Written by Rick Warren / Gfn2112
Today, the war against microtransactions delivered its biggest victory yet. After days of harsh criticism from gamers, EA removed the in-game purchases from Star Wars Battlefront 2. Were the microtransactions in this game an issue? Absolutely. When systems like this cause enough damage to hinder an experience, they deserve to be called out and consumers have the right to demand change. However, gamers need to be very careful about who they aim that anger at, and they need to understand what it is that they're being angry about in the first place.
Do microtransactions deserve to be so unpopular?
Of course! Who would question the terrible evil of these systems? They're clearly there to take more money from gamers, right? Not necessarily. Walt Williams, a writer for Star Wars Battlefront 2, explained the situation from the point of view of a developer. One of his tweets said this:
If you don't like how microtransactions are implemented in a game, then let devs/pubs know. Many of you are. That's good. They will listen.
This is a strong point that very few gamers seem to acknowledge. They only see, and care, about the finished product. Nobody seems to realize what it takes to make these AAA games, and to provide support for them for years after release. Every big update and every piece of content costs money to make, and regular sales do not cover that. When the actual price for games isn't increasing, publishers need to find another way to make a profit (or in some cases, just break-even). The reality is that microtransactions are unavoidable. They're needed to make/support these big budget games that many consumers want, and to keep the developers who put years of their lives into making them employed. The alternative is something that gamers would be even more outraged by: raising the price for copies of games.
The new plan would allow for games to release without the more damaging forms of mictrotransactions, but would mean a price increase for most multiplayer-heavy games. Both standard copies and collector's editions would be more expensive. While I'd certainly prefer this route, I doubt many gamers would be so approving. I've seen many people in chat rooms during The Level Up Show who say things like "this game is not worth $____" or "I pay too much for games already". With this kind of attitude, I can't see this system being any more popular.
Gamers have been spoiled for years with high quality games that cap at the $60 price point. In its current state, though, the gaming industry cannot thrive this way. Sometime soon, we're going to have a choice to make: would we rather have microtransactions in our games, or would we rather pay more for our copies? Like it or not, these are the two most viable options. If the gaming community chooses to accept neither of them, AAA multiplayer games will become as unviable as linear singleplayer games are becoming. If both types of these large games become less prevalent, dev teams will be smaller and less jobs will be available in the gaming industry. In turn, big games will be less common, and the industry will shrink to the point where many of the things people love about games no longer exist.
Why are gamers getting angry now?
Let me make one thing clear: I did not like what I saw of the star card system in Star Wars Battlefront 2. In fact, I thought it was terrible. I wish all lootboxes and microtransactions were nothing but cosmetic items, like in Overwatch. Obviously, that isn't the case, though, and it probably never will be. Regardless, the gaming community is finally becoming outraged about microtransactions and loot crates. Why now, though?
So many people acted like the microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront 2 were the greatest offense in gaming history, and the worst system that we've seen by far. That's far from the truth, though. Let's ignore the infinite offenses present in mobile games and sports games, and instead look elsewhere for proof. Do you remember Call of Duty Black Ops 3? Treyarch's most recent game was supported heavily after launch, with dozens of "free" updates. Over thirty weapons were added, and for a majority of the game's life cycle, they could only be earned through supply drops. It could take someone thousands of hours of in-game play to acquire all the weapons. This system is equally bad, as it provides gameplay advantages and new content only to those who get lucky or spend real money on supply drops. Next, Injustice 2. This game locked character abilities behind lootboxes. Battlefield 3 (and 4) had shortcut DLCs that automatically unlocked all the weapons and upgrades for players, something that would take literal days’ worth of play time to do. Do these systems sound similar? They should, because they're just like Battlefront 2's "pay to win" system. Groups of people called these systems out, too, but the outrage didn't come close to resembling what it does now. Again, why?
Let's look at a very well-known event in the war against microtransactions: the addition of lootboxes to Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. Before this game even released, it was met with huge levels of hostility. Adding lootboxes to a singleplayer game was unprecedented, and gamers were furious. In September, the game released. Everyone was finally able to see the true intent behind the monstrous microtransactions. Since then, not much has been said about them. This is likely because the microtransactions, which everyone feared so much, were not a problem whatsoever. I glanced over the issue in my Shadow of War review because, honestly, it wasn't worth talking about. There was no reason to spend any extra money, and never once did I even consider doing so. All the content was available in the game, and it was all completely doable without messing with lootboxes at all. To me, this is a clear example of these situations being overblown. Everyone jumped on the chance to be outraged about something before trying it themselves. Yet judging a book by its cover is far from the biggest mistake made by gamers.
