I have been tasked with trying to summarize and discuss the controversy surrounding EA DICE’s most recent game, Star Wars Battlefront II. This is no small feat considering the layers upon layers of incidents that have taken place surrounding this game and EA in general around the same time. I enter this endeavor knowing full well that it is impossible to accurately summarize and address the many parts of the shit sandwich that this game has become. But I will do my best. I think the best way to go about this is to try to piece together some semblance of a timeline and discuss specific points of that timeline and why they were/are significant. Then to conclude with some general thoughts and possible predictions as a result of this mess. Here goes nothing.
Let’s start at the beginning. No, I mean the very beginning. Star Wars: Battlefront was a first and third person Star Wars themed shooter developed by Pandemic Studios and published by LucasArts in 2004 for the PS2, XBOX, and PC. It was a good enough game, but by no means a great one. It barely topped 80 on Metacritic for any platform. But it was well loved by Star Wars fans because, well, first it was a Star Wars game, but more importantly it did something different from just about every other Star Wars game up to that point. Most Star Wars games center around the same few concepts and points of view. Usually you’re a Jedi or Sith, you have force powers, and you get a lightsaber. Or you’re in a spaceship and dogfight. Occasionally you get something outside the box based on a specific film gimmick like Star Wars Episode I: Racer (1999), where you get to take part in podracing. Or Star Wars: Bounty Hunter (2002) where you get to play as Jango Fett. Even games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003) may be creative in that they give you different types of gameplay, but they still settle on the standard idea that you are a Force user with a grand destiny. Star Wars: Battlefront was the first time a game really focused on the war aspect of the Star Wars universe from the point of view of a low level soldier (Stormtrooper/Rebel). Remember that the reason the franchise is called Star Wars is that in every movie, including Rogue One and The Force Awakens, there is a literal war going on in the background of the main characters’ plotlines.
Finally making a game that focused on that aspect of the films was in many ways revolutionary. Because of the game’s public appeal and the sensibility for LucasArts to do so with a Star Wars game like this, they of course released a sequel, Star Wars: Battlefront II, just a year later. Even with such a short development time this game was considered noticeably better than the original. It added a much stronger single player campaign with a better narrative structure, new vehicles, new modes, and the ability to play as Jedi. Now critically speaking, this second installment only performed slightly better than the first, but it was even more loved by the Star Wars gaming fan base. In fact, the only reason Pandemic never made a third game is that a number of external circumstances placed the franchise in development hell.
For starters, Pandemic Studios was acquired by EA in 2007. Like with many great developers that get acquired by EA, it was shut down, less than two years after being acquired by the monolithic publisher. But the even worse problem for the franchise was that LucasArts was unofficially shutdown as well. When Disney purchased the rights to Star Wars in 2012, LucasArts came with it. The studio’s doors were shuttered less than a year later, existing only on paper to retain the video game rights for their properties, the most important of which of course being the Star Wars games. For many, LucasArts was one of the greatest publishers to ever exist so it was an extremely sad day when this news was announced. But to add insult to injury, Disney decided to give use of the Star Wars game rights to EA soon after the shuttering of LucasArts took place.
EA allowed DICE to develop Star Wars Battlefront (2015). This seemed like a good idea to them because DICE had a long history of making PVP shooters such as the Battlefield franchise. This was not a sequel to the Pandemic Studios Battlefront games. This was a brand new game series that was only meant to be tied to the originals in name and general concept. Everything was made from scratch with a new engine and an entirely different team, publisher, and overall concept. In many ways this game was a failure compared to its predecessors. It scored lower on Metacritic by about 10%. It had a ton of inherent flaws. There was no single player campaign, most of the game was locked behind microtransactions and additional paywalls, the base game was extremely lacking in content, the season pass was severely overpriced, and to top it all off, there were no bots which meant that the game was literally unplayable once the servers died down. I personally remember purchasing the game with the intent of playing mostly the Starfighter mode. I got to play maybe two rounds of it because the servers for that specific mode never had enough players at the same time. I essentially handed EA money and got basically nothing in return. And that’s not some sensational over exaggeration. That’s a factual statement about my gameplay experience. Because I didn’t purchase Star Wars Battlefront to play Walker Assault. I bought it to play Starfighter. The fact that EA took my money and promised me that mode, but didn’t deliver is akin to theft. Obviously I’m not going to sue EA or DICE over it, but as a consumer that’s the experience those of us who purchased the game later were given.
