If there’s anybody that’s grateful for the controversy surrounding Star Wars Battlefront 2, it’s WB Games. While the introduction of microtransactions into a single-player game in Shadow of War may have riled some, a seemingly endless wave of backlashes coming Battlefront 2’s way makes it seem almost small in comparison, which is not to excuse it, even for a second.
Things started out so well for Battlefront 2, the sequel to a reboot that was rushed to shelves to meet the Star Wars rush brought on by The Force Awakens. EA and DICE promised to right the wrongs of 2015’s polarising shooter by announcing that there would be no season passes and that all post-launch content would be free. Cynicism tried to overrule some of the positive feedback by asking the question about where EA would get their recurrent revenue from instead, but the signs were all there that Battlefront 2 would be everything the first game should have been.
And then the public beta happened and it all came coming tumbling down like The Old Republic.
In an effort to make sense of all the furore surrounding Battlefront, I’ve tried to collate all of its controversies into a timeline of events. If there’s anything I’ve missed, let me know – there was a lot to wade through.
The Public Beta
Ground zero. Shortly after it went live, players began to notice the introduction of loot crates. At first, it could have been easy to dismiss them if they had been cosmetic, but when game-changing Star Cards could be claimed from these crates, the fear was that the game would be pay-to-win. EA DICE would later say that they were testing the waters, but the seeds of discontent had already been sewn.
Early Pre-Order Access
It’s become the norm for EA games for them to grant early access to those who pre-order, but it doesn’t continue to split opinion any less. While EA had proof to shareholders that people were willing to pay for the game, anyone purchasing on or after launch day would be at a distinct disadvantage when others had already been playing for a week. Pre-order incentives promote a buying culture of worrying about missing out, but letting early adopters effectively get ahead means a huge amount of players miss out.
The Angry Joe Interview
EA DICE sent out a multiplayer producer to die. That’s the long and short of it.
Paul Keslin appeared on the AngryJoeShow to address some of the concerns Joe had in a “rant” video in relation to Battlefront 2’s open beta and the introduction of game-changing loot crates into a full-price game. While most of his responses were PR speak, Keslin not even knowing how long it would take players to unlock content had plenty worried. When the figures were revealed, however, perhaps Keslin was wise to play dumb.
The Early Access Exodus
Ironically, however, EA appeared to shoot themselves in the foot when the amount of grinding required to unlock Heroes was revealed by those who had the game almost a week early. Thanks to calculations by a Redditor, it was estimated that players would have to wait at least 40 hours before they could play as the likes of Vader and Luke Skywalker, thanks to the game’s insignificant end of match rewards and the thousands upon thousands of credits needed to unlock them. What happened next made EA a bit of unwanted history.
Down into the Reddithole
It’s not easy to be universally hated on Reddit: it’s one of the most diverse communities on the web with different opinions and beliefs shared across its many subreddits. So, when a hapless EA Community Team member sought to address some of the negative feedback from the progression system, it was quite the feat to see it become the most downvoted comment in the site’s history.
Here it is in all its glory:
“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.”
It did not go down well.
A hasty tweet and retreat
Happening alongside the Reddit downvote party, EA’s Star Wars community manager (of all people) sent out a tweet that only served to add fuel to the fire. While he later claimed that it was unrelated to the furore surrounding Battlefront 2, his quickly deleted tweet about “the arm chair developers on this internet” blew up.
Taking tweets out of context, and fun Sunday conversations. I did Twitter wrong today. I am logging off.
My tweets earlier had nothing to do with community remarks or topics within or around SWBFII. I made a tweet about a general thing and people claim I am speaking about my games community complaints. #disheartning#Frustrated Sorry to those who think it was about Star Wars.
I removed those tweets as hordes of angry gamers being told I was speaking about them were upset. I get that, but someone misinterpreted my tweet, I again apologize for that, but it was not my intent. Trust me I am at bat for this community and game/franchise I love.
