“I fire my blaster, and he nonchalantly takes a shot to the chest. He raises his hand and I levitate with it, my throat closing as I inch upward. This spectacle of power is impressive, but as my life fades away, the only thing I can think is “How much did that player spend to unlock the third level of Punishing Grip?”
In the opening to his review of EA’s Stars Wars: Battlefront 2, Andrew Reiner described an epic sequence of gameplay only to have it derailed by the reality of encouraged microtransactions.
EA Leads The Way
If you haven’t heard, EA has come under fire from the gaming community for their latest cash grabbing attempt. Again. Essentially, EA has developed a tried and true pay-to-win experience model for their latest Star Wars shooter. Pay-to-win meaning, the more real currency you spend, the more likely you’ll have a decent multiplayer experience.
So, what makes this a problem?
Before, Free-to-play games were known to feature microtransactions. They are a common way for developers to make a return on the investment in those types of genres. You could spend hours grinding or spend a little cash here and there to get items instantaneously. Think candy crush or Facebook-based games. However, these games were initially free. Microtransactions monetized an otherwise loss of investment.
Unfortunately, typical EA titles cost $59.99, triple A or not, then an additional $49.99 on average for DLC. You may save an additional 10% with EA access but you’ll be footing the bill every month for $4.99 or $29.99 annually. Add in microtransactions and you’re looking at a $150 experience. Battlefront 2 is not the first time EA has deployed microtransactions into their triple-A titles. Microtransactions aren’t actually the problem either. It’s how they’re used.
Saving the Galaxy One Microtransaction at a Time
You can easily find an earlier example in EA’s library of games, but Mass Effect 3 is a great example of a triple-A title using microtransactions in an appropriate way. While ME3 put EA in the spotlight for a different reason, microtransactions didn’t seem to stir any heat.
Like Star Wars Battlefront 2, microtransactions in Mass Effect 3 were a means to further advance your multiplayer progression. At the time of launch, you could purchase different levels of supply crates. Of course, each crate had different chances of giving varying items. Some packs were separated to give specific items like characters, weapons or consumable supplies. Players had the choice of saving the galaxy by progressing via skill and gaining in-game currency or purchasing them by use of Microsoft Points which were purchased with real money.
Balance makes the difference between ME3 and Star Wars Battlefront 2 in terms of pay-to-win. Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer rewards players based on performance. While there are classes and weapons that are clearly better than others, all of them were obtainable. Even for players grinding on bronze levels. Having a decent skill can be just as effective as someone who spent serious cash to unlock their items. On platinum difficulty, a simple soldier class can out last an N7 biotic as long as they knew what they were doing. It’s been done.
Whether you grind or pay, skill and performance became the deciding factor and that’s where Star Wars Battlefront 2 seems to change it up. Pay walls and daily caps effectively limits those who prefer the grinding method. Some game modes were even later discovered to include a daily credit limit. In addition, many iconic Star Wars heroes were blocked by an incredibly high credit unlock value.
Intent vs. Execution
EA and DICE’s original statement regarding the issue did not bode well. In short, the idea of microtransactions and high unlock values were to give a sense of pride in accomplishment. It was said to be based off data from the open beta. Needless to say, many called BS. Reddit users down-voted the statement over 600,000 times.
As the game approached the official launch on November 17, EA closed microtransactions and committed to dropping a few Hero prices by 75 percent. EA has gone record saying they would continue to listen to feedback and improve the game. It doesn’t mean the community will get what they want though. Furthermore, it’s highly unlikely microtransactions and the encouragement of them, through unbalanced gameplay, will be completely removed.
In fact, its more likely that other big name companies will adopt similar methods for their Triple-A titles. As seen on Kotaku, Activision has a patent on a matchmaking system that encourages players to participate in microtransactions. Essentially, if a player purchases an item, the system puts them into games with favorable conditions. It takes into account latency, player habits, skill and trends. Disadvantaged players will find themselves needing to get an edge and likely turn to a microtransaction. Activision filed the patent October 17 of 2015. However, Activision and some under its umbrella have mentioned the system has not been put into practice. True or not, it doesn’t mean other methods of the same caliber haven’t been implemented.
Moving Forward In The Wrong Direction
Every year the future of games is questioned. Where will they go next? What’s the next big trend? While many are in awe of the advances in VR, microtransactions are a sleeper trend that will undoubtedly steal the spotlight in the near future. Whether we like it or not.
One may assume as Sports Gamers, we’d be immune to this sort of trend. Unfortunately, sports games have been something of a forerunner for microtransactions in Triple-A titles. The popularity of certain modes like Ultimate Teams in Madden and FIFA have benefited the microtransaction model. Their continued popularity have made them a mainstay in EA’s sports titles. Additionally, Ultimate Team modes are constantly being retrofitted for other franchises like UFC.
The difference in the models, again, is the balance. Ultimate Teams modes provide plenty of opportunities to gain rewards and unlock assets. Furthermore, you don’t need to engage in the mode at all to experience the sports simulation aspect of the game. In Battlefront 2, not only are microtransactions tied to the overall experience, they’re heavily encouraged. While the developers have denied this, unless you’re on the team, it’s generally not easy to confirm. In the end, the final result of the game appears to favor pay-to-win over genuine progression.
And It Keeps Moving In That Direction
While the idea of such a transaction by itself isn’t a problem, EA has shown a capacity to abuse it. And that’s a problem. Among others, 2K has already been adding microtransactions into their games with virtual currency, VC. WWE 2K18 has even gone the distance by adding loot boxes which is a, for the lack of a better word, silly design choice given that “looting” is not immersive or conducive to an authentic wrestling representation. At best, its a mechanic sloppily thrown on top of an otherwise lackluster game mode.
While you can earn VC without restrictions, certain parts of the mode has limits. Ultimately, if a game requires daily caps and intense grind sessions to keep players coming back then it goes to show that the game isn’t good enough to warrant a second playthrough to begin with. Cheaply made replayability is as bad as no replayability.
The game industry is business, but there shouldn’t be a trend of churning out the bad quality products. DLC started out as content used to expand your game. Now, its content already on the disc locked behind a pay wall. Microtransactions are a way to obtain items instantaneous. They will become a mandate in order to access the entirety of a game. If left unchecked, you may find yourself paying for per-ball-thrown in the next Madden.
Looking to the Horizon
Things could change. After the controversy of the Mass Effect 3 ending, Bioware took action to reconcile the community outrage. With Electronic Art’s stock dropping 5 percent, the community may go 2-0 against the publishing giant.
Ultimately, everyone would like to save money. However, most of us have no qualms with spending the extra dollar on quality content. Although that’s the catch. It needs to be quality content. And while “quality” is a matter of opinion, most gamers can agree on what they don’t want. And that’s a console experience that heavily favors and benefits the gamer with the biggest wallet.
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