Electronic Arts has managed to get on gamers' bad side, for what seems like the hundredth time. It seems that their every step is making gamers more angry about the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront II. The loot boxes, the outrageous prices for new characters, and an unapologetic and apathetic response from corporate are making a bad PR problem even worse. What sort of damage is this going to do to EA's reputation, and what is going to happen to the Star Wars brand, which is the sole domain of EA as far as video games go?
Ultimately: nothing. Nothing meaningful is going to change, and EA is going to get away with every last scummy move.
Let's do a quick rundown of the whole controversy. It's all centered around loot boxes, because of course it is; these are boxes you can purchase with earned in-game currency (or, as EA is hoping, with real-world money) that give you a somewhat-random assortment of in-game extras, such as new weapons, abilities and cosmetics, which you can then upgrade with more in-game currency. If there's something specific you want, you better hope that you don't have to buy too many loot boxes before it appears.
This appears in lots of games, like Overwatch and Destiny, but in those games the rewards from loot boxes are purely cosmetic. In Star Wars Battlefront II, loot boxes are the only way to level up items and get crafting materials; you won't be making any meaningful character progression without them. Not everything in the game is earned through loot boxes, of course, but that's actually when things start getting worse.
One thing you can buy outright with enough in-game currency are heroes, such as Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker - each of whom were previously priced at 60,000 credits. One mathematically-inclined Redditor did some math and figured out that it would take 40 solid hours of gameplay to make enough credits to afford one of these two heroes, let alone to earn an entire roster of them. When EA responded with what is frankly a limp and pathetic response, it quickly became the most-downvoted post in Reddit history. It wasn't long after that EA agreed to drop the price on heroes by 75%, which appeased players somewhat, but depending on how the math works out, it could still take players literal years to unlock everything - and there are almost no video games that are fun to play for several years straight.
The company then tried to smooth things over further by holding an AMA on Reddit (Ask Me Anything, an open forum for users to ask questions) to tackle some of their concerns and try and dampen the controversy. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to go over very well: even news outlets were able to tell that EA wasn't giving very satisfying answers, instead saying over and over that they were listening and will make adjustments. Others noticed that some of the longer, highly-voted questions were being deleted outright.
Put all of this together, and the picture seems clear: EA is being callously indifferent toward player concerns about the way they are viciously monetizing a game that already costs $60 to play in the first place. A lot of gamer rage is being stoked right now. Unfortunately, all that rage is probably going to mean nothing in the long term. All of these angry gamers are simply too small of a blip on EA's radar to effect any meaningful change.
What do all Star Wars properties have in common? With the exception of the Star Wars Holiday Special, it's that they all make truckloads of money simply for carrying the Star Wars name. Battlefront II is going to be no different: the reach of its target audience is far beyond the subset of gamers that are paying attention to EA's poor handling of the loot box controversy. Even the 600k downvotes on the now-infamous Reddit post (and let's face it, it can't possibly hit that number without bots casting many of those votes) would be a drop in the bucket next to the twelve million players that bought the previous Battlefront game.
I would argue that most of the people who will buy Battlefront II have no idea that any of this stuff is going on; they just love Star Wars and the occasional video game. EA doesn't need to respond to all of its angry consumers, or strike the perfect balance of credits earned per gameplay hour, to appeal to this audience. All they need to do is make a halfway decent game - and, if the early reviews are any indication, their game is just about exactly halfway decent.
Some people are suggesting that EA may have had all of this drama planned from the start, such as this Twitter user here:
Until I'm proven wrong I'm just going to assume EA 100% planned for this Battlefront 2 drama. Have ridiculous prices, pretend to listen to feedback, reduce prices to their original planned value to seem "reasonable".— Michael (@StonyBalogna) November 14, 2017
This is a bit of a cynical take, but it's not that much of a stretch. EA may well have set its bar too high on purpose, as a way of testing just how much gamers will take. Plus, it allows them to "lower" their prices to something still unreasonable (it now takes ten hours of gameplay to unlock Darth Vader), but everyone gets to pat themselves on the back and feel like justice was served. You don't get to be as big as EA without learning how to manage angry gamers, and right now I feel like we've all been pretty managed.
Gamers, for their part, are doing their best to conjure up some additional rage, even if it isn't always on the level. There was a big fuss this week about the fact that EA had removed the refund button for Battlefront II from Origin - except they actually hadn't, as it doesn't appear so close to a game's release. On the other hand, one EA employee claimed that they had received multiple death threats over the controversy, until Kotaku's Jason Schreier dug deeper and discovered that he wasn't actually an employee. So the whole thing is a bit of a big mess, all things considered.
Loot boxes, for their part, are far bigger than EA and Battlefront, and an angry mob isn't going to make them go away. The only thing that will get loot boxes to go away is when people stop buying them. At that point, they're not going to be worth the negative publicity that comes with them, and they'll start vanishing, or they'll be relegated to purely cosmetic items. And with the kind of money they Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans continues to rake in, I don't think this will be happening anytime soon - unless Europe decides to declare loot boxes gambling, that is.
As angry as people are at EA right now, it's not going to amount to much of anything; EA is going to end up getting away with their terrible practices and probably not learn the lesson we all want them to learn. Gamers need to vote with their wallets, and unfortunately there are too many gamers who will pick up the game regardless, because that is the power of the Star Wars brand. It's good to see that reviews of the game are calling out these practices and lowering scores as a result, but we still have a ways to go before the industry starts rejecting these sorts of practices.