inner mind?

    A bigwig from EA admitting a mistake? Without PR guff? Outright saying they know players see the company as some kind of independent studio Van Helsing, creeping the stock market and stalking from company to company, driving a silver (well, silver plated at least), corporate stake through the heart of any original studio they buy out and force the remains to churn out garbage for the masses year in, year out?

    Wow.

    Just…wow.

    • Quadruplesword says:

      Don’t fall for it. It’s just damage control. I’m sure EA is already hard at work trying to figure out every possible way they can monetize Anthem. Companies like them are like politicians – they’re good at saying things rather than actually doing them.

      • diamondmx says:

        They’re actually really good at doing things.
        They’ve made the following things acceptable by the fact that they’re not lootboxes:
        DLC
        On-disk DLC
        Day 1 DLC
        Vanity Microtransactions
        Gameplay affecting microtransactions
        Multiplayer gameplay affecting microtransactions
        Single-use microtransactions
        Story and gameplay DLC and microtransactions clearly carved out of the full game.
        Horse Armour.

        Think back to the things we’ve been frustrated with before, in the last 10-15 years, because they were trying to scrape every penny they could out of our wallets, and each time they take 2 steps forward and 1 step back.
        Look at the ways people, even now, are trying to ask that EA just make the lootboxes a little less atrocious (limit spending, make the items available for a slight premium as purchasables, not include duplicates) – rather than just saying Lootboxes aren’t acceptable.
        They’ve done a lot. And every bit of it screws over the gamer. Fuck EA, Konami, and Ubisoft.

    • grimdanfango says:

      They trot out the same faux-earnest telling-it-straight apology crap every single time they get caught with their hand in the cookie jar. They’ve pretty much got it down to an art-form at this point.

      Go back and look at their apologies for the release state of Sim City (2013). This summed it up rather perfectly: link to youtube.com

    • grimdanfango says:

      Heh, in fact, right on cue, Jim breaks this latest EA statement down to precisely what it really amounts to:

  15. zind says:

    “We had the intent that was designed for us to have more people play it over a longer period of time”

    Weird, seems like we used to be able to play games we liked for a very long time without needing loot boxes. I guess dedicated servers don’t really let them get a hand in the wallet though.

    • Quadruplesword says:

      The thing is, progression systems of any kind – pay2win or not – are basically a slow acting poison for any kind of competitive multiplayer game, yet EA insists on putting them in every game… because that’s the intention. To intentionally cut the game’s life short so that they can sell everyone the sequel and repeat the whole process.

  16. ArbiterLibera says:

    Of course they won’t. Not now when government’s eyes are looming over the practice. Congrats EA, you ruined it for your greedy pals.

    • Quadruplesword says:

      I wouldn’t hold my breath on that. Lobbyists already shut down Chris Lee’s attempt to regulate lootboxes here in the U.S., and the other countries that were looking into it have been radio silent for some time.

  17. Lawlcopt0r says:

    Let’s just hope their fake empathy lasts long enough to save Anthem, after the Witcher games I’m really craving some good story-driven RPGs

  18. kud13 says:

    “We can’t afford to screw up like this again”

    Translation: “next time you buy an Origin game, the EULA will include a waiver of your right to complain about our monetization schemes”

    If EA sports wasn’t a colossal, money-printing juggernaut, I might have believed in a tiny chance of consumer feedback possibly mastering. As it stands… yeah, no.

  19. bacon seeker says:

    I would ignore this and just look at whatever they’re saying to their shareholders. I doubt it’s “we need to scale back micro transactions”

    • brucethemoose says:

      Not necessarily.

      Facebook, for example, isn’t saying “we need to track users even more aggressively!” to investors. They just give shareholders some equally vague, safe buzzword-laden corporatespeak, and proceed to do exactly that. EA is in a similar situation.

  20. grimdanfango says:

    Bullshit as usual. They didn’t “make some mistakes”. They made a conscious, clearly calculated, and deeply cynical decision to try to push in-game gambling mechanics, and didn’t adequately wager on the strength of the backlash.

    They’ll sure as hell try to do it again too, if they ever feel like the atmosphere changes sufficiently that they reckon they’d get away with it.
    And if not, then they’ll certainly try to push for whatever new flavour-of-the-week cash-in comes along instead.

    I love the bit about needing to be cautious… like their customers are dangerously sensitive and reactive and they need to tread on eggshells to avoid this sort of backlash. Somewhere along the line, the notion of just making a selling a goddamn game seems to have become lost beneath this idea that to make anything at all requires at least *some* basic form of borderline-illegal exploitative business model.

    Spouting bare-faced lies to the public must be a pretty miserable job… but I guess his paycheck probably makes up for it.

  21. Avus says:

    And it will be “YOUR OWN MISTAKE” if you believe what EA exec said… How much $$ EA had earned from these loot boxes from their sport titles?

  22. tslog says:

    ‘Mistakes” is this context is a grotesque PR spin euphemism for exploitative contempt.

    The PR Drive to rehabilitate Bioware’s decline, and EAs justified image as the worst Gaming company, is so transparent that I’ve run out of barf.

  23. diamondmx says:

    EA planned to add lootboxes.
    EA planned to make the game dependent on them.
    EA planned to make the game worse by design, to sell those lootboxes.
    EA planned for a controversy and backlash; They’ll have had meetings on it, and a discussion on acceptable ranges of outrage.
    EA planned to lose some money from players being upset.
    EA didn’t plan for the backlash to be quite this harsh, but it was within expectations (See EA saying “This isn’t going to affect our bottom line” in their shareholder statements)
    EA probably planned to roll back some lootbox changes to pretend to fix the problem.
    EA planned to release a statement just like this, apologizing for overreaching.
    EA planned to get positive PR like this article from their sincere apology.
    EA plans to add in a slightly less awful version of this in a future game.
    EA plans to push the Overton Window further every few years.
    EA will succeed in doing so, because no one ever holds them to their lies.
    Very little that happened with Battlefront 2 was unexpected, except the volume of outrage, and tbh, if that one PR guy hadn’t given the public a very clear phrase to rally around, maybe it would have blown over.

    • diamondmx says:

      (Editing system still not great)
      To be clear, the above statement by EA is a blatant lie.
      Within the next 2 years, they will have done something worse than lootboxes, and it’s quite likely they already have some ideas on what that is.
      I personally would bet on one of the two new ideas being discussed:
      1) Matchmaking designed to convince players to buy microtransactions by setting up unfair matches.
      2) Dynamic pricing of microtransactions to squeeze the most money out of the most players.

  24. percydaman says:

    Make no mistake, they always calculated for this day. When the pushback would be bad enough to not make them worth it. They knew the day would come, they just didn’t know when. It’s the same mentality for why a show has too many seasons. They will keep pushing right up until they take a couple steps too far, and then they will back off.

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