Author: Nathan Doverspike
It seems like a long lost time, but believe it or not a time existed when video games allowed you to play them to improve, instead of paying your way to victory. Games seemed way more satisfying during that renaissance. No need to open your wallet time and time again when you were shot and tea-bagged by someone with a higher grade weapon or character you could only get by spending $20.00; or you could just forget about family, friends, and bills to play the game for dozens of hours en lieu of dropping that cash. Full price video games SHOULD be play to win, NOT pay to win.
Before I get to beating the dead horse that is Star Wars Battlefront 2, I want to offer some praise to a game that I don’t personally play, but one of which I admire due to their business practices. That game is Overwatch, developed by Blizzard. This game, which released on May 24, 2016, has yet to charge one customer for a single map or in-game character, instead opting to go another direction for continual revenue. They offer in-game cosmetic rewards from random loot boxes. Wait, don’t I despise that form of monetization in modern, full price video games? Well, yes and no. In this case, because they offer no advantage to gameplay and are strictly cosmetic, I don’t see an issue with the implementation of the loot boxes (whether or not it is addicting and/or gambling is another topic entirely). It clearly paid off as well, since in Q1 of 2017 Blizzard reported Overwatch had exceeded $1 Billion in revenue. Not bad for a game that only requires you pay for it once and never forces your hand to reach into your thinning wallet for more and more dollar bills.
If Overwatch is the shining example of how to correctly offer additional content in this situation, there must be a bad example, right? Exactly, and for this I would like to present Star Wars Battlefront 2 (2017) as the stinky, half flushed turd that just won’t go away. This monstrosity of a game has managed to piss off so many of it’s own fans, that the publisher has reported to have sold less than half the volume of copies as they did Battlefront 1 (2015) in the UK alone. Don’t get me wrong, they still made money on the game, but that’s a significant drop, even for a big publisher like Electronic Farts…whoops I mean Electronic Con Artists…wait I meant to say Electronic Arts. Whew, didn’t think I was going to be able to make it through that sentence. I’ll just refer to them as EA from now on.
If you would like to read about the scope of the drama, feel free to read this recap of the PR disaster. Here’s the short story: loot boxes are tied to individual character and overall player progression. Buy more loot boxes, and you have a better chance at getting better cards and upgrading your characters. You are literally paying to MAYBE upgrade a character you use and/or prefer. Yup, EA felt it was a good idea to force players to play for a ridiculous number of hours before unlocking either Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker, the two most known characters in Star Wars. Even after cutting the number of in-game currency required to unlock them by 75%, it’s still based on luck. Basically, you may advance your progression in the game, or you might just get useless cards for characters you’ll never use. That sure sounds like a trap to me!
Eventually, after tons of outrage and contempt towards EA, they decided totemporarily remove the premium currency(it wouldn’t surprise me if they turn it back on immediately after the holiday season). That would solve the problem, except the grind to unlock all the characters and ships is still there; it’s just now “whales” or “dolphins” or “sea urchins” or whatever they are calling them now can’t pay for it. That doesn’t address the issue that it takes far too long to unlock anything by simply playing casually (because some of us have jobs). Plus, the progression being tied to random loot still isn’t fixed, and might never be fixed if EA has the final word. While they did take a decent hit to their stock (it dropped 8.5 points overall in November, causing shareholders to lose $3 billion), they are such a massive conglomerate that they will have to have much worse months than that to make any permanent changes. Perhaps the increased pushed for legislation to become involved will persuade them to shy away from these greedy and downright predatory practices. While I don’t always think more rules and regulations are the correct solution, it might be the only band aid that patches this Wampa sized wound.
My hope is that more publishers and developers see the backlash towards EA and their practices, and in turn decide to take different avenues to monetize their games. These publishers and developers are entitled to revenue, as are we all. Let’s just hope that the next exploitative solution isn’t as revolting as the season pass or loot boxes tied to progression.
How do you feel about these practices? Do you prefer to drop some money on a game you like to possibly get better loot, or would you rather spend some more time to get that content instead? Let me know in the comments!