The run-up to Star Wars Battlefront II was full of emotion. The original game, itself a reboot of the beloved LucasArts series, showed that the EA developer, DICE, was able to merge the Star Wars world with a competitive shooter. But it was also a relatively light experience that the players sold out quickly. The sequel promised not only a larger and more complex multiplayer mode, but also the much-requested addition of a story campaign. However, when the game finally came to light, the conversation was not about how he played or whether it was a significant improvement over the original.
In contrast, Battlefront II was involved in a controversy, thanks to what many considered an overly aggressive use of loot and microtransactions, linked to a progression system that encouraged the spending of real money. The response was so severe that EA withdrew all purchases in the game even before the game was launched, and recently introduced a patch that renewed how the progression works.
According to Patrick Söderlund, a former EA executive who became the company's design director yesterday, the last six months after the publication was an important learning experience for the company. And it has been an experience that will help shape the way EA operates in the future. "I would be lying to you if I said what happened with Battlefront and what happened with everything that surrounds the booties and these things have not had an effect on EA as a company and on us as management," he explains. "We can avoid it and pretend that it did not happen, or we can act responsibly and realize that we have made some mistakes, and try to rectify those mistakes and learn from them."
Star Wars Battlefront II.
Battlefront II is not the only high-profile game that experiences this kind of kickback, of course. Other box office titles such as Destiny 2 and Middle-earth: Shadow of War were subject to similar controversies, although less virulent, due to the inclusion of booties and several microtransactions. (Last month, Shadow of War eliminated microtransactions, while Destiny 2 continues to grapple with a disgruntled community six months after launch.) As the business model and player expectations have changed for large-scale games, many developers They have struggled to find a way to balance creating a massive experience and continuous income to support that.
Some games solve it by offering mostly cosmetic improvements, such as Overwatch, the constantly popular Blizzard shooter, or the most popular game of the moment, Fortnite: Battle Royale. But things get darker when real money updates impact the way the game is actually played, especially for multiplayer experiences, such as the initial structure of Battlefront II. Many players saw the loot boxes of the game, where they could spend real money for a random item that could have a direct impact on the multiplayer competition, as a way to encourage the spending of cash on the success of the game.
"[Players have] made it very clear that we can not afford to make similar mistakes."
"We had the intention that we had more people playing for a longer period of time," Söderlund explains about the decision to include booties. "And like many other games on the market, to be able to afford that, we had the idea of making a profit out of that, but at the same time, we were wrong, and as a result, we had to take very quick and drastic measures to turn everything off, and since then we have worked and redesigned the progression system, people seem to appreciate what we have done, the players come back and we are seeing stronger participation numbers, people seem to think that, for the most part, we did well. We will continue to improve the game, we will continue to promote these things, and we will have to be very cautious with what this means for future products. "
Söderlund says he is hopeful that Battlefront II can still be saved; Earlier this year, the company announced that the game did not reach its sales targets, which EA attributed to the controversy over the loot. But a more important question could be how the experience will have an impact on future EA games. The most pressing concern is Anthem, the next launch of the EA BioWare study, which goes on sale next year. Like Destiny, the game takes place in a world of shared sci-fi online, where players can form teams to complete missions together. As a persistent online game, Anthem will probably have some kind of in-game shopping, and Söderlund says that, after Battlefront II, EA is looking at this area with more scrutiny than ever.
"We have taken important steps as a company to review and understand the mechanics related to monetization, loot and other things in our games before they go on the market," he says. "For the games that come later, for Battlefield or for Anthem, [players have] made it clear that we can not afford to make similar mistakes, and we will not."
Of course, Battlefront is just one of the many games that come out of a massive publisher like EA, and apart from that, the company has been very successful lately. The titles of EA Sports such as FIFA and Madden continue very well thanks in part to the microtransactions, and the new independent publishing label EA Originals of the company has had a great start. The recently launched A Way Out, a cooperative crime trap, has sold more than 1 million copies in its first three weeks. (As Söderlund points out, this means that more than 2 million people have played it, since cooperation is a requirement and players can share the whole game with friends.) And because EA does not make a profit with Originals games: a Once development costs are covered, all sales are reverted to the developer; This means that the creator Hazelight Studios is ready for an unexpected win. "It's something we should be doing," says Söderlund of supporting smaller game studios.
This more philanthropic side of EA may seem at odds with the public perception of the company. At the beginning of this decade, the editor was voted "the worst company in the United States" by consumer readers two years in a row, thanks to things like the controversial end of Mass Effect 3 and the decision to turn the anticipated SimCity 5 into an experience Always online. EA attempted to conduct some corporate searches to address these complaints, including the installation of Andrew Wilson as its new CEO in 2013. Yesterday, Wilson shuffled the company's executive team, which he said would "further focus EA's creative core."
"We have to take action and show people that we are serious."
However, for every beloved game that the company launches, another controversy always seems to arrive. The Battlefront II boots are just the last example. Söderlund began his career as a developer in the DICE studio of Battlefield before EA acquired it, and when he speaks to him it is very clear that he is passionate about the games that the company does, including Battlefront II. And see the process of changing that public perception as something like a personal mission.
"It's clear to us that players see the company differently than we do," he says. "And in that situation, as a member of the executive team, as the guy who runs all the studios, I have to take it seriously, and we have to continue to listen and understand what is triggering that, we have to be very careful with what we do." . But Söderlund recognizes that only the actions of the company, not its words, will make a real difference.
"We have to take action and show people that we are serious about building the best possible products, that we are serious about the fair treatment of players, and we are here to offer the best possible entertainment," he says. . "And in cases where we do not do it well, we just have to listen and learn from that and be better."