A lot of outlets jumped on the story of an EA developer who had claimed that he was receiving death threats when the backlash was at its peak. Plenty of mild to medium takes were written on that day, all before Kotaku’s Jason Schreier excellent investigation into the truth. It quickly became apparent that BiggSean66 wasn’t an EA employee at all after he hurriedly removed all mention of EA from his profile once Jason started pressing him.
EA alter the deal
With a PR nightmare to consider, EA posted a short blog update that acknowledged the fault in their progression system for Battlefront 2. They announced that they would be lowering the credits required to unlock heroes down by 75% from 60000 down to 15000 for the top tier icons. They also failed to mention, however, that credits were reduced for finishing the campaign.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I read “review event”, I instantly black out in an attempt to forget the nonsense I have just seen. Review events, popularised by the AAA industry over the last decade, are special events where reviewers from the largest outlets come to play games for review under supervision. It being the norm doesn’t change the fact that review events are highly questionable in terms of the relationship between journalists and publishers. According to We Got This Covered, they were treated to quite the luxuries.
Shortly before reviews for Battlefront 2 started popping up, it was reported that reviewers at the review event also had to spend less credits to unlock heroes. While this can be attributed to EA wanting reviewers to get through as much of the content in such a short space of time, it wasn’t at all reflective of the actual experience of the game, which meant that opinions based on the progression system would be coloured away from the truth. Upon learning of the credit changes which were later introduced following feedback, Game Informer even postponed their review to have the proper consumer experience.
With reviewers and early adopters playing through Battlefront 2, another credit fiasco soon reared it ugly head. The game’s Arcade Mode would give players credits, but only up to a certain point. For up to five challenges, players could earn credits in single-player to be used for multiplayer progression, but EA decided to cap any further earnings from that point while also mentioning that players could earn credits again after a waiting period. Game Informer’s Andrew Reiner was “locked out” for fourteen hours while Boogie2988 “only” had to wait for three hours.
The worst part of the game is this: You are limited on credits earned in Arcade mode. “More credits available in 14 hours” pic.twitter.com/8NOTvby2hl
They always say you shouldn’t go back to the scene of the crime, but EA decided to brave the Reddit waters by hosting an AMA that went about as well as you would expect. Rather than speaking candidly with the community, the “interviewees” would regularly trot out PR speak and avoid the tough questions, including just how much time was needed to organically unlock extra content.
On updating progression:
“We’re committed to making progression a fun experience for all of our players. Nothing should feel unattainable and if it does, we’ll do what it takes to make sure it’s both fun and achievable. As we update and expand Arcade mode, we’ll be working towards making sure that players can continue to progress without daily limits.”
On loot crates:
“I think crates can be a fun addition as long as you don’t feel forced to engage with them in order to progress. I feel that’s where the issue is with our game right now and that’s where we’ll look to solve as quickly as we can. We’re looking to add additional ways to progress your favourite character or class, while allowing crates to be a fun thing for those who want to engage with them.”
On the negative feedback:
“We were incredibly saddened by the negative response from you, the community on reddit about the game.
“In fact, we hated it, we truly did, because we want to make a game that you love. We’ve made a really cool, fun and beautiful game but it was overshadowed by issues with the progression system. We will fix this.”
Suffice to say, Reddit downvoted almost all responses into obscurity.
And then suddenly Belgium
Just when it looked like gamers had lost all hope on governments stepping in to see if loot crates/boxes constituted gambling, in swooped Belgium to announce that they would be starting an investigation. With particular focus on Overwatch and Battlefront 2, the country’s gambling authority will be looking into the systems that give rewards based on random chance. If found to be promoting gambling, EA and Blizzard will have to acquire permits to keep selling their games in the country.
“Creating a fair and fun game experience is of critical importance to EA. The crate mechanics of Star Wars Battlefront II are not gambling. A player’s ability to succeed in the game is not dependent on purchasing crates. Players can also earn crates through playing the game and not spending any money at all. Once obtained, players are always guaranteed to receive content that can be used in game.”
With it now officially out, time will only tell how big an impact such bad press has had on the game. If there’s anyone I feel bad for in all the mess, it’s the people who created what could have been one of the best Star Wars experiences on the market, only for said market to swallow it all up and jam in microtransactions where they don’t belong.