Electronic Arts’ biggest game of the year hits store shelves tomorrow, but the excitement about Star Wars Battlefront II isn’t at the levels the publisher might like — and the game’s losing goodwill rapidly.
A vocal group of players have expressed concerns — and outrage — about part of Battlefront II‘s business model, which involves encouraging people to pay extra to speed up the process of unlocking certain heroes in the game.
The issue came to a head Sunday, when a person on Reddit launched a thread titled “Seriously? I paid $80 to have Vader locked?”. Someone in EA’s community department tried to offer an explanation, only for the comment to become the most downvoted comment in the history of Reddit. (At mid-morning Monday, its score was -306,000. For context, the previous record for Reddit’s most downvoted comment was -24,000.)
EA has big expectations for Battlefront II. So do analysts. Mike Hickey of Benchmark says he expects the game to sell 14 million copies, more than twice the number this year’s new Madden game is expected to sell.
What is a loot crate?
The issue is a play mechanic called ‘loot crates.’ They’re unpopular, especially among core players, but they’re immensely profitable and are becoming more and more common in today’s games.
The thinking behind them is a bit complex. Many video game publishers would argue that most players don’t have the time to put the hours into a game that are required to unlock bonus characters. So, rather than have them potentially lose interest as other players do, publishers let them access them early — for a cost.
(EA says the reason players have to wait to unlock a character like Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker in Battlefront II is to instill a sense of pride when they do so.)
But it’s not that simple. In older games, if you played for a certain amount of time or hit certain achievements in the game, more powerful characters would unlock. There was no randomness to it.
Loot crates introduce that randomness. Players who put in a certain number of play hours might get the chance to buy a loot crate that may or may not give them the character they want. There’s no guarantee.
It’s a tool that is designed specifically to both generate recurring revenue for publishers and ensure players spend more time with the games.
Death threats to developers
Loot crates are an annoyance, but is it something that gamers really take seriously? Apparently so, and some take it much too far. One EA developer says he has received death threats and over 1,500 personal attacks, presumably tied to the ongoing outrage.
Death threats over game features came into vogue during the early days of the GamerGate controversy. For angry gamers, those sort of actions hurts their chances of actually being listened to.
Will this hurt Battlefront II sales?
EA adjusted how it handles loot crates in Battlefront II after strong negative feedback during the game’s open beta. But the lingering resentment doesn’t seem to have died down.
Will that have a tremendous impact on sales, though? Probably not. With a franchise like Star Wars and the legacy of this gaming series, the complaints of core players are likely to be harder to hear over the mass market audience that’s buying the game this holiday season.