Star Wars: Battlefront 2 has created a veritable firestorm of controversy thanks to how DICE and Electronic Arts went about implementing microtransactions and loot boxes in the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC shooter. Consumer outrage forced the suspension of microtransactions last week after a reported call from Disney, but investors and others from the business community are completely misreading where the outrage is coming from.
A note to clients from KeyBanc Capital Markets analyst Evan Wingren shared by CNBC typifies the kind of response from the investment community over the Star Wars: Battlefront 2 controversy.
“Gamers aren’t overcharged, they’re undercharged (and we’re gamers),” Wingren argued. “This saga has been a perfect storm for overreaction as it involves EA, Star Wars, reddit [sic], and certain purist gaming journalists/outlets who dislike MTX.”
He went on to explain that gamers who spent $60 on Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and then purchases $20 worth of loot boxes a month for one would spend roughly 40 centers per hour of entertainment, assuming they played for 2.5 hours a day during the year. By comparison, TV watching costs 60 to 65 cents per hour, movie rentals are 80 centers per hours, and watching a movie in a theater is $3 per hours.
“If you take a step back and look at the data, an hour of video game content is still one of the cheapest forms of entertainment,” he explained. “Quantitative analysis shows that video game publishers are actually charging gamers at a relatively inexpensive rate, and should probably raise prices.”
This, of course, completely misses the point behind why the Star Wars: Battlefront 2 community has been so enraged. The microtransactions and loot boxes are certainly part of the complaints, but the reason those who have played the game from the beta through the EA/Origin Access trials through launch is because loot boxes are directly tied to a shallow and forcibly drawn-out player progression.
Let’s compare other popular shooters like Overwatch and Call of Duty: WW2. The former has purely cosmetic loot boxes that have no tie to gameplay whatsoever beyond how a character may look. Additionally, there is no character progression system, and all characters are unlocked immediately. There have been light complaints about the chances to earn certain outfits during Overwatch events but nothing reaching the vitriol of the Star Wars: Battlefront 2 controversy.
Meanwhile, Call of Duty: WW2 does have a progression system to unlock new weapons and abilities across five different divisions or classes. Progression in each division and each weapon is tied directly to playing with that division or weapon. There are loot boxes, but they are primarily cosmetic with the chance to get a small XP booster towards using a character or weapon.
The WW2 loot boxes currently don’t have weapons but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them added in the future, like previous Call of Duty loot boxes. It’s not ideal and there have been valid complaints but at least unlocking the vast majority of abilities and weapons is done through gameplay.
Now let’s compare Star Wars: Battlefront 2. Progression of the various classes, ships, heroes, and villains is done completely through Star Cards received from loot boxes even after the removal of the microtransactions. Again, a player’s progress is completely dependent on the Random Number Generator (RNG) of loot boxes. Get enough of the right combination of Star Cards and you can make a class, ship, or hero more powerful than other players.
This is why accusations of the game being pay-to-win became evident after various YouTube personalities showed how quickly they were able to max out classes, ships, and heroes by spending $100 worth of microtransactions to get all the Star Cards and resources they need. The gameplay videos they shared, like Xfactorgaming’s “Pay to Boba“, showed them demolishing players who opted not to spend money or not spend very much money on loot boxes. Throw in the hundreds of hours of gameplay it requires to earn Star Cards while struggling against better-equipped players versus the seconds it takes to spend $100 in Star Wars: Battlefront 2 to gain an advantage over others and it is no wonder why gamers are outraged.
No, gamers aren’t overcharged, but they aren’t overreacting either. They are rightfully upset over a game that exploits their time and money. Star Wars: Battlefront 2 can bring microtransactions back into the fold, but only after DICE and Electronic Arts completely rework the game’s progression system so that it is tied to playtime and performance and not random Star Cards dumped by loot boxes.
[Featured Image by DICE/Electronic Arts]