EA’s entire corporate response to the Battlefront II controversy should be taught in future marketing and corporate communication classes as an example of how to never handle a problem. The company ignored increasingly angry player feedback, poor reviews, and mathematical analysis of its own microtransaction-fueled, pay-to-win progression system. Even EA’s decision to remove MTX just hours before the game launched was reportedly driven by a phone call from Disney, as opposed to EA CFO Blake Jorgensen realizing the Death Star’s shields were still up. But now, at last, an inkling of self-awareness has penetrated the corporate mothership.
At the 37th Nasdaq Investor Conference on Tuesday, Jorgensen spoke about what EA was doing to improve on Battlefront II’s disastrous debut and what changes the company would continue to make:
We’re working on improving the progression system. We turned the MTX off as an opportunity to work on the progression system inside the game. We’re continuing to do that. I think there’s an update this week and again next week. Over time we’ll address how we will want to bring the MTX either into the game or not and what form we will decide to bring it into.
The good news is, that’s a far cry from what EA has said previously. Up until now, the company’s official position has been that microtransactions would be reenabled, and that the current removal was strictly temporary. The bad news? Right before he made the remarks above, Jorgensen said: “Clearly we are very focused on listening to the consumer and understanding what the consumer wants and that’s evolving constantly.”
He went on to say this entire event had been “a great learning experience for us,” before adding, without a trace of audible irony: “We consider ourselves a learning organization, and if we’re not learning we’re failing in some way.”
EA may think it just put a positive light on its own dumpster fire, but it’s actually done the opposite. As soon as gamers realized EA was going to tie the entire progression system to loot crates, they revolted. And EA, to its marginal credit, made some initial tweaks. But when gamers realized it could take 40 hours to unlock one iconic Star Wars hero because credits were awarded in such tiny quantities, EA blew them off. When the company did cut the number of credits it cost to buy a hero by 75 percent, it also cut the number of credits you earned from finishing the single-player campaign by 75 percent. In other words, it covered up a public change intended to make gamers happy with a non-televised change designed to force them to buy loot crates.
As early reviews came in, the PR situation only got worse. Multiple publications slagged the progression system and the huge disparity between people with top-tier Star Cards and those without them. The economy and pay-to-win mechanics didn’t get a positive review from anyone, and most pubs mentioned how not-fun it was to serve as cannon fodder to better-geared players who’d gotten lucky with their loot crates, even if they hadn’t paid real money to get them. Belgium declared loot crates were gambling, and Hawaii began its own investigation.
Battlefront II broke into the mainstream news cycle just as Disney was revving into top gear for The Last Jedi‘s marketing campaign and it was Disney executives that told EA to back off the MTX push. When the parent company that owns the IP you’re working on has to intervene to prevent you from destroying it, calling the entire debacle a “learning experience” suggests your intra-corporate lines of communication need work.
And how did EA initially respond? By blaming LucasArts.
When a company fails as cataclysmically as EA did throughout this several-week series of events, it’s not a “learning experience.” It’s evidence of an inability to learn anything. And when the only defense against a charge of sheer incompetence is to argue in favor of greed, it might be best to confine yourself to something like this: “You know, we really screwed this up, but we’re determined to fix it and win back gamers’ trust. We’re taking steps to ensure that 12 months from now, Battlefront II players will consider it one of the finest multiplayer FPS games on the market, with or without a Star Wars license.” Americans love a comeback story, and if No Man’s Sky can reinvent itself, so could Battlefront II.
Meanwhile, At the Hall of Justice in Hawaii
During the fracas, Hawaii state legislator Chris Lee made waves when he declared that loot crate mechanics constituted gambling and used predatory practices. In the video below, Lee lays out his ideas for limiting the proliferation of loot crate mechanics, which use exactly the same reward system (variable ratio reward) as roulette, slot machines, and the lottery.
Lee proposes that the sale of these games be limited to individuals 21 years of age or older, that qualifying titles would be games that sold a percentage chance to acquire an item rather than simply buying the item for a set amount of money, and that the rules would apply to games sold both in stores and online. (Games sold digitally don’t have to concern themselves with an ESRB rating.) Lee also proposes that game publishers be prohibited from adjusting your chance of winning a particular item invisibly without telling you about it (this is sometimes called a “pity timer,”) and wants to force game publishers to disclose what the chances of winning a given item or items from a loot crate actually are. As PCGamer notes, China began requiring precisely this type of disclosure earlier this year.