It seems that when EA release a new title, a negative story isn’t too far away. Whether its over-priced premium passes, a game filled with micro-transactions or that the game released seems to be only half completed, EA are never far away from controversy. For one of the largest video-game publishers it’s frankly shocking that this is how they do business. In a sector that’s so consumer based, the disregard for their customers’ experience is astounding.
Look at the release of Star Wars Battlefront 2, for example. The game was eagerly anticipated, with many hoping it would build on the positives from the first Battlefront, whilst ironing out its deficiencies. If EA had let the developers create the game they knew the fans wanted, then they were on to a winner. But the release of Battlefront 2 saw a huge fan backlash. Despite retracting micro-transactions days before the launch, (for crystals that players could buy to unlock certain star cards and other items that gave you clear advantages), fans were unhappy that certain heroes were locked from the get go. Iconic Star Wars characters such as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker were initially locked on the games release, with players having to accumulate in-game points to be able to unlock and play as them. Players quickly worked out it would take gamers up to 40 hours to unlock each character, as the progression system was geared towards micro-transactions, meaning that you wouldn’t earn enough in-game currency to unlock many key aspects of the game. This meant that for those players who were willing (or able) to spend the extra cash (on top of the price they paid for the game, around £49.99) were able to bypass this epic grind and access more of the game as well as have an advantage over those who refused to give in to EA’s monetised system. On top of this, players who spent more buying the deluxe edition (£79.99 at launch) realised that key characters, like Darth Vader were still locked. This is incredibly cheeky and backhanded behaviour by EA. Whereas for many games, the deluxe editions provide gamers with add-ons like extra characters, early access to DLC and vast quantities of in-game currency, Battlefront 2’s deluxe edition gave a few extra weapons for multiplayer and some extra star cards, items that could be bought with micro-transactions after launch anyway. So what did the extra £30 give you exactly? Certainly not an increased gameplay experience!
The game was so obviously aimed at loot box monetisation and micro-transactions, that it was almost laughable when EA attempted to defend their position. They claimed that unlocking Darth Vader or other locked hero using in-game credits earned through 40 hours of grinding was designed to give the player a sense of “pride and accomplishment”. There’s little pride and accomplishment in when, with despair, you realise that to play as Luke you have to do it all over again. What makes it all the more tragic, is playing the game on release day, to see Vader charging towards you, controlled by a screaming 12 year old who has memorised their parents’ card details. With the backlash caused, EA reduced the cost needed to unlock these characters by 75%, but this ultimately, didn’t save them from the fallout. EA’s share price dropped by 2.5% on release day due to the negative reception and by the end of November 2017, EA had lost $3billion in stock. If that isn’t proof to not take advantage of your consumer, I don’t know what is.
Another series that quite frankly abuses micro-transactions and provides clear advantages to those that pay extra is EA Sports’ FIFA franchise, and more specifically the Ultimate Team mode. Here, players attempt to build a team using player cards that link together if the players share a nationality, team or league. You could spend hours slowly cultivating a team, saving up your in-game coins for hours on end, just to buy one player you feel will make the difference in your team of otherwise average footballers. Then, you’d enter a multiplayer match, and see an entire team of special and rare player cards, with the lowest rated player being an 89 (a very high “lowest” rating). You can guarantee that this gamer spent large amounts of money to buy in-game currency in order to avoid the slog. Put simply, it ruins the game for those who don’t, or can’t, spend a lot of money in game, and coming up against ridiculously over-powered teams makes the game boring. Why play when it becomes less about skill and more about how deep your pockets are.
It’s unfair however, to blame EA completely for the saturation of micro-transactions in the current gaming world. Mobile titles have played their part with games such as Candy Crush being heavily monetised despite the lure of being “free to play”. Seeing the success of these sorts of games, it isn’t surprising that larger publishers have sought to cash in on it too.
Also, in the case of Battlefield 1, the lack of support for the game was unbelievable. It took nearly six months for the first DLC pack to be released, six months!! That is far too long and explains the huge drop in player numbers on PC and console. EA had clearly turned their attention to another title and took the DICE developers with them, leaving a small team to produce content for Battlefield. When you look at other games such as Call of Duty or the Fallout franchise, these are very transparent when it comes to DLC releases, and this means that gamers know when they can get new maps or modes for their games. This stops players getting bored playing the same maps over and over, waiting for something to be released. It keeps the game fresh and the numbers up.
EA seem to have turned over a new leaf. Upon the reveal of Battlefield V, information was soon released suggesting that there would be no season pass; another monetisation technique used by Triple A producers. It’s a step in the right direction, although we can’t be sure that micro-transactions won’t rear their ugly head in the game in some form. Hopefully, EA have learnt their lesson, don’t take gamers for granted. Heavily monetising an already expensive game has the potential to lead to huge losses for a company. Although the saying goes that there’s no such thing as bad press, the EA bigwigs might disagree.
It would be an over-exaggeration to say that EA have ruined gaming. But it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that they’ve contributed their fair share to the problems populating the market. Their obsession with monetisation and their lack of support for players meant that gamers became disillusioned with titles the company released. With any luck this will spell change for the better, and lead EA to focus on producing brilliant games for the future, as well as putting off other developers from following suit and attempting to squeeze all the money they can from their titles.