A few weeks ago, Star Wars Battlefront 2 flopped into the gaming world as a big, tangled mess, infuriating fans with an unnecessarily grindy and unbalanced progression system meant to funnel players towards overpowered micro-transactions, and the resulting uproar sent ripples through developer DICE, publisher EA, and even license-holder Disney. EA made the somewhat extraordinary decision to pull the entire micro-transaction system only hours before the full launch, and now the company is sitting here holding the bag while figuring out how to earn back player trust and get this whole thing working again. Step one is increasing the currency payouts from regular play, which EA outlined in a blog post today:
It’s been a busy few weeks for Star Wars™ Battlefront™ II. We’re excited to have launched the game to the world, but recognize that there have been some challenges along the way. We have learned a lot, and are making adjustments to the game to ensure the best experience possible. On Tuesday, an update is rolling out that begins the Star Wars™ Battlefront™ II The Last Jedi Season by kicking off factional challenges, letting you choose a side and start competing for rewards as either The First Order or The Resistance.
The rebalancing comes with three major components. First, the developer is increasing end of round credit payouts, giving players better rewards across the board but paying special attention to top-tier players. I happen to think this game is already far too weighted towards top players, but that’s another matter. Second, we’re now allowed to earn three times more credits in single-player Arcade mode every day, though why credit progress is gated at all remains a mystery. And third, rewards from the daily login crate should now be greatly increased.
You’ll note here that there is no mention of bringing back micro-transactions. The simmering anger from launch is still potent here, and EA is being very careful about how it does that whenever it eventually happens. The strategy here seems to be just sort of waiting until the game is somewhat balanced for hardcore players and safely out of the headlines and then just sort of switching them back on. It’s going to be a mess whenever it happens, however, and every day that they remain off is lost revenue for a major title. I would assume that there’s major incentive to get micro-transactions up and running before the release of The Last Jedi, which is sure to bring in many more casual players who might not be following this whole controversy at all.
As I’ve said before, tweaking the rewards can only go so far towards saving this game, or even towards saving its progression system. The very idea of a progression system based on passive bonuses that make experienced players markedly more deadly than new players is fraught with problems, making the system noticeably unfriendly to new players and further contributing to a few over-powered top-tier players absolutely dominating a match at the expense of fun. Tweaking payouts doesn’t really change this, it just attempts to sweep the problem under the rug a little quicker by shuffling players to combat competency more quickly.
And that’s when we’re only talking about the progression system. The game also suffers from some curious design decisions that manage to sap its signature Galactic Assault mode of fun and competitiveness, and nothing in the game quite compares to the madcap grandeur that was Walker Assault in the original game. The entire experience is something of a ponderous mess, and you can read more about that in my review.
Regardless, the stakes are very high for EA on this one. Even if we’re just talking about the one game, Star Wars Battlefront 2 was meant to produce consistent micro-transaction income for what we assume is at least two years and maybe more. Jeopardizing that puts a big dent in a game meant to serve as a marquee non-sports title for EA, and the publisher has already missed out on weeks of crucial income. Beyond that, however, EA has aggressively pursued micro-transactions as a way to get more and more money out of a $60 boxed game, and investors have responded with enthusiasm. The controversy surrounding this game has called that strategy into question, and that means that the onus is now on EA to prove that it can right the ship going forward. It may be a tall order for non-sports games, even if rival Activision has managed to coast into micro-transaction territory without any of the attendant controversies.
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