While Star Wars Battlefront was in many ways badly made, at its core it was still a mechanically sound game. The gameplay was solid. The modes, though repetitive, weren’t bad. The few maps it had were actually really nice. And in those rare moments that you did get to play as Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, or many of the other “heroes”, it was an awesome experience. The game was pretty much good at its core, but needed some heavy tuning and of course a single player campaign. So when they announced that Star Wars Battlefront II was coming, most people weren’t angry about it. While many of us, myself included, may not have been happy about it, especially considering the fact that the first one hadn’t even been out a full year when the sequel was announced, most people at least saw the potential in a sequel being a good game if EA DICE actually implemented public feedback from the first game. Really all they needed to do was remake the first game but add more maps and modes, a single player campaign, and include all the content with the base game purchase. That’s all they needed to do to make a financially successful, critically respectable, and overall enjoyable game. But remember that we’re talking about EA . . .
Also remember that Star Wars Battlefront II was not necessarily a requested sequel. Back in the day, games did not automatically get sequels. In fact, most of them didn’t. You never heard companies say they were already working on the next installment when the first one hadn’t even been released yet. You didn’t have automatic annual releases outside of sports games. A game had to actually earn its sequel through a combination of great sales, critical acclaim, and public demand. Games like Titanfall, Watch Dogs, and even highly respected ones like Injustice: Gods Among Us didn’t just automatically get sequels. Companies had already paid for the marketing and felt like it was more cost effective to ride the hype train for a second installment and additional revenue. People had to genuinely care about a game and a developer had to be able to show that.
In a time where you didn’t have Twitter, Reddit, or even online forums, you couldn’t quickly tally up the Google analytics and accurately predict the potential sales of a sequel. People had to write letters to gaming magazines to say how much they loved a game. Developers had to go out and do market research. They had to pay kids to take surveys and show up to group discussions. Basically, no game was guaranteed a sequel at the time of release. God of War is a perfect example of this. No one really thought there would be a God of War II. In fact, the first game ends in such a way that you were pretty sure there wouldn’t be. It’s only because of how well the game did (mid to high 9’s across the board) and how much people loved it that they went on to make two more games which had a directly connected narrative to each other. In the later years of the franchise when companies started churning out handheld spinoffs and pointless sequels, you started to see the franchise get bloated with meaningless games like Ascension. But the first sequel was earned through demand. This cannot be said for Star Wars Battlefront II and this automatic sequelitis is definitely an issue people have started to complain about because of franchises like Assassin’s Creed.
When talking about Star Wars Battlefront II, I think it’s important to take the context of when the game was released into account. Because this was in no way a normal game release. Especially not a normal Star Wars game release. We’re not talking about 9/11 where we were all living normal lives not thinking about the Middle East or Islamic terrorists and suddenly we’re being attacked on American soil. That’s not Star Wars Battlefront II. This game is more like Lexington and Concord in the American Revolution. There was already years of anger and hatred fueled by corrupt practices, a lack of adherence to the people’s demands, and several other events both recent and long past that had been stockpiling over time that finally came to a head with the release of this game.
The events leading up to, and finally, the release of Star Wars Battlefront II should be seen as the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. The powder had been stockpiling for years and finally they lit the fuse. And remember that EA isn’t solely to blame either. Many companies of late have been using grimy practices like loot boxes, paid DLC for content that should have been included in the base game, overpriced season passes with bullshit content, annual releases nobody asked for, and single player campaigns have been slowly declining in both presence and quality for more than a decade. So while EA is definitely to blame for this fiasco, they shouldn’t be thought of as solely responsible for the outrage that was displayed in reference to this particular game.
