If you haven’t heard, there’s a bit of controversy surrounding STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT 2. With a pay-to-win progression system rife with microtransactions, BATTLEFRONT 2 has quickly become the poster child for the industry’s controversial “loot box” culture.

Day after day, increasingly bizarre revelations come to light. Apparently, it takes 40 hours of continuous play to unlock a single character like Darth Vader. Unlocking everything in the game you purchased will take 4,528 hours, or an additional $2,100.

BATTLEFRONT 2 is a microcosm of everything wrong with the industry. Despite numerous innovations and countless masterpieces released in 2017, they’ve all been overshadowed by microtransactions, loot boxes, and consistent nickel and diming. This industry has become a parody of itself.

But the story continues. Last night, EA announced on Twitter that they’re disabling the microtransactions in BATTLEFRONT 2. At least for now. In a better world, this would be cause for celebration. Consumers made their voices heard, canceled their pre-orders, and voted with their wallets, with a positive, tangible result.

But this is 2017: The Year Of The Loot Box. Nothing is ever that simple.

So what’s been going on with BATTLEFRONT 2? Why did EA disable the microtransactions? Should we celebrate, or remain wary? Well, let’s take a look!

What Happened?

EA’s announcement comes in the wake of weeks of complaints, furious media coverage, and botched PR efforts. To sum up the situation: STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT 2 is a highly anticipated first-person shooter from EA. With such a popular IP from such a large company, BATTLEFRONT was bound to make a massive profit through marketing and name recognition alone. But that wasn’t enough for EA.

On top of the $60 purchase price ($80 for the “deluxe edition), and numerous pre-order bonuses to ensure people buy the game before reviews come out, EA decided to base game’s mechanics on a foundation of loot boxes. This glorified gambling has quickly become a staple of AAA gaming in 2017.

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Essentially, if you want a new costume, a new character, or any sort of upgrade, you’ll need to earn enough credits to open a mystery box. These boxes could contain a new hero, a new animation, an upgrade for a class you don’t play, or even something you already have. In short, they’re blind boxes.

They Built BATTLEFRONT Around The Microtransactions

Earning credits through gameplay is an arduous, grindy, abysmal task, requiring hours of playtime with little reward. Your performance in battle has little to do with how much you’re rewarded, and there’s even a cap on how much you can earn if you’re not playing online. The fastest, most efficient way to improve your character is to spend real money on additional loot boxes. Even then, you have little control over what reward you’ll receive, and the only reason for this is to berate you for spending more.

Needless to say, people didn’t like this very much.

BATTLEFRONT 2 EA LOOT BOXES
As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and refused to be silent.

The hatred went beyond the typical complaints you see from “vocal minorities” in the industry. Major news outlets were covering the issue, exposing it to parents and people who don’t normally play video games. It turns out that from an outside perspective, loot boxes are pretty insane.

So, when EA decided to disable the entire system until it could be improved, people were both pleasantly surprised, and immediately skeptical.

Deception

In light of this news, it would be easy for us to claim victory. But it’s not that simple.

After the announcement, fans were cautious, to say the least. The BATTLEFRONT subreddit had just gotten over a disastrous “AMA” with the game’s developers and weren’t ready to take EA at their word. Shortly after, someone named “Show_Me_Your_Husky” appeared on the subreddit, claiming to be a major game producer (and offering proof to the moderators). According to Husky, EA is employing a typical, if somewhat sinister, marketing tactic.

“A Long Time Ago” and the Sci-Fi Legacy of STAR WARS

Essentially, EA is aware their loot box system is a PR disaster, but they have no desire to change it. Their plan is to disable the system for a few months to maximize sales. If people trust EA to “fix the problem,” they’ll be more likely to forgive them and purchase the game.

Within two months time, the system will be back, likely with insignificant improvements that ignore the larger issues. By this time, the news cycle will have moved on, our complaints will become “outdated,” and EA can show off its initial sales to the investors. This is, apparently, a common contingency plan within studios, albeit one that’s rarely employed.

EA BATTLEFRONT 2 LOOT BOXES
A rare look into an EA board meeting as they pitched this idea. Probably.

In a vacuum, this may seem conspiratorial, especially to those unfamiliar with this industry. But remember: this is the same industry that compares its consumers to animals based on how much they spend. This is an industry that frequently releases broken, unfinished games at full prices. An industry where blatant, borderline criminal false advertising is the norm. Given everything we know, we have no reason to trust EA. Their motivations are clear.

The Point

The overuse of microtransactions is one of the most pressing issues in the industry. As bad as it is, this is just the beginning. Companies like EA, WB, 2K, and countless others are testing the waters. They want to see how much they can get away with.

There are two things we should learn from this ordeal: first off, loot boxes aren’t going away on their own. The industry is committed to digging this hole as deep as they can, slowly becoming dependent on an unsustainable tactic with no ability to reign itself in or moderate its behavior.

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It’s only a matter of time until this bubble bursts when even the casual gamers that sustain them become so apathetic and unenthusiastic about increasingly expensive games that they give up on the hobby and do something else. When that happens, even the “whales” who spend thousands of dollars on loot boxes won’t be enough to sustain them.

The second thing we should learn is that our voices matter. Too often, we’re told that we’re merely a vocal minority, that no one cares about microtransactions and loot boxes. This week suggests otherwise. At the very least, we’ve proven that sustained push-back, in the form of words and wallets, can have a tangible effect on the market.

The key here is to keep pushing. EA expects us to forget about the shit it tried to pull. Moreover, they expect us to be apathetic, to get tired of complaining, to simply stop caring. It’s time we proved them wrong.

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