Better luck next time?
Mere hours before Star Wars Battlefront II’s official launch, Oskar Gabrielson (General Manager at DICE) announced that, effective immediately, all in-game purchases would be removed from the game. The announcement caught many gamers, myself included, by surprise. But players are already beginning to look ahead to what might happen next. Gabrielson ended his statement by saying, “The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game.”
That clearly suggests microtransactions are returning to Star Wars Battlefront II at some point. However, the question remains: in what form? How will EA address the maelstrom of player hatred, and still manage to earn some cash? With DLC for Battlefront II releasing for free, EA needs a way to keep earning money on the game without angering their fan base.
I have no issue with microtransactions if they’re done ethically. Seeing fans’ laid-back reaction to loot crates in games like Overwatch, Rocket League, and Assassin’s Creed Origins suggests I’m not alone in that thought. EA just needs to remember one thing when implementing microtransactions in their game: paying to play should never be the normal way to play. The majority of a game’s player base will not pay to play a game above the entry fee. Only a small portion actually will. Take a brief glance at the visceral backlash that EA had to endure over both Twitter and Reddit. You’ll see exactly what I mean. Thus, a game can’t demand that players pay to succeed at playing. Any game that does so will immediately alienate the majority of their audience that doesn’t want to, or simply can’t, pay.
This was Star Wars Battlefront II’s principal problem. Had microtransactions been implemented in a way that only allowed players to buy cosmetic items (like skins or emotes), the backlash at their inclusion would have been far less severe. Instead, they were tied to the mechanics for unlocking more powerful abilities and Hero characters. Growing stronger in multiplayer and unlocking Heroes are both aspects of Battlefront II that players consider to be part of normal play. They are both features that players who want to pick up Battlefront II would strive for within the game. That being the case, EA shouldn’t have tied microtransactions to them, and they shouldn’t do it again when the microtransactions come back.
There are some pretty good examples of AAA first-person shooters implementing an ethical in-game spending system. Overwatch is one of them, and it provides an excellent basis for EA to emulate. EA should allow players to slowly unlock the currency to open crates that hold cosmetic items. It’s not like they’re short on inspiration. The TV shows Star Wars The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels seem to introduce new trooper helmets for the clones and Stormtroopers almost every other episode, and the Rebels themselves are a ragtag group of diversity.
In fact, Clone Wars goes as far as to say that the clones customized and painted their armor to help differentiate themselves and give themselves more uniqueness. Players are exactly the same. They don’t want to all look alike. They want to show off their own personality. Give them some paint jobs, different helmet designs, and unique arm guards. Battle droids and the Imperial Stormtroopers might be tricker, as both groups are meant to be armies of uniformity, but small things, like adding blaster burn scars or unique lines of dialogue for destroying enemies or capturing points, could go a long way! Just make sure that none of these cosmetics change a character’s hit box, influence how a gun fires, affect a character’s movements, or make it easier for players to earn additional currency faster.
EA can maintain player retention by increasing the variety of cosmetics as gamers level up. That way, gamers will have to actually play the game to unlock specific ranks before spending money on what they want. Although this may seem counter-intuitive (why limit your fans that DO want to spend extra cash), an argument can be made that cosmetics, though they don’t impact gameplay, do impact how much a player is enjoying what they are playing. A new player doesn’t want to see everyone else wearing the exact same cool-looking armor (especially if they cannot afford to pay for it themselves).
By dividing cosmetics into unlockable tiers, it creates a level of variety between players. You can see this in games like Halo Reach. Players could customize every part of their Spartan, from their shin guards to their voice. But Bungie made it that some gear could only be unlocked or bought once the player reached a certain milestone. Most players wanted to have the flaming head or Emile’s Skull pattern on their visor, but both were high level gear. Players had to devote hours to unlock either one, and many players fell in love with other pieces of gear long before they reached that point because they started to like the look of the stuff that they could afford at the lower levels. It was awesome to look over everyone’s Spartan while waiting in matchmaking lobbies, as it was rare to ever see anyone playing with the same gear.
In Halo Reach, this entire process was in-game credits that needed to be earned, but implementing the system in Battlefront 2, and supplementing it with currency that the player can buy with real cash, should still work. This system ensures that players who want to spend can keep spending, and those that don’t want to won’t feel immediately inadequate or left out because everyone is unique.
EA probably won’t get their microtransactions right on their first go when they come back. Something is going to be off. My guess is that the rate of how fast players can earn the credits to unlock new crates might be too slow in comparison to just buying them, or the drop rate for rare cosmetics might be too low. However, they’ve gone on record that they are committed to the process, and that they will keep altering things in accordance to player’s feedback. That’s a solid step in the right direction, and now it’s up to players to step up and help out.
Players will need to remember to have cool heads if they notice something about the new microtransaction system that they disagree with, and respectfully inform EA of any tweaks the company needs to make in order to perfect the overall flow of the game. It’s going to take some work, but, at its core, Star Wars Battlefront II is a good game. It deserves a better microtransaction system than the one it was initially going to launch with, and hopefully that is what we’ll get.