So now that we have a better understanding of the history leading up to Star Wars Battlefront II’s release, let’s look at the actual events directly related to its lackluster performance. First, remember that just a few weeks prior, Visceral Games, the studio that brought us Dead Space, was shut down by EA after multiple years of promising a single player, plot focused Star Wars game that people really wanted to play. Not only was this the death of yet another respected studio after being acquired by EA, but they handled the announcement very poorly. While it may not have been their intention, the statement given by EA on the closing of Visceral Games was interpreted by the public as implying that the publisher closed the studio and essentially cancelled the game because it was a single player, plot focused experience that couldn’t be leveraged for PVP and loot box based games as a service models.
To be completely fair and transparent, the game was not officially cancelled. It was actually delayed and moved to a different studio under EA to be completely reworked, presumably to a games as a service model. So basically, it was cancelled but they might use some of the original concepts, assets, and ideas. What’s important is that a single player, plot based Star Wars game by a studio known for making respectable single player games was shut down and the reasons presented by EA for this led people to believe that they were essentially declaring single player, standalone, plot based games dead. So pretty much anyone who started gaming before the PS3/XBOX 360 era was quite unhappy with this announcement because for people like us that’s what real gaming is and has always been. The largest population of gamers are actually adults from 18 to about 35. The top half of that all grew up playing single player, plot based games. So EA’s statement angered quite a large number of people. Again, that may not have actually been their intention. They have released statements in the wake of the negative backlash to their original statement trying to clarify their position. But because EA makes it a point of never actually clearly stating anything, their statements always ring hollow and disingenuous.
Kotaku published an article soon after EA’s statement detailing the behind closed doors problems that Visceral Games was experiencing with this Star Wars project, and if you believe that article to be factual, then it actually made perfect sense that EA shut the studio and project down. The problem is that because it didn’t come from EA directly and didn’t appear until blood was already in the water, it didn’t really change most people’s opinions about the publisher on this matter. Who could say why EA chose and continually chooses to hide the truth about these sorts of situations, even when the truth would actually paint them in a more positive light? Personally, I think if they had just come right out and said the studio was struggling, failing to make deadlines, and management wasn’t meeting expectations, things might have gone better for EA in response to this issue overall. I actually posed this question on Reddit and many EA apologists argued that the losses in revenue as a result of these disingenuous statements are outweighed by the internal lawsuits that would be incurred by being honest because people’s careers would be affected. That’s why they speak very vaguely on such issues, and in many case blatantly lie to the public. While that argument may sound good on paper when no actual evidence is available, I would argue that the Star Wars Battlefront II sales figures actually disagree with this conclusion. But we’ll get there in due time.
Soon after this announcement, a story was run on multiple media outlets including Gamespot and Eurogamer detailing a designer’s experience at BioWare, a studio under the EA umbrella known for making story based single player games. The story is worth reading in its entirety but the main point taken from it was that voting with your wallet doesn’t actually matter that much. This is an important concept within the gaming community. Many practices that are often complained about within the gaming industry have only become more abundant over time.
Specifically, let’s focus on microtransactions and more to the point, loot boxes. Now, if you somehow don’t know what loot boxes are, essentially it’s a box within in a game that can be purchased with real money to unlock a random item or items based on supposedly RNG drop rates. You never know what you’re going to get, but you are led to believe that you can get items you actually want. Some games only do this with cosmetic items, but others do this with important gameplay affecting items as well such as weapons, gear, and upgrades. Mass Effect 3 was one such game. Rather than letting you purchase the guns, characters, and gear you wanted directly from a store, you could use real money or in game currency to purchase boxes that would randomly award you things. This concept was required to use in order to max out your characters for the multiplayer which was essentially mandatory if you wanted any hope of winning the higher ranked matches. It’s important to note that Mass Effect 3 had no PVP, which is probably the reason people didn’t complain too much about the loot boxes when the game first released. The multiplayer was all cooperative, meaning that any advantage you gained from spending money also helped every other player you came into contact with. In my opinion, that’s the only reason that model worked for the public. But what’s important about that game and the story told by the designer was that most of the profits from loot boxes don’t actually come from a large percentage of players.
