EA – You can’t just do that.
I’ve talked about the incident before in my article on loot boxes, but the event was historic.
Star Wars Fans – Some Background
Star Wars fans are some of the most intense fans out there. People form units of stormtroopers IRL and march in parades for fun. Replica blasters, replica lightsabers, and good replica costumes cost upwards of hundreds of dollars. Disney has (or had, at least) an entire section of their park dedicated to it. There’s no question: the original trilogy is near – universally loved, and many people adopted it as a cornerstone of their childhoods, an aspect of their personality, or a way of understanding the world. It brings people together, for better or worse.
Make a good series or game based off of this universe, and rake in money – The Mandalorian, for example, is quickly becoming what the prequels could not. Make a bad series or game, and your name goes down in infamy. Even though they’ve said several times that their hands were tied when it came to the script, Kellie Marie Tran and John Boyega got nonstop harassment until they either left Twitter or responded forcefully enough to stop the constant complaints after The Last Jedi.
Anyway, what I’m saying here is that the Star Wars fan base is not the kind of fan base you can just toss IP at and hope they take it. It takes capturing the right ‘vibe’ of Star Wars, and even if you get the color palette, the story, and the general setting right, you can still produce something they don’t like if the concept itself is off.
EA – Star Wars Battlefront and Battlefront II
As a result, when a company stumbles upon something the fans really like, they’ll ride that horse as long as they can! Enter Star Wars Battlefront in 2004, one of the most loved action-based Star Wars games out there. I remember playing it myself! It really is a good game, even if you don’t like Star Wars. Very enjoyable. It came before a lot of other ‘contested’ or ‘non-canon’ content entered the universe, so fans were willing to trust and enjoy it from the get-go.
Star Wars is nothing if not sequels, though, so now we get to the point of this article (skipping over some other well-liked sequels and reboots to get there) Star Wars Battlefront… II.
The world has changed since the first entries into the series. Fans are more polarized than ever – the critics saying The Last Jedi was merely okay were said to have been paid off, because the idea that anybody even slightly liked the film was unbelievable in some corners of the web. This produces a lot of pressure for game studios. Their old work is put on a pedestal, and their new work has to live up to it. If it does live up to it, the game’s as good as gold. If it doesn’t, fans may remove themselves from the game network. Not everyone playing the game has to be a Star Wars fan, and not every Star Wars fan has to leave, but annoying too many fans of any franchise is a good way to throw away the money you spent on licensing. As such, it’s critical to maintain good relationships with the community.
Anyway, Battlefront II released in 2017, and fans were pretty happy with it, at first. It’s online multiplayer was decent, it’s arenas were diverse and exciting, and the gameplay was really good, except for one factor. Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker took 40 hours to unlock. Each.
Pride And Accomplishment
That’s an enormous amount of time. An entire workweek. You could play nearly the entire main line of Halo games in 40 hours. EA did not have the kind of record that would allow fans to overlook this.
EA has made mistakes that got it bad press before: it used to regularly acquire smaller studios, and then eat the content they had lined up before discarding said studios; it used to force developers into perma-crunchtime, so every week was release week; and it got into some nasty licensing issues when it owned exclusive rights to make NFL games with NFL logos and players. That’s barely even gameplay related! It got awarded Worst Company of the Year from Consumerist just months after BP spilled millions of gallons of oil into the coast with a burst pipeline. Why? The endings to Mass Effect 3 were all the same.
So it’s not unfair to say EA’s gotten into trouble with their public perception before. The issue this time is that they tried to explain themselves on Reddit, a public forum where anyone with an account is able to comment. Earlier, players had discovered that it was nearly impossible to earn the character Darth Vader in the game with in-game points. That’s frustrating – Darth Vader is a really good character. But whatever, right? Everyone’s on the same footing, so people with Darth Vader just worked really hard to get him, and spent like 40 hours getting credits to unlock him, and then 300 hours grinding for the top level, right?
You wouldn’t allow some players to bypass this system with real money, right??
Turns out, that’s exactly what they did! Players could purchase Darth Vader and gain an undue advantage over other players with plain ol’ cash. May I remind you, this game isn’t free-to-play. It cost 60$ just to play the game! Tacking on in-game purchases is already iffy on cheaper games, but a Triple A title? Obviously people were upset, and EA decided to comment where they saw negativity on the Battlefront subreddit. When asked how they could justify the double-charging for what was essentially the game’s easy-mode, they responded with this:
Note the number of downvotes. This is the single-most downvoted comment in Reddit history. There are roughly six times as many downvotes on this post as there were total members of the subreddit at the time. People point out how ridiculous it is to expect players to stay on their game for an entire work week’s worth of time. Others speculate that Darth Vader takes so many credits because they want users to spend all their in game credits on Vader, thus forcing them to buy the lootboxes in-game for upgraded gear. No matter how EA tried to spin it, the ‘sense of pride and accomplishment’ came down to spending money. The people running the Reddit account had no idea what they actually looked like in the customer’s eyes. Star Wars fans turned on EA – highly polarized audiences will meme on anything, and EA’s poor response splattered the front page of other subreddits.
How could they have possibly salvaged it, though? The gameplay plan was already implemented. They either didn’t listen to Beta testers or didn’t test for this specific issue – getting Vader was hard. Obnoxiously hard. The thought of the potential profits likely blinded them to the possibility of Star Wars fans not simply accepting new IP and being happy. After all, the series was good, right? Star Wars fans will shell out a lot of money for good content, right? Some did – many more were upset, though.
Fixing it once the cat was out of the bag would mean shortening the length of time it took to get Vader and Luke, which would irritate the people who already bought him. They painted themselves into a corner, and their only option was to walk on the wet paint, one way or another.