The Battlefront Situation

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Everyone has been talking about the Battlefront 2 drama and I thought I would share my two cents on the issue. For the sake of transparency, I haven’t played the game, so I won’t be speaking about the details of the gameplay, just the business practices and ethics.

When I was growing up, I was a huge Star Wars fan. I love the movies, yes even the prequels, and Star Wars Battlefront and its sequel were my some of my favorite games. I would play for hours at my friend’s house. I was following the possibility for Battlefront 3 for years and was extremely disappointed when the project was canceled.

Years later when EA bought the rights to Star Wars Battlefront and announced the 2015 reboot, I was excited. When it came out, I felt a little let down. It felt lackluster and unfinished. I was disappointed that they removed the prequel content entirely, had almost no single player and the game generally just felt more like a re-skinned Call of Duty game than a Star Wars game. I only ended up playing a few hours before returning to games I enjoyed more.

Initially the marketing for Battlefront 2 had me hopeful. Space battles, original canon single player campaign, prequel content. It was everything I had wanted in the first game. I was planning on buying the game until I saw some beta reviews/gameplay. The game itself, looked like a lot of fun, but I also saw loot boxes, microtransactions, and a very concerning pay-to-win model.

Lootboxes are tolerable if they either contain only cosmetics or they can only be gained through in-game actions. If you can use money to purchase any kind of bonus that affects gameplay, or even the chance of a bonus, the game becomes pay-to-win. I see people trying to defend the game’s loot crate system by saying that you earn crates in game frequently and that the loot crates you can purchase only have minor star cards, so the difference is negligible and therefor not pay-to-win. I disagree. My logic is this: if two players of equal skill and the same loadout meet on the battlefield, one player purchased a loot crate with a 2% damage reduction star card and the other hasn’t. The player with the star card will win. This makes it pay-to-win.

Video games should be the ultimate meritocracy. The only thing to give you an advantage over others is your skill. Being able to buy advantages with real world money, gives those with more disposable income an edge they didn’t earn. More than this, however; I have seen the progression system in the game. You have different classes, each class has a level and star card slots. You don’t have access to all of the slots for each class. These are unlocked as you level up that class. You level up each class with contents of loot crates. So even though the contents of loot boxes don’t contain star cards that give you an instant, significant advantage, they do allow you to level up your classes quicker and equip more star cards than someone who would not buy crates. I also want to quickly mention that anyone who preordered the Deluxe Edition of the game received some amount of rare star cards, which is another case of some players paying extra money for advantages.

The other major issue that has been circulating is the amount of grinding involved in unlocking heroes, and other content. Originally, it took something in the neighborhood of 40 hours of grinding to unlock one of the top tier heroes, Darth Vader, for example. EA/Dice has since decreased the cost of these heroes by 75% to something more reasonable. This is good, but apparently they also decreased the currency you receive from campaign rewards by the same amount. So you also earn these credits slower, even though the hero is cheaper. Regardless, since you could purchase the currency with real world money, some players will have Darth Vader on day 1 and some will not. To be fair, I don’t know if Darth Vader is significantly more powerful than the other heroes, but I don’t think it matters. It is gameplay content that some people have an unequal advantage to attaining. As an aside, and this is a subject worthy of being talked about on its own, I don’t think that necessary or even encouraged grinding is ever a good thing to have in a game. If players cannot experience the full content without grinding, then there is a problem.

The last thing I want to mention here is the recent (yesterday as of this post) announcement by the devs that they are turning off all in-purchases. This sounded excellent. Had we finally been heard? Did big bad EA finally cave in to the demands of their audience? Well no. Hidden in the middle of the post was a line that said that the ability to purchase currency will be re-enabled at a later date. So basically, they are turning off microtransactions temporarily. The cynic in me sees this as a ploy to get those who were angry and canceled their preorders and decided not to buy the game, to change their minds and enjoy the positive press of doing the right thing, then as soon as the refund period is over, and they have all the money from preorders and such, they will re-enable microtransactions and nothing will have changed.

Is it possible that things will change for the better? Absolutely. But until it is confirmed that players can no longer purchase in-game advantages, I will not buy this game. I refuse to support companies that utilize anti-consumer and anti-gamer business practices, even if their games are ultimately very enjoyable. We need to stop this trend here, before it takes hold and becomes a normal practice.

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