Much of the internet runs on a combination of fake news, cognitive dissonance, and urban legends that have been disseminated to try to answer questions that the public simply doesn’t have the answers to. It should surprise no one that this is also true for the gaming community. Due to pretty much every company being extremely cryptic, dishonest, and almost never transparent about pretty much everything having to do with development, budgets, and internal affairs, gamers are often forced to fill in the blanks to address a number of questions within the industry. For example, it’s widely believed that the reason for the prevalence of microtransactions is that games are no longer profitable without them and that the costs of making them have gone up considerably to the point of unsustainability.
Now, the truth is that there’s actually no confirmed evidence to support that claim and really it’s not even a claim made by publishers like EA. Those companies simply don’t take the time to correct the myth and allow it to perpetuate among the public, and this is intentional. Even when they discussed single player games in the wake of the backlash for shutting down Visceral Games, industry figures such as Shannon Loftis, head of XBOX publishing, did not outright state that single player games aren’t profitable. She instead said that “the economics of taking a single-player game and telling a very high fidelity multi-hour story get a little more complicated.” While again, we have no hard evidence to say whether or not single player, story based games are sustainable or not, it’s very clear that Loftis is using marketing speak here rather than giving a committed answer on the issue.
It’s not as if these companies couldn’t provide us hard facts to confirm or debunk this myth. They absolutely keep track of every dollar spent and made in the production and distribution of a game. Every publicly traded company does. I work for an internationally known computer components manufacturing company and even I could tell you the exact dollar amount we spent worldwide on table rentals for gaming events last year if I was at liberty to publish that information without risking my job. These companies know with 100% certainty whether or not there’s validity to the claim that microtransactions are a must. But the fact that they don’t provide the info to the public means that either it’s a false claim and they want people to go on believing it, or there’s some other, even shadier reason why they wouldn’t want this type of information available to the public.
My money is on gaming being profitable, but microtransactions have allowed companies to produce less games at lower general quality while significantly increasing revenue. Some people have even postulated that it’s quite the opposite and that games were actually very profitable before microtransactions and still are by analyzing what little information actually is available. Here’s one such video that I think does a solid job of discussing the issue. In fact, we actually do have evidence to support my position by looking at games like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice which was released less than four months ago for only $30 with no real publisher and no microtransactions. The game has already turned a profit and is now being sold at a discount on Steam for their Autumn sale. The developer went out of their way to announce that the game was not only profitable, but that it had reached profitable sales numbers sooner than they expected.
One of the biggest myths we tell ourselves in the gaming community is that the best way to control the industry is to vote with our wallets. The aforementioned story about the designer from Bioware clarifies how true this belief actually is. We have convinced ourselves that we all are to blame for the way things are going. That a majority of players are spending a ton on loot boxes and buying games with these sorts of predatory money schemes in them. Turns out that isn’t exactly true. While many people are buying games of this nature, the actual truth is that only a small percentage of players are making up the bulk of the microtransaction revenue. However, the number of dollars made for no additional development costs past release is immense.
