If you needed further reassurance that EA has received the message about loot boxes loud and clear, its E3 2018 press conference was it. During the 80-minute stream, various developers highlighted the fact that monetisation would take a back seat to user-experience in its biggest upcoming games, and that gameplay progression won't be impacted by money you sink into their games. The black eye it got after the Star Wars Battlefront II backlash still stings a little, no doubt.
Perhaps the clearest indication of its about-face on loot boxes came, aptly, from Star Wars Battlefront II design director Dennis Brannvall, who appeared on stage to reveal new content coming to the game. He opened, however, with a mea culpa that felt sincere, mostly thanks to the steps the studio has already taken to uncouple progression from microtransactions and the removal of loot boxes.
"We launched our game in November of last year and clearly we didn't get it quite right," he admitted. "Instead of coming out of the gate and sprinting like we really wanted to, we had to take a step back and make sure that we were delivering a game that players really wanted."
That moment of clarity, it seems, has disseminated throughout EA's studios, and its press conference was very much a platform to assuage fears that Battlefield V and Anthem, two of the publisher's biggest upcoming titles with the biggest potential audiences, would fall prey to questionable business practices once again.
EA opened its press conference with Battlefield V, its flagship first-person shooter. It discussed new gameplay changes coming to the series, talked about various modes that will be available and, perhaps most importantly, outright stated there will be no in-game monetisation.
"We will all go on an expanding journey through the second world war … No lootboxes. No Premium Pass," said Oscar Gabrielson. This is a particularly big moment as the last few Battlefield games have monetised maps and expansions post-release and presented them through the Premium Pass. Traditional thinking was that this strategy would allow developers and publishers to keep the attention of its audience while also generating further revenue from their products.
The fact that Battlefield has essentially committed to free post-release content for the life of the game shows that EA has reordered its priorities. Business considerations are now below ensuring that its community of players have a valuable, frictionless experience. Excitingly, developer DICE confirmed that a battle royale mode will be coming to Battlefield V, and players will likely be able to get it at no cost.
The biggest concern among fans was whether this new strategy would also apply to BioWare's Anthem. The game, an online, multiplayer experience that has been likened to Bungie's Destiny, is fertile ground for loot boxes and microtransactions. Furthermore, gameplay systems such as customisation, unique weapons, and powers are ideal for hooking people in and making them spend real-world cash for the chance to get something useful or pay to get ahead.
Thankfully, Anthem's developers very deliberately distanced themselves from randomised lootboxes.
"We really wanted players to express themselves both through customising the way their Javelin plays through gear and weapons, but also the way it looks through paint jobs and also changing the actual geometry of the suit itself," explained executive producer Mark Darrah.
[There will be] no ability to pay for gameplay advantage in Anthem.Mark Darrah, Executive Producer of Anthem
"We are going to have some cosmetics and vanity items that you're going to be able to purchase, but you're always going to know what you're going to buy before you spend any money on it. So no loot boxes and no ability to pay for power. That means no ability to pay for gameplay advantage in Anthem.
This will no doubt be comforting to those interested in Anthem, especially the ones that spotted the Mass Effect-themed Javelin skin during the presentation.
Whether this new reluctance towards random loot boxes and microtransactions remains long-term is unknown, but EA has recognised that it has a lot of goodwill to build after the Star Wars Battlefront II debacle. At the very least, we can rest easy knowing that Battlefield V and Anthem, two of the most exciting upcoming games, won't be reaching into our pockets at every given opportunity.