What we Hope Big Companies Have Learned about Micro-Transactions From Past Mistakes

We probably don’t have to explain what we’re talking about here – much of the last few months of 2017 was spent in one huge controversy concerning loot boxes in general and Battlefront 2 in particular.

What does that mean? Well in case you spent those months in a coma, let us sum it up – the already pretty pricey Battlefront 2 featured – or rather didn’t – plenty of content you could also purchase through loot-boxes, using real money of course.

If players didn’t want to pay, they could absolutely unlock characters, etc through normal gameplay. For a character like Darth Vader, aka one of the most iconic ones in the game, this would take roughly 40 hours of gameplay.

To say people were upset would be the understatement of the year. EA made it a worse with their replies too – their comment on Reddit managed to break a fairly sad record – most downvotes on any comment ever. What does the comment say?

The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.
As for cost, we selected initial values based upon data from the Open Beta and other adjustments made to milestone rewards before launch. Among other things, we’re looking at average per-player credit earn rates on a daily basis, and we’ll be making constant adjustments to ensure that players have challenges that are compelling, rewarding, and of course attainable via gameplay.

We appreciate the candid feedback, and the passion the community has put forth around the current topics here on Reddit, our forums and across numerous social media outlets.
Our team will continue to make changes and monitor community feedback and update everyone as soon and as often as we can.

As for the downvotes: they exceeded 678000.

Unsurprisingly, just a few days later, the cost for the unlockable content was slashed by EA – by about 75% – from 60000 credits for some characters to ‘only’ about 15000 or even less for other characters.

Unfortunately, the damage was already done – people were very, very upset and rightfully so. EA nearly ruined the Star Wars franchise and it definitely hugely impacted Battlefront 2. Not too many people were complaining about the game itself – which, by the way, is pretty fun, instead it was all about the economy of the game.

It wasn’t just the characters that had people upset though, as there were other elements to it too – cards. With a total of 324 of them, upgrading and unlocking all of them takes over 155000 crafting parts – this, in turn requires the opening of over 3100 lootboxes, or over 4500 hours of gameplay. That’s about 187 days of continuous gameplay.

In other words – it could take years to unlock everything…unless the person chooses to spend money instead. For about 2100 USD, the same thing can be achieved. It should be said though, that this entire controversy took place before the actual launch of the game. Just days before the launch, EA removed all in-game purchases following the huge amount of criticism.

In other words – if players want the content of the game they already paid for, they have to do it the old-fashioned way. By cheating. Unsurprisingly, players quickly found ways to up their credit earnings – most famously with rubber bands on their controllers so they won’t be kicked for inactivity.

That however wasn’t the biggest upset this whole thing caused – that honour goes to the Hawaiian and Belgian politicians that decided to look into the whole affair. Both parties started investigations and considerations on the topic of lootboxes – Belgium in particular was considering the possibility of them violating their gambling laws.

All because EA wanted to milk their fans for (even more) cash.

What is the lesson to be learned here? Well, on the surface it’s that greed is bad. As many of you are likely reading this on iPhones or other smartphones, we won’t complain about capitalism in general – that isn’t the problem. It’s the disregard that EA showed its fans.

It’s no secret that gamers are willing to pay for what they love – after all, plenty of games already feature variations of loot-boxes, most of them containing cosmetic items only. In other words – they allow players to change the looks of their game, but whether they pay or don’t pay, the game plays the same way.

The difference is obvious – it doesn’t blatantly favour people able or willing to fork out tons of cash. Pay2Win is something that just about no gamer ever asked for – it’s already almost a standard for many mobile games, but until EA’s attempt play their fans for fools, it wasn’t too prominent in (paid-for) games, certainly not the AAA kind.

Truth be told, had EA attempted the same thing but with much, much lower prices/requirements to begin with, they could have avoided this altogether. Sure, some fans would have complained, but that is absolutely unavoidable as someone will always have something to be unhappy with.

What matters is that the company chose completely unrealistic and outrageous targets while pretending it was all to give gamers a sense of accomplishment – in a rare twist of cosmic justice, their plan failed completely.

What does this mean for gamers? Well, we managed to do something really important actually. It’s pretty much a given that if this hadn’t happened, EA would never have lowered the requirements or removed the transactions altogether. So what’s happened here is that players stood up for what they wanted instead of just accepting the cards they were dealt.

And it worked.

That’s the most vital part of this – gamers stood up to a giant like EA and got them to give in. If nothing else, EA and any other company with a PR department has finally understood that gamers won’t put up with anything just because it says Star Wars etc on the cover, and that players have the power to do some real damage with the right incentive. Look at EA’s stock market value over the past six months if you need proof.

Players in turn have also learned something important – standing up against unfair conditions can absolutely change the situation. It may not always work (it won’t) but in this particular example, gamers worldwide all but changed history – and potentially the loot-crate system on top of that.

How lasting that impact was – we don’t know, but it’ll be interesting to see. For now, take that, EA!