It seems like 99.9% of news stories about the gaming industry covered by mainstream media involve something incredibly controversial. Without a doubt, these last few weeks have put the industry in a very bad light thanks to the massive fiasco surrounding EA and the microtransaction system it implemented in Star Wars: Battlefront II. This situation has opened up the floodgates to discuss not just this title, but how microtransactions and loot boxes negatively affect gaming as a whole. Will we ever truly get rid of them? Most likely not.
A lot of gamers were pretty happy when EA made a 180 on its decision to have microtransactions in Battlefront II. It was seen as a victory for the community that fought back against the ‘big, bad corporation.’ But, here’s the thing—gamers didn’t really win. Yes, the backlash from the community was partially responsible for pushing EA to disable the microtransactions (rumor has it that it was really Disney that actually made EA do it), but EA never said that it was getting rid of the system completely. In EA’s statement, it was mentioned that the system has been disabled temporarily and will come back after the developers review it and make changes. This brings up a major point that shows not just what EA’s real attitude is, but also the attitudes of all the gaming companies that implement microtransactions in AAA titles: pure, corporate greed.
Microtransactions and loot boxes aren’t inherently bad on their own. It really depends on how they’re implemented. For instance, Rocket League has microtransactions and loot boxes, yet it’s still one of the most popular games currently on the market. Psyonix (the development studio) hasn’t really gotten any flack for this because the microtransactions and loot boxes that are in the game are for purely cosmetic items. They don’t allow you to buy your way to the top. You can spend absolutely no money on Rocket League aside from just buying the game, and get just as much enjoyment out of it as someone who buys all the ‘premium’ cars and items. In reality, those who buy the premium items in Rocket League are just show-offs (not knocking them for doing it, the items just don’t add any real gameplay value).
The reason why so many people got mad at EA, on the other hand, is because the microtransactions in Battlefront II actually did make it a ‘pay-to-win’ experience. Someone could just buy their way to getting all the best items and characters even if they only put a few minutes into the actual gameplay. To really add insult to injury on EA’s part, this is not the only game from the company that has microtransactions. Other recently-released EA games like FIFA 18 and Need for Speed; Payback also feature a ‘pay-to-win’ microtransaction system (although NFS is also being tweaked after the controversy). But, looking beyond EA, there are several other recent AAA releases that feature their own set of microtransactions, like NBA 2K18 from Take-Two Interactive. This just goes to show the reality of it all: these companies do not care about consumers.
Remember: these are big, for-profit businesses. They only care about your money.
We need to remember that no matter how passionate we may be about gaming, this is an industry built on profit. Those executives in charge of the big companies like EA, Activision, and Ubisoft only care about seeing sales figures pointing upward. As a result, they will do just about any and everything they can to achieve that result, even if it means implementing ‘anti-consumer practices’ like microtransactions. Going back to EA’s backtracking, the question needs to be asked: why exactly did they decide to disable microtransactions in Battlefront II? The answer is simple: because the backlash threatened profits. All of the complaints from the community didn’t make those executives at the top suddenly have a change of heart and want to atone for their sins. Rather, they just wanted to appease the masses and make sure their business deal with Disney wasn’t in danger of being terminated. So, the call was made to disable microtransactions temporarily; as soon as the heat dies down, the system will no doubt be turned right back on.
You can fundamentally compare this situation to someone walking in on their spouse cheating. In this scenario, two key questions come up: ‘why is the partner cheating?’, and how long has this been happening?’ (Is this the first time or a repeat offense?) If the cheater seeks forgiveness from their spouse and wants to ‘start over’ and ‘make things right’, then that brings up another key question: ‘is this apparent change of heart coming from a true desire to make amends or is it because they got caught and want to throw the situation away?’
Applying that scenario above to this situation with EA (and all the other gaming companies implementing microtransactions into their big-budget games), I think the answer to those questions should be clear. The ‘cheating scandal’ has essentially been happening for quite some time now on multiple occasions. This sudden backtracking isn’t out of guilt, it’s a damage-control move due to getting caught and wanting to sweep the controversy under the rug quickly. The only real change we’re bound to see from EA after all of this is that it’ll try to sneak microtransactions in a little more slyly in the future, but definitely, don’t expect this to be the end.
The only thing EA will learn from this situation is how to implement microtransactions more discreetly.
In just about every form of recreation, you have two groups: the ‘casuals’ and the ‘enthusiasts’. The folks who went after EA over this situation are definitely the enthusiasts. They’re the ones who keep up with gaming news and spend time reading articles such as this one. They’re the ones having discussions on sites like Reddit and own/watch YouTube channels dedicated to gaming. As passionate as this community is, it’s generally the minority when it comes to sales. The casuals, on the other hand, are the bigger crowd. They’re the ones who just buy games because they have a mild interest. The most they’ll do is watch a trailer and read a review or two, but they’re not going to invest any time into doing research behind controversies like this microtransaction and loot box scandal. They just want the game, and that’s all there is to it.
EA is likely afraid that this situation has been getting too big, so it needed to do some PR spinning quickly in order to prevent the bad press from making its way to the aforementioned casual consumers. Like I said earlier, all these companies truly care about is their profit margin. So, as long as they can make money without controversy, they’ll do whatever it takes.
Until microtransactions stop proving to be a lucrative endeavor, you can expect to see them in more and more titles, including big-budget releases. Unfortunately, this scandal is, fundamentally, only a mere speedbump in the road to microtransaction domination. If you think that’s not the case: just take a look at DRM and (rip-off) DLC. Many gamers have expressed complaints about them, but are they gone yet? Not in the least. Likewise, microtransactions are here for the long haul.
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Having been introduced to video games at the age of 3 via a Nintendo 64, A.K has grown up in the culture. A fan of simulators and racers, with a soft spot for Nintendo! But, he has a great respect for the entire video game world and enjoys watching it all expand as a whole.