EA is turning off all in-game purchases from Star Wars Battlefront II for the time being. While you may be ready to celebrate, you have to ask is this change is really going to save the game?
Author’s Note: Opinions are that of the author and do not reflect Heavy as a whole.
DICE General Manager Oskar Gabrielson wrote in a blog post that they’ve heard concerns over players getting an unfair advantage through the microtransactions and how it undermines what is otherwise a great game. Now the ability to purchase the premium currency of Crystals in-game is now offline and all progression will be earned through gameplay. However, the ability to purchase Crystals will become available on a later date after they’ve made changes to the game. But they’ll provide more info on that when it’s available.
“We have created a game that is built on your input, and it will continue to evolve and grow,” said Gabrielson.
Crystals were spent on loot boxes that offered a random selection of weapons and Star Cards which grant passive abilities such as healing after kills or lower cooldown times for abilities. Otherwise you would have to earn credits by playing matches and buy the loot boxes that way. So theoretically, by spending money you could have a tangible gameplay advantage over those who choose not to spend money and instead take the time to earn credits.
Not only were the microtransactions made tempting by the prospect of easy power, but they were also made tempting by the prospect of saving time by making earning credits in-game deliberately feel like a grind. Reddit user TheHotterPotato played the Galactic Assault mode during the EA Access period and calculated that it would take about 40 hours to get the 60,000 credits needed to unlock Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader. It also takes 13.79 hours working at minimum wage ($7.25) to get enough money to buy 60 Trooper Crates. Otherwise you can spend 157.54 ( or 6.56 days) playing the game to get enough credits to buy 60 Trooper Crates. It was 11.4 times more efficient with your time to spend money in the game for loot boxes rather than play it.
EA has toned it down quite a bit in the days leading up to the game’s release, taking certain weapons out of loot boxes and instead having them be unlockable by playing the weapon’s specific class, making players have to be at a certain level to equip and upgrade higher level Star Cards, removing Epic Star Cards from loot boxes, and reducing the amount of credits needed to unlock heroes by 75 percent.
But that clearly wasn’t enough to quell the backlash. EA’s Community Team tried to respond to the backlash surrounding how long it would take to get heroes by saying that the intent was “to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes,” but their response received over -600,000 points on Reddit making it the most downvoted comment in Reddit history. EA and DICE tried to clear things up with an AMA but all they did was answer softball questions.
So the microtransactions gone for now, but that may not be enough to save the game.
EA had the game built from the ground up to get you to spend money on microtransactions. By allowing you to just buy advantages from Star Cards instead of saving up the credits through matches, it devalues your time spent in the game by putting a price on time saved. It’s more valuable to not play the game.
So even though EA took the microtransactions out, they’ve left a sizeable hole in the game. If the progression remains slow, then it’s still going to feel like a slog even though there are no microtransactions dangling in your face. That’s why they should up the amount of credits you earn.
My colleagues Eli Becht and Collin MacGregor both got the game early and the grind appears to be not as bad as before. While TheHotterPotato averaged around 250 credits per match with the highest one earning him 385, Becht and MacGregor were earning around 300-500 per match while also earning credits from challenges that earn between 100 and 1,000 as well as the campaign which grants them 5,000. Becht said that it took him the course of a day to finish the campaign and unlock Luke and Vader.
However, Eli said in his review that it still takes a long time to grind for credits. He told me that once the challenges and campaign are completed, the real grind starts and it still takes him just as long as before but now there are no loot boxes.
But the biggest problem with the design right now is that it’s still tied to the loot boxes. No matter how fast you earn credits, the Star Cards and other items you earn through the loot boxes are still randomized. Even though weapon unlocks are tied to leveling up specific classes, you can still get Star Cards for classes you never touch. So if you really want a skin or a certain passive ability, you still need to sift through loot box after loot box to get it. On top of it all, you can receive duplicates of items with you gaining only a small bit of credits as compensation.
This reminds me of the loot boxes in Overwatch, where the vast majority of unlocks from boxes are common sprays and voice lines. You also got duplicates in that game. So if you want the more rare skins for the character you actually play as, you need to open a lot of loot boxes.
By having the progression system tied solely to this constantly unrewarding system, it makes the game unrewarding as a result. Just like I’ll brace myself for the blue and gray streaks of loot boxes indicating common items in Overwatch, I’ll have to brace myself for the useless cosmetic items or Star Card I’ll never use.
It also still doesn’t fix the problem of players getting an advantage over others simply because they play the game more and get more credits to spend on loot boxes. And even if two players play for the exact same time, they’re going to get different Star Cards that may or may not benefit their character class of choice.
You could argue that progressing in the game is no different than any other multiplayer game, where players who spend more time with the game are better than other players because they either unlock the weapons faster by leveling up or they simply have more practice. But unlike a game like Call of Duty or Splatoon 2 where every player can unlock the same weapon by reaching the same level, players of Battlefront II will be granted boosts of power at completely different and random intervals.
And what about the players who got the game early and had the option to spend money on microtransactions? They’re still going to have a distinct advantage over the other players on launch day. And if they felt suckered into buying the microtransactions, will they be reimbursed?
The problem with Battlefront II leading up to the game’s release is that it’s a free-to-play game at heart that was sold at full price. It dismantled itself in order to fit an economy meant to psychologically pummel players into spending money on top of them paying a cost up front. So even though EA took out the microtransactions, what we’re left with is a shell of a game with a mangled progression and balance system. We can argue all day on whether or not the game is rewarding to play for its own sake, but you can’t deny that its progressions system was made the way it is from day one.
The worst part of all this is that it really doesn’t matter. EA will reinstate the microtransactions at a later date and it will once again be a game that not only doesn’t properly reward you but takes your money as well.
What EA should have really done was make a great game and not put in the microtransactions at all. It would still make them tons of money because it’s Star Wars and maybe people won’t be so disgusted that they announced to everyone that they weren’t going to buy it. They could of at least made it free-to-play if the microtransactions are so valuable.
But above all, they shouldn’t have gone the pay-to-win route. If there’s one thing the Star Wars universe derided it was easy roads to power.