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Feature Article

Star Wars Battlefront 2's Loot Box Controversy Explained

An explanation of the loot crate situation and EA's response.

Even before the launch of Star Wars Battlefront II, Electronic Arts found itself under scrutiny for its handling of microtransactions and the loot crate system in the game. But now that the latest Star Wars game is available in stores, it's continued to receive widespread attention and numerous reactionary updates from EA. To break down what exactly happened, from the October beta to current developments, here are the key events explaining the controversy behind Star Wars Battlefront II.

What's Different About Star Wars Battlefront II?

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As the sequel to 2015's Battlefront--which was criticized for lacking a single-player story and repetitive multiplayer offerings--Battlefront II features new modes and revisions to gameplay, including a single-player campaign. Developer DICE stated that Battlefront II would receive free content updates instead of DLC season pass that players would have to purchase. And part of those free updates would be new story missions, maps, and hero characters, scheduled to release the same week The Last Jedi hits theaters.

Despite the newly added story mode, Battlefront II's primary focus is its online multiplayer, where players can advance in rank and acquire resources for their classes and favorite characters. Returning from the previous Battlefront is the Star Card system, which offers class-and hero-focused amplifiers that increase stats and grant new abilities for progression in online modes. Greatly expanded in Battlefront II, it's now a required part of long-term player growth. Star Cards are the most valuable tool you have to customize and augment your characters, adding increases to damage and health regeneration, along with alternate loadouts and skills.

Each Star Card comes in four tiers of quality--common, uncommon, rare, and epic--with increasing stats for higher ranks. Moreover, amassing Star Cards for a particular class will increase its level--opening up better crafting options for higher-tiered cards. While most multiplayer games feature systems that task the player with investing time in a particular class or set of equipment, Battlefront II mixes elements of steep progression with randomized rewards from dedicated crates. These randomized yielding additional Star Cards, weapons, cosmetics, and other resources.

The Star Cards in particular are vital for increasing the level of your character. With the dependence on the game's randomized yield for players to acquire the bulk of their resources, this makes both grinding and chance a necessary aspect of the Battlefront II experience.

Leading up to the Battlefront II's open beta, the increased focus on the game-changing Star Cards led to a lot of concerns from fans and scrutiny for the game--all of which were wrapped up within the increasingly common mechanic known as the "loot box."

The October Beta, The Turning Point For Battlefront II

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From October 6 to 11, EA opened up the game to feedback with access to a beta version of the multiplayer. In the beta, players found that the loot boxes--which yield randomized materials and Star Cards for classes and hero characters--were one of the main pillars of player advancement. A common complaint was that the beta's progression system felt designed to encourage players to purchase crates with real money to advance more quickly. EA's beta for Battlefront II would ultimately be a turning point for the game in the public eye.

In Battlefront II, Star Cards are in larger abundance compared to the 2015 game, and some cards offer simple yet incredibly effective upgrades. For example, the Assault class' Survivalist Star Card can decrease health regeneration delays up to 40%. One of the larger criticisms from the beta was that Epic-level Star Cards (the highest grade of Star Card in the game) and weapons could be acquired from loot crates--making it possible to reach high-level status early on by buying rather than grinding to earn loot crates and, or in other words, "pay to win." After the beta, the developers took steps to alter aspects of the game based on player feedback.

EA published a blog post about the state of the game. Citing player feedback, the developers adjusted areas of the progression system. In addition to increasing the rate at which credits are earned by a small amount, the biggest change EA applied to the game was removing Epic-level rewards from crates. Stating that it was done to "help keep everyone on a level playing field," the developers transitioned Epics to the in-game crafting system, which is currently the only way--aside from pre-order and Deluxe Edition bonuses--to acquire the highest-tier Star Cards. Still, concerns about player progression being dependent on the randomized element of loot boxes remained.

Early Access And The In-Game Economy

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On November 10, EA released a trial version of Star Wars Battlefront II on Xbox One and PC for members of EA/Origin Access. With a ten-hour time limit, users could experience the first three levels of the campaign and the full multiplayer experience, and all progress could carry over into the final game upon release. This was the first opportunity for many to dive into the final game, which the developers said would always evolve with player feedback. Upon further play however, some fans felt that core mechanics of the game weren't effectively explained, leading many to feel frustration with the restrictions and requirements of the game's economy.

On the Star Wars Battlefront II Reddit page, a user voiced frustration after taking advantage of one of the microtransaction options, purchasing 12000 Crystals for $80 (with 10% EA Access discount). Unbeknownst to the player, the Crystals could not be used to purchase the various hero characters, which are only available to buy in the form of Credits. This user wanted to purchase the Darth Vader hero, who at the time cost 60,000 credits.

Within this same thread, an EA spokesperson responded to the post, stating the following:

"The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.

As for cost, we selected initial values based upon data from the Open Beta and other adjustments made to milestone rewards before launch. Among other things, we’re looking at average per-player credit earn rates on a daily basis, and we’ll be making constant adjustments to ensure that players have challenges that are compelling, rewarding, and of course attainable via gameplay."

The resulting comment was inundated with negative reactions from fans, soon becoming the most disliked comment in Reddit's history with over 675,000 downvotes. Following the backlash from the post, the developers reduced prices for all hero characters by 75%. However, they also lowered the completion reward for the campaign--from 20,000 credits, to just 5,000. This was done to match the altered price to unlock the campaign character Iden Versio.

