Fourth Coast Entertainment -

By Dr Anthony Betrus
FCE Staff 

Battlefront 2: Star Wars = Joe Camel?

The Game Connoisseur

 

Last updated 12/2/2017 at 10:02am | View PDF



Armed with the most popular intellectual property on the planet (Star Wars), and a virtually unlimited budget, how could Electronic arts possibly screw the most recent installment of the Star Wars Battlefront series? With Disney as their dance partner, EA had an unparalleled marketing juggernaut to back them, and indeed, everything was lined up for success. This included a Nov 17, pre-Black Friday launch date, giving fans just enough time for before the Dec 15 launch of The Last Jedi to whet their Wookie appetites. The game itself includes a fully realized story campaign that is part of the new Star Wars canon, focussed around Inferno Squad, an imperial special forces unit headed by Iden Versio, whose exploits bridge the events of Rogue One with The Force Awakens. Multiplayer was also significantly enhanced, and includes both ground and ship battles, along with a wide variety of maps and characters to play, and no more seasons pass, with all DLC offered free to players. The game boasts enhanced 4K graphics, now available on the latest versions of the XBOX, Windows, and PS4 (including PSVR). So what then could ruin such a sumptuous meal? In a word: greed.

In what could only be described as selfish corporate irony, EA fell to the power of the Dark side, and included a transparent internet gambling system at the core of the its character progression system. Pre-release beta players protested on Reddit that buying a game for $80, only to be faced with the need to play another 40 hours to unlock a single hero (there are 16 heroes, and counting) was simply unfair. Alternatively, they could pluck down additional money to purchase loot crates, which gave them a gambler’s chance at unlocking the hero quicker, essentially offering the players a “pay to win” option. EA responded with what became the single most downvoted comment in Reddit history: "The intent is to provide players a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes." While many of the responses were very, shall we say, creative, the most straightforward response I found in the forum was this: “No it's not. The intent is to get people to spend money to unlock heroes.”

According the Wall Street journal, the idea of including in-game purchase in a game launching a month before Star Wars: The Last Jedi was not an option for Disney. It was reported that Jimmy Pitaro, their chairman of Interactive media, stepped in and told EA CEO Andrew Wilson to put the kibosh on the loot crate system, in fear of the backlash spreading to the greater Star Wars franchise. And while they did eventually remove the system--four hours before it launched--it didn’t come without consequences. On Nov 28, a day when the stock market was up 2%, EA stocks dropped a whopping 8.5%, representing a 3.1 billion dollar loss, due in no small part to the controversy surrounding Battlefront 2.

And while the idea of microtransactions and pay to win games is nothing new, Battlefront 2 represents a perfect storm of circumstances, so much so that Hawaiian Representatives Chris Lee and Sean Quinlan are considering introducing legislation that will regulate what they describe as predatory practices aimed at children. And while the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) insists that loot crates are not gambling, Lee described Battlefront 2 as a “Star Wars Themed online casino.” In addition, Belgian gambling authorities are considering introducing legislation that would ban microtransactions in the European Union altogether. And in what was his final word on the subject at his press conference, representative Quinlan concluded with this: “We didn’t allow Joe Camel to encourage your kids to smoke cigarettes, and we shouldn't allow Star Wars to encourage your kids to gamble.”

Dr. Anthony Betrus, SUNY Potsdam

The Game Connoisseur

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