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.