Four months after turning off microtransactions in Star Wars: Battlefront II following the big stupid loot box mess, EA are about ready to launch a revamp of the game's progression system and microtransaction monetisation. The good news: nothing that actually affects the action will be purchasable with real money. The so-so news: yes it still has a lousy damn progression system getting in the way of the game. The weird news: it seems the only thing EA will sell for money is character skins, contrary to an exec's mutterings about the risks of upsetting people with a pink Darth Vader.
You remember the loot box mess? Unlocking items and upgrades was tied to 'Star Cards' and crafting junk found in loot boxes bought with a virtuacash earned by playing or a microtransaction currency bought with real money, as our Alec explained in detail. The game had a load of grind and players were not best pleased that EA were offering to let people pay to skip some of that grind in a game which already costs £55. No more.
"With this update, progression is now linear," today's announcement explains. "Star Cards, or any other item impacting gameplay, will only be earned through gameplay and will not be available for purchase. Instead, you'll earn experience points for the classes, hero characters, and ships that you choose to play in multiplayer. If you earn enough experience points to gain a level for that unit, you'll receive one Skill Point that can be used to unlock or upgrade the eligible Star Card you'd like to equip."
Star Cards aren't in Crates any more, and Crates can't be bought. The reworked Crates will be received as rewards for "logging in daily, completing Milestones, and through timed challenges," EA say. And they'll only contain Credits or cosmetic items like emotes and victory poses.
Everything players have unlocked before this update will stay unlocked, but moving forwards it'll go through that new system.
So what will EA sell? It sounds like skins are the only thing. EA call 'em "appearances" for some funny reason, and they'll include different species to play as. EA give the example of Rodians as Rebel characters. These will be sold for the Credits earned in-game while playing or for real money through the 'Crystals' microtransaction cash.
I don't object to EA selling cosmetic jazz for games if it helps fund ongoing development. It's a model which has proven itself in a number of games - and sure beats the last Battlefront's post-launch monetisation of playerbase-splitting paid expansions. It's just a bit silly considering everything EA CFO Blake Jorgensen said last year about grind-skipping microtransactions being a better fit than skins. He noted that they were considering cosmetic options, but had been wary of focusing on them.
"The one thing that we're very focused on and [Disney are] extremely focused on is not violating the canon of Star Wars," Jorgensen said during an earnings conference call in November, responding to the loot box upset. "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."
Turns out, Star Wars is crawling with different species and bits you can mash in as cosmetic options. Who knew? Still, at least they changed their minds rather than sticking to selling progression.
Battlefront II's Progression Update will launch on March 21.