Initial Critical Response

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On November 13, press reviews from gaming outlets went live. While many of the initial reviews stated that the core gameplay of Battlefront II was fun and exciting, and it offered a diverse array of content to go through, the multiplayer progression system was met with widespread criticism. With the game's dependence on loot crates, numerous claimed that the gameplay loop of Battlefront II didn't value player time or investment in the game.

GameSpot -- 6/10

"While its main narrative feels unresolved, and the general loop of the multiplayer carries a number of issues, Battlefront II still manages to evoke that same sense of joy and excitement found in the core of what the series is all about. But as it stands, the biggest hurdle that Battlefront II will need to overcome--for its simultaneous attempts to balance microtransactions with genuine feeling of accomplishments--is deciding on what type of game it wants to be." -- Alessandro Fillari

Shacknews -- 6/10

"Star Wars: Battlefront II is a pretty good game, and you're going to get it if you're a fan of Star Wars, no matter what anyone says. I'm just thankful that the game is an improvement over the first attempt and is incredibly fun solo, or with friends online. The loot crates diminish its value greatly, and it's a shame EA forces them down your throat as part of the core gameplay, but the game looks gorgeous and is enjoyable to play." -- Greg Burke

IGN -- 6.5/10

"I find my opinion of Battlefront 2 shifts depending on what I choose to expect from it. If I'm looking for a rich Star Wars story alongside a deep competitive shooter, this definitely isn't it. But in terms of delivering on that Star Wars fantasy, jumping from corner to corner of the galaxy to see as much as it has to offer, Battlefront 2 succeeds in a very fun way. I'm just not sure there's enough here to keep me interested for very long." -- Tom Marks

Accusations Of Gambling

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After the reviews were out and more players began to dive into the game, Battlefront II found itself under greater scrutiny from the community and press alike. Eventually, mainstream press sites such as CNN and The Huffington Post began to cover the game's focus on microtransactions and loot crates. This increased attention, along with consumer complaints, led to the Belgian Gaming Commision launching an investigation into the game (in addition to Overwatch) for possible gambling practices. EA released a statement to GameSpot strongly denying such connections to gambling:

"Creating a fair and fun game experience is of critical importance to EA. The crate mechanics of Star Wars Battlefront II are not gambling. A player’s ability to succeed in the game is not dependent on purchasing crates. Players can also earn crates through playing the game and not spending any money at all. Once obtained, players are always guaranteed to receive content that can be used in game."

The Microtransactions

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Prior to the game's official launch, Crystals were exclusively used to purchase loot crates for additional rewards. While Crystals can be acquired from certain challenges and milestones, the most immediate way to attain them was from the in-game store. This also opened up possibilities for players to take advantage of the premium options to obtain amass a larger quantity of Star Cards and resources over others--which all fed back into player progression concerns.

In similar fashion to titles working with a games-as-a-service model, the microtransaction system in place prior to Star Wars Battlefront II's launch featured multiple packs of varying value to purchase. The purpose of this feature was speed up the player's progress and overcome long-term investment into the game. But in the days since the beta, and even before its launch, general perception to how the game offered these paid options were unfavorable. Despite this, DICE developers expressed that these options were not pay to win, and that player progress would come down to player skill.

"You should not ever be matchmade together with players who are much better than you are," said DICE associate design director Dennis Brännvall. "Ultimately your effectiveness is going to come down to skill, not the Star Cards that you have."

These were the purchase options during early access and prior to launch:

  • $4.99 - 500 Crystals
  • $9.99 - 1000 Crystals
  • $19.99 - 2100 Crystals
  • $39.99 - 4400 Crystals
  • $99.99 - 12000 Crystals

Developer Response To Negative Backlash

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In light of accusations of gambling and overwhelming toxicity surrounding the game, EA CFO Blake Jorgensen made comments about the state of the game during a talk at the UBS Global Technology 2017 conference on November 16. In addition to commenting on the game, he stated that "people need to be patient," as they looked for alternatives to address the community's concerns.

"So things that we we heard today, we'll tune in the game, and they'll be different tomorrow. Running a live service is all about constantly watching and listening to and reacting to the community to try to develop great gameplay," Jorgensen said. "But also [players should] really understand that we listen to the community very closely and we will always be changing the games to make those games better and make the community more excited about playing those games."

During a Reddit AMA leading up to the game's launch, DICE developers Dennis Brännvall and Paul Keslin spoke about the backlash toward the game, and expressed that they were incredibly saddened by the overall response.

"We've made a really cool, fun, and beautiful game but it was overshadowed by issues with the progression system. We will fix this," Brännvall wrote.

The Temporary Removal of All Microtransactions

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Hours after the Reddit AMA with DICE developers, and shortly before the game's official launch, players suddenly found that microtransactions were pulled from the game without a preceding announcement. Soon after, EA released a statement from DICE General Manager Oskar Gabrielson announcing that all microtransactions would be pulled from the game until further notice. The CEO also expressed that the game will continue to evolve, and offer a progression system that would be entirely focused on offering rewards from organically playing the game. Here is the statement in full.

"Thank you to everyone in our community for being the passionate fans that you are. Our goal has always been to create the best possible game for all of you – devoted Star Wars fans and game players alike. We’ve also had an ongoing commitment to constantly listen, tune and evolve the experience as it grows. You’ve seen this with both the major adjustments, and polish, we have made over the past several weeks.

But as we approach the worldwide launch, it's clear that many of you feel there are still challenges in the design. We’ve heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. And we’ve heