Someone Spent $15,000 On Mass Effect Multiplayer Cards

"You need to understand the amount of money that's at play with microtransactions," says former BioWare developer Manveer Heir.

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The recent shuttering of Dead Space developer Visceral and the planned overhaul of the studio's Star Wars game paints a rather bleak picture for the future of single-player titles, at least from some major publishers like Electronic Arts. Now, a former BioWare developer has offered some firsthand insight on the reason for EA's changing priorities.

In a recent podcast on Waypoint, Manveer Heir, who was a designer at BioWare for seven years and worked on both Mass Effect 3 and Mass Effect Andromeda, discussed the EA's seeming shift away from single-player experiences to more open- and shared-world titles like the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront II. Heir says the reason for this is because the publisher "can monetize" those kinds of games better. It's also this reason that card packs were introduced in Mass Effect 3's multiplayer.

"The words in there that were used are 'Have them come back again and again,'" Heir said. "Why do you care about that at EA? The reason you care about that is because microtransactions: buying card packs in the Mass Effect games, the multiplayer. It's the same reason we added card packs to Mass Effect 3: how do you get people to keep coming back to a thing instead of 'just' playing for 60 to 100 hours?"

According to Heir, microstransactions have become one of the publisher's primary concerns thanks to the sheer amount of money they can bring in. "You need to understand the amount of money that's at play with microtransactions," he said. "I'm not allowed to say the number but I can tell you that when Mass Effect 3 multiplayer came out, those card packs we were selling, the amount of money we made just off those card packs was so significant--that's the reason Dragon Age has multiplayer, that's the reason other EA products started getting multiplayer that hadn't really had them before, because we nailed it and brought in a ton of money." He also said he's "seen people literally spend $15,000 on Mass Effect multiplayer cards."

This move away from dedicated single-play experiences is also the reason BioWare's upcoming game, Anthem, looks so different from the studio's previous output. "If that's what you're seeing from a place like BioWare, owned by EA, a place where I worked for seven years; if that's what you're seeing from Visceral now closing and going to this other Vancouver studio; what it means is that the linear single-player triple-A game at EA is dead for the time being," Heir said.

Anthem releases for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in 2018. The game is a "science-fantasy" action-RPG that's "built around a live service" and features a heavy emphasis on cooperative play. The Star Wars game Visceral was developing, meanwhile, was originally going to be a linear, story-based adventure; following the studio's closure, development has been moved to EA Vancouver and the game will be reworked "to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come."

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