Star Wars: Battlefront II’s microtransaction system was so hated that Electronic Arts pulled it from the game. Not for the first time, however, EA has stated that the removal is only temporary while the publisher and developer DICE work on balancing the system.
“We’re not giving up on the notion of [microtransactions],” EA CFO Blake Jorgensen said yesterday during a talk at the Credit Suisse conference. He added that the company hasn’t yet decided when to reinsert microtransactions into Battlefront II.
“We’re really watching how people are playing the game,” said Jorgensen. “We’re trying to understand are there certain modes where MTX may be more interesting than not? What are the consumers saying about it? How are the consumers playing the game? What do the metrics look like? We’re learning and listening to the community to decide how best to roll that out in the future.”
Despite pre-release testing, EA did not anticipate the level of consumer backlash it’s faced over a microtransaction system fans have derisively labeled “pay-to-win.”
“We did some testing around the [microtransaction] model, but not enough to really understand some of the reactions we ultimately got,” Jorgensen said. He added that EA and DICE were preoccupied with other issues, like beta-testing the entire game.
And while he acknowledged that some players felt the system made the game unfair because it was possible to use real-world money to buy your way to winning matches, Jorgensen countered that not all gamers share the same viewpoint.
“The reality is there’s [sic] different types of players in games. Some people have more money than time, and some people have more time than money, and you want to always balance those two.”
That may be true, but enough gamers fall into the latter category to make EA’s initial response to the system Reddit’s most-downvoted comment ever. Fan dissatisfaction with microtransactions is also believed to have contributed to EA losing $3.1 billion in investor value.
That EA pulled the system in response shows that the company listens to and cares about its customers, says Jorgensen. But although most gamers would likely prefer the system never return, EA thinks it can fix it.
“For us it’s a great learning experience,” said Jorgensen. “We are trying to run the company with an ear to the consumer at all times, not only in the testing phase but when the game is up and running. We’re trying to build games that last for years, not for months… If we’re not making mistakes along the way and learning from them, that’s when you should worry about us. But our view is these are great opportunities for us to continue to tune the game, to adjust things.”
For EA, the microtransactions offset the fact that Battlefront II has no paid DLC. And one external analyst did respond to the controversy by saying gamers are paying too little, not too much, for video game content.
So if there’s no paid DLC and upgraded character abilities can no longer be purchased via microtransactions but EA isn’t bringing in enough revenue, what’s the solution? Jorgensen said EA “might” be open to simply giving players more character customization items to buy with real money. However, EA and Lucasfilm are worried that if they go too far with that option it could negatively effect Star Wars canon.
“It’s an amazing brand that’s been built over many many years. If you did a bunch of cosmetic things, you might start to violate the canon,” explained Jorgensen. “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.
“There might be things we can do cosmetically, and we’re working with Lucas on that, but coming into it, it wasn’t as easy as if we were building a game around our own IP where it didn’t really matter. It matters in Star Wars, because Star Wars fans want realism. But Star Wars fans also may want to tailor things — different color Lightsabers, things like that — so you may see something like that.”