The designer states that he’s “seen people literally spend $15,000 on Mass Effect multiplayer cards.” That’s a huge problem for the majority. If one person is spending $15,000 on loot boxes, that means that $15,000 worth of sales by people who bought the game but aren’t buying loot boxes as an act of protest doesn’t mean shit to the discussion from EA’s perspective. That’s 250 $60 units sold, not taking into account taxes, distribution costs, packaging costs, and so on. The $15,000 from that one whale is easier to obtain and goes directly to revenue thus negating the votes of those 250 other players. Publishers can pretty much run their businesses on whales alone at that level of revenue. According to VGChartz, Mass Effect 3 sold 5.72 million copies. If just 1% of those players purchased $15,000 in loot boxes that’s about 858 million dollars. That more than two times as much money than if all 5.72 million units sold had been sold at $60 and 100% of the sales went directly to EA with no fees, taxes, or additional costs, which it didn’t. Basically, you choosing whether or not to buy a game or loot boxes doesn’t mean shit at anything less than massive worldwide boycott levels. The public learning this news very much hurt not just EA, but any publishers making use of the games as service models in general.
Around the same time as the Visceral Games shuttering announcement, the Star Wars Battlefront II multiplayer open beta ran. Now just as with the previous game, mechanically speaking, the game is fine. I personally participated in the beta and I have to say that I was very happy with the core gameplay. In some ways I think it was even better than the previous installment. The Starfighter mode was greatly improved as far as flying, targeting, and objectives. The ground modes were fun and much more interesting than Walker Assault mode from the first game. The maps were still beautiful. They added new heroes and the system, in the beta, for getting to use heroes was greatly improved over the previous game. But the progression system was not so good from the public’s point of view. I actually reviewed the beta for Gaming Rebellion, which you can read here, and I was much kinder than the majority of the public in my judgement of the progression system.
I stated that I found the game confusing because it felt like the only way to progress was through loot boxes, but I assumed there was more to it than that. Turns out that no, there actually wasn’t. The entire progression system was tied to loot boxes which could be purchased with real money. Suffice it to say that people were not happy because this was essentially a $60+ pay to win game. Now, it’s widely believed that similar to when Microsoft first announced that the XBOX ONE was going to be always online, this was EA’s ideal money making scheme. They wanted to con everyone into paying full price, or above full price with the various enhanced editions, and then pay even more money to progress in game for better PVP performance. They assumed that the public wouldn’t be happy about it but that like with so much of their past bullshit, people would just accept it and move on. The problem was that for whatever reason, probably the Visceral Games thing, people wouldn’t move on. So they did what any company would do and adjusted the system . . . kind of.
In the guise of taking user feedback from the beta to heart, EA announced that they were completely revamping the system to be less focused on loot box progression, but were still keeping it in. They also adjusted a few other things such as accessibility to heroes. It’s all become quite convoluted at this point so I won’t try to explain this second system in detail, but the main issue was that it was now going to take about 40 hours of gameplay to unlock Darth Vader and/or Luke Skywalker. This was a problem, but like with so many other games pulling similar crap these days, again EA assumed that the public would not like it, but would ultimately accept it and move on. And they probably would have if EA had just kept their mouth shut on the issue and weathered the complaints. But for whatever reason, they decided not to do that.
A redditor posted his complaint about the fact that he paid $80 for the game only to have Darth Vader locked. He stated that he was unhappy and that he would be seeking a refund for his pre-order. EA decided to respond to this specific comment and in true EA fashion only made things worse, and by worse, I don’t mean just bad. I mean literally the most downvoted comment in Reddit history bad. The negative response to their comment was so popular and so toxic, that the sub-Reddit admins had to lock the thread because they couldn’t field all the negative comments in response.
Then around the same time as this Reddit record was being set, a very candid post was written in the Star Wars Battlefront sub-Reddit by someone claiming to work in electronic media PR. They essentially gave a play by play of how EA conducts business, why the publisher felt like it could do the things they did, and most importantly, the fact that they had actually calculated the negative response into their plans for Star Wars Battlefront II. Now, it doesn’t actually matter if this post was true or completely bullshit. What matters is the fact that the public perceived it to be true and then proceeded to share it through social media. That only added to the anger that Star Wars Battlefront II was already dealing with because of the various events I’ve already mentioned. People really didn’t like finding out that their outrage was not only insignificant but expected and calculated into EA’s strategy for managing the game. But even after all this bad PR, EA decided that they still hadn’t had enough.
