When Electronic Arts turned off microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront 2 over that whole stinking loot crate progression system mess, they said they would bring 'em back after a rethink. Well, EA's chief financial officer said on Tuesday that is still very much the plan. While he isn't sure how and when microtransactions will return, he seems fairly certain they wouldn't include cosmetic items which seem goofy or out-of-place in Star Wars - no pink Darth Vader, for starters.
The original plan for microtransactions in Battlefront 2 was to optionally sell the loot crates which contain bits and pieces players need to unlock and upgrade weapons, abilities, and characters. If people paid to buy crates, they would skip some of the tedious grind. EA disabled the option to buy crates for real money -- but not the crate system itself -- shortly before launch after many people complained this was nonsense.
"We pulled off on the MTX, because the real issue the consumer had was they felt it was a pay-to-win mechanic," EA CFO Blake Jorgensen said during a chat-o-interview at the Credit Suisse Annual Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. This is a business-y but conversational context. He continued, "The reality is, there's different types of players in games. Some people have more time than money and some people have more money than time, and you want to always balance those two."
Jorgensen went on to explain that they're trying to make a game that will stand for years, supported by new content and events. The implication is that microtransactions can help support this model. This is still fairly new territory for EA, who in recent years have spaffed quick sequels and paid expansions all over. But he does concede they're still figuring it, saying they're listening to players and poring over all the metrics they can track.
"We will continue to look and work with our consumer base, continue to look at the data about the game, and learn from that to try to understand the best ways to create a game that's deeply engaging, that people play for a long time, and that everyone can enjoy depending on if you grind in the game, if you pay in the game, or if you do both."
How come they haven't followed the path of games like Overwatch and Dota by selling cosmetic items? Part of the reason is that oh-so-important Star Wars canon, apparently. EA -- and especially Star Wars overlords Disney and Lucasfilm -- want to preserve the holy lore.
"The one thing that we're very focused on and they're extremely focused on is not violating the canon of Star Wars," Jorgensen said. "It's an amazing brand that's been built over many many years and so if you did a bunch of cosmetic things, you might start to violate the canon. Darth Vader in white probably doesn't make sense versus in black. Not to mention, you probably don't want Darth Vader in pink. No offense to pink but I don't think that's right in the canon."
Jorgensen says EA are working with the Starlords on potential ideas for cosmetic items, mentioning different lightsaber colours, but this isn't certain. Battlefront 2 does already include some cosmetic bits, mind, packing victory poses and emotive animations into its loot crates. Sadly, none of those are anywhere near as fun as animations in the best Star Wars game ever made, Kinect Star Wars. Yeah but who cares? Supposedly Star Warrers (don't call 'em Warries - they hate that term) are quite insistent about this canon nonsense. Pfft.
EA are increasingly focusing on this 'games as service' model and stepping away from paid expansions and endless sequels, so I will be curious to see what they learn from this fiasco. They have at least done a good job with Titanfall 2, adding plenty of new maps and modes for free while selling cosmetic skins. I don't agree that Battlefront 2's loot crates are gambling -- and I worry that over-using the word provides cover for actual gambling problems in games -- but they sure are rubbish and exploitative.
Some people are quite insistent that I offer firm opinions on this, so my weapons-grade hot take is: persistent unlock progression in competitive multiplayer games is bad and Star Wars is undesirable too, so buying a game containing both is a terrible idea.