A final example: EA, in general. The publisher was nominated as the most hated company in the world multiple times for a reason. From online passes to forcing co-op into singleplayer games, they've had a long history of doing offensive things that take advantage of the consumer. They've also treated their own studios poorly. EA has forced the Frostbite engine, something notoriously hard to use, into everything from Need for Speed to Mass Effect Andromeda. They've given one of their own games, Titanfall 2, a release date that gave it no chance at success. They were a huge factor behind the failed Visceral Star Wars project... yet they placed the blame on Visceral and shut the studio down completely. The list of awful things this publisher has done is seemingly endless, and these things were reported on by plenty of news sites. Why is it that gamers did not get outraged in these instances? Why, in a year packed full of amazing games, is the "state of the loot crate" all that matters? The truth is a hard pill to swallow: the gaming community has become spoiled.
What makes the war on microtransactions misguided?
Next time there's a large gaming showcase or a reveal stream, I challenge you to look at the chat rooms. Hundreds of thousands of people, all making demands and insulting whatever is being shown. When there are far more negative comments than positive ones, how is this "the vocal minority"? Look at some of the replies to DICE developers defending the use of microtransactions. For every attempt at a healthy debate, you'll find an attempt to make the developer feel bad about themselves. Once again, this is so common that it can't possibly be "the vocal minority". This seemingly large group does not care about where their games come from; they only care about the finished product. They don't think about the growing price of making games, or the years of work developers put into creating them, because those things don't affect them. When Visceral was shut down, and hundreds of devs lost their jobs, I saw very few gamers getting upset about what had happened to them. Instead, most of the people upset were bothered by the fact that they weren't going to be getting the game, not what EA did. Lootboxes, though? Sure, those are the things worth fighting about.
As I mentioned at the very start of the article, consumers have every right to call out poor business practices, and that is exactly what Battlefront's version of microtransactions was. I'm not saying to stop calling things like this out going forward (in fact, I encourage it), but I do think that microtransactions are not always evil, and that the point could have been made loud and clear without things being taken so far. Developers should not have to sift through hateful messages because of a system their publisher had implemented into their game. Further, people are going as far as to call loot boxes gambling (even the Danish police have joked about the issue) and call on games like Battlefront 2 to be put under investigation. How is any of this necessary?
Speaking with one's dollar is and always will be the most effective way to make a statement. If you don't like that a game has microtransactions, don't buy it. If you like a game but dislike the microtransactions within it, don't throw money at them. EA is evil, that's been made clear, but they are not kicking in anyone's door and shouting "put the money in the bag". If people hate these systems as much as they claim to, they're already doing their part by not spending money on them. Ultimately, that is what caused EA to take down the in-game purchases, not the hateful comments or gambling accusations. I made it clear earlier that I agree with the theory that something new will replace lootbox microtransactions if they go away. Still, if gamers truly do want to get rid of them, making more trouble for developers is not the solution.
I asked myself the series of questions above before hitting the downvote button and adding to the dislike count on that infamous Reddit comment. They all led to the same, sad answer: gamers can be cruel, selfish, and spoiled, and they deserve just as much of the blame as publishers for creating the thing they despise so much. In their war against microtransactions, gamers have bullied developers who are not even to blame for the systems. They claim that the industry has been taken over by greedy companies, yet go on to demand innovation and post-launch support for free. If things keep going the way that they are now, microtransactions will be far from the only thing that changes in this industry that we all love so much. Today, gamers realized the power that they have. I'm terrified of what they might do with it.
With all of this in mind, I never pressed that button. Did you?
I've been dying to finish writing this article all week, simply because I'm so tired of this topic. I despise the fact that this is so important right now. Gamers do not deserve to play the victims in this situation, because that title belongs entirely to the developers of the games in question. They've been pushed around by their publishers, and even more so by their consumers. I'm sick of seeing them treated this way. If people truly want to take back the industry, they need to stop being part of the problem first.