Video game maker Electronic Arts announced Friday that it will overhaul the progression system in the game Star Wars: Battlefront II, and that all player upgrades will be earned through gameplay. EA’s plans to sell in-game upgrades for real money, in randomized packages known in the industry as ‘loot boxes’ or ‘loot crates,’ produced a massive outcry last Fall, severely damaging the game’s financial performance.
The backlash came from both gamers and, eventually, regulators and legislators. For players, upgrades purchasable for real money seemed certain to destroy the sense of healthy competition in the primarily multiplayer game. Lawmakers and activists saw an even bigger problem, comparing the purchasable loot boxes, in a game likely to have a large audience of minors, as akin to encouraging children to gamble.
EA initially responded by hastily removing the in-game loot system, but it was unclear whether it might return, and in what form. Now EA says that items impacting gameplay “will not be available for purchase” at all, instead being rewarded to players through in-game accomplishments. Other items which don’t impact gameplay, such as character costumes, will still be purchasable with real money, and those purchases will be direct rather than randomized.
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EA’s pullback may have been influenced as much by lawmakers as consumers. Authorities in Belgium, for instance, have reportedly considered classifying video games with purchasable loot crates as forms of gambling. One Hawaii state legislator began pushing for a ban on such systems. EA’s removal of gambling-like elements will likely take some steam out of those regulatory efforts, despite less egregious versions of the idea being widespread.
Gamers’ rage, though, has already had a devastating impact. Battlefront II fell dramatically short of its sales targets, selling less than half of the 1.72 million units it was expected to in its first month. Even before that dismal performance was clear, the controversy had chopped more than $3 billion from EA’s market value.
Battlefront II’s overhauled progression system will be released on March 21st.