It’s important to note that EA DICE did decide to lower the time to unlock heroes after this Reddit fiasco from 40 hours to around 15. A great achievement in and of itself for the gaming community, because it showed that we actually could affect the decisions made by the industry, but this was too little too late for EA. People didn’t thank EA for this boon because in consumers’ minds the game was already tainted. This wasn’t taken as a moment to rejoice after a long fought battle against the tyranny of publishers. Instead, it was an indicator that EA was finally listening which only made the public push harder. Calls to boycott the game only grew in response to this move. People were cancelling their pre-orders and then spreading on social media that EA had removed the cancel order button from Origin. It didn’t help that someone posing as an EA employee on Twitter said they’d received multiple death threats over Star Wars Battlefront II, only to then be outed by Kotaku as having never been an EA employee to begin with. The game and everything related to it had become a circus and the momentum against it was just too strong.
Then, for God knows what reason, the publisher, or more accurately DICE on behalf of EA, with clearly moderated responses, decided that the best thing to do in the wake of creating the most down voted comment in Reddit history, was to of course host an AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit just days later. It doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t have taken a genius to figure out that this wasn’t a good idea. Because unless EA was going to come out and say that they’ve completely changed the game to meet the expectations of the public, this was always going to end up being a bunch of angry gamers asking questions about loot boxes and lots of comments saying some form of “screw you EA”, and we all know screw you is the nice way of saying something else, which I didn’t want to write here. The problem was that while EA tried to present itself in this moment as having the best intentions, they only fielded the easy questions and flat out avoided specific topics, such as one presented by Jim Sterling. The whole affair came off more as pandering for the sake of damage control rather than an authentic attempt to address the grievances of the public.
Then things got really serious because mainstream news media started reporting on the game. Companies like Forbes, which admittedly does have a history of reporting on games, CNN, and the BBC started talking about the Star Wars Battlefront II controversy as if it was “real” news. This wasn’t just a bunch of kids fighting about their toys anymore to the general public. Now it was a serious issue with words like gambling, predatory practices, and children being thrown around in the same headlines. Suddenly, the conversation wasn’t just for gamers anymore. It was for any parents with kids who liked the franchise. It was for anyone looking forward to the soon to be released Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Now it was real, and that meant Disney had to get involved. EA doesn’t actually own anything having to do with Star Wars video games. They merely have permission to use the license from LucasArts as mandated by Disney. That may be a huge gap for gamers who don’t directly identify EA with Star Wars and Disney in the same breath. But for the non-gaming populous all they think is Disney when they read headlines like “Star Wars Game Preys on Children through Gambling Practices”.
Somewhere along the way, pre-release reviews started popping up stating that the campaign was only four to seven hours long. This did not help the situation for EA at all. Remember that one of the biggest complaints about Star Wars Battlefront was the lack of a single player campaign. Even John Boyega, Finn in the most recent saga of films, publicly spoke out against the first game for its lack of a single player campaign. He agreed to be the spokesperson for the sequel and was even featured prominently in the beta. EA DICE marketed the campaign like it was a serious narrative starring a female special ops Stormtrooper that would provide players with a single player experience worthy of a $60 AAA game. Finding out it was only four hours long was in many ways worse than when Han died in The Force Awakens, to the gaming public.
Let’s rewind for a second. While not only related to EA, loot boxes and the debate about whether or not they are gambling has been on the table for the last few months. Suddenly, serious government entities are discussing the practice and examining it like any other monetary vice. The UK, Belgium, Hawaii, and a number of other government bodies have looked into, or are currently looking into whether or not loot boxes can/should be considered as gambling. This is important not because it will decide whether or not the practice is ok, but because it will determine whether or not it’s ok for minors to play such games and to what level of scrutiny and fairness loot boxes would have to operate under.
Most Western countries regulate their gambling practices with specific win/loss percentages and transparent reporting to those governments concerning practices and profits. Some countries even force companies to display the specific win percentage odds to the public. This conversation is important because of how it affects mass media. News companies aren’t diving into the nuances of whether or not loot boxes actually are gambling, with honest headlines and detailed analysis of government gambling standards and how they apply to games. They’re just reporting sensationalist headlines, essentially telling parents that games are gambling and their kids are being taken advantage of. That’s a huge problem for a company like EA or Activision that makes, presumably, the bulk of its revenue today from microtransactions and sell a ton of games to kids. There’s a reason COD players are stereotyped as 14 year olds who got hold of mommy’s credit card.
So now you have Disney being subtly accused of preying on children with gambling in video games in reference to one of their most powerful franchises, less than two months away from the release of their next film of the same franchise. Of course Disney was not happy about this and of course they saw EA as the ones to blame. On November 16th, EA DICE officially announced that they were turning off all microtransactions for the November 17th release of the game for an indefinite amount of time but made sure to clarify that this was only temporary. It is believed that this decision was made after EA received a call from Disney to discuss the negative press.
VentureBeat reported that Jimmy Pitaro, Disney consumer products and interactive media chairman, personally called EA CEO Andrew Wilson to discuss the issue and that soon after the announcement to turn off all microtransactions was made. Whether this is permanent or not, it’s certainly a win for gamers and consumers in general. It proves that the people can make a difference in how companies conduct business and proves beyond a reasonable doubt that your tweets and Reddit comments do matter. The “vocal minority” theory is officially irrelevant whether it’s true or not because even if the number of people getting angry online about Star Wars Battlefront II were just a minority of actual players, they still managed to change the way the game was ultimately released. It was more than just a ceremonial movement.
Let the records show that gamers took this game and their unhappiness with EA’s management of it very seriously and that it affected profits. We’re talking zero microtransactions for the release of Star Wars Battlefront II with a new Star Wars film to be released less than a month after game. That’s arguably millions of potential dollars lost on top of a supposed boycott. And boycott the people did.
Eurogamer reported that physical sales for Star Wars Battlefront II’s release were down 60% from Star Wars Battlefront (2015). 60% is no laughing matter. According to VGChartz, Star Wars Battlefront sold 12.88 million units cross platform. I was not able to confirm what percentage of this figure was physical sales but even if we say just 50%, we’re talking a loss of about 3.86 million units worth of sales. At the $60 price tag, which doesn’t take into account enhanced edition pricing, that’s 231.6 million dollars in potentially lost revenue. Not to mention that most sequels get a boost in sales above the original. This is a monumental loss for a franchise that usually shits gold on a bad day. But as I said at the start of this piece, Star Wars Battlefront II was by no means a normal game release scenario and should not be considered a standalone event with no extenuating factors. It’s an indicator of a much bigger set of problems within the industry, and more importantly, the fact that consumers have finally started to reach their breaking point.
So what’s the takeaway from all this? What should we as consumers and they as developers/publishers do with this information? The first and most important thing I think we should take away from this is that consumers actually can make a huge difference when they organize, which not coincidentally, I’ve been saying for years, and can shift the way companies do business. Along with this we can once and for all put to bed the vocal minority, “keyboard warriors don’t matter” argument. You do matter. Your tweets, Reddit posts, blog posts, and forum posts actually can make a difference. So the next time you’re unhappy with something in the industry, take the time to write about it somewhere. Apologists no longer have any foundation to stand on. Of course that doesn’t mean that you can change the world alone. It’s only when we as a coherent and targeted group voice our concerns that we can actually make a difference. That’s why it’s important for all of us to not only stay informed, but to make sure to participate rather than settling. Apathy and defeatist ideologies only hurt us as a whole.
We cannot become complacent. We have won an important battle, but we have not won the war. EA has already stated that they plan on bringing loot boxes back to Star Wars Battlefront II and obviously still plan on using it in future games. Our job now is to not allow this without a fight. We must continue to boycott. Continue to tweet and post. Continue to share, retweet, and upvote. Every single announcement that contains loot boxes and any other such predatory microtransactions should be met with the same level of ire and disdain from even more and more people every single time. We can’t let this be a moment in time that people remember. It needs to be the start of a movement that only builds bigger with each game. Another Middle-earth: Shadow of War scenario? No quarter given. Another Need For Speed Payback slot machine announcement? No quarter given. Even the tiniest little almost insignificant form of shady business should be met with fury and rage. That’s how we change things.
It’s not just not buying loot boxes. We already know that doesn’t work. It’s not buying games during the initial release window. It’s not just “don’t pre-order”, which we shouldn’t even be talking about anymore because we all know that’s only hurting consumers and has been for years. It’s not buying games in the opening month of release. If you really want to make a difference, we all should stop paying $60 for games altogether and never pay above $60 for enhanced editions. We should be waiting for the price drop for every single AAA game, not because we can’t afford to pay full price, but because it’s a statement that in mass makes a difference. We need to take hold of the industry and bend it to our will through patience and bravado. That also means supporting games that are doing it right. Buy those single player, plot based games. Don’t pirate them. Don’t buy cosmetic DLC or pay extra for content that should have been included in the base game. Buy serious expansions that actually do add to the game like The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine and Horizon Zero Dawn: Frozen Wilds. We can win this war for good if we only choose to stay vigilant. For many that means replaying some games. For others it means giving up the competitive scene for the next big game. Dare I say it, you may have to give up PVP altogether if it comes to it. But in the long run things will be better for gamers because of it. And don’t tolerate apologists. Pick them apart and leave them for dead. They’re shills that are only hurting us as consumers.
Finally, my predictions. It has already been stated that microtransactions will come back to Star Wars Battlefront II, and they will. But I don’t think they will till after The Last Jedi comes out. Probably not until the film has already passed out of theaters just to be safe. That would be mandated by Disney of course. I say they make a return end of January or early February at the latest. But we shouldn’t allow that. When they do return people should not buy them. Even if it stalls your progress, accept the lack of development and play with a handicap. Really, people should just stop playing the game altogether when they do return as an act of protest, but that’s a big ask for a lot of people when they already paid for the game, which they shouldn’t have because, boycott.
I think Disney will pull the Star Wars license from EA quite soon unless that Visceral Games Star Wars game, now moved to EA Vancouver, shows some real promise very quickly. I doubt they get that far, but I could see Disney allowing that one game to still get made even after they pull the general license. Disney will probably finally push out Kingdom Hearts III from Square Enix with a Star Wars world to take the focus off EA in relation to the franchise. Who they give the license to after EA is anyone’s guess. If it was up to me I’d choose CDProjektRed, but that will never happen. If I had to hazard a guess I’d say probably Ubisoft. They may have terrible writers, but they can milk an already established universe, have a great engine for parkour movement already established, and have some PVP experience as well. I could see them putting together a Jedi Outcast (2002) type experience that’s very narrative heavy with an attached PVP mode similar to Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. EA was stupid not to use the license to push BioWare into making Knights of the Old Republic 3. That’s an easy to sell game with high demand and they could have added on a multiplayer mode similar to Mass Effect: Andromeda or Dragon Age: Inquisition with little fuss from the public as long as the campaign was good.
At this point, I don’t see a Star Wars Battlefront III happening, and I’m happy about that. But that will only remain true if we remain true to the cause. Other publishers and studios are shaking in their boots right now as well. Activision is arguably next on the chopping block and they’ve certainly earned that position. We need only make our demands in unison and take what we want by force. This people’s rebellion of gamers can truly be the start of a revolution if we only choose to make it so as a collective whole. All for one and one for all, triumph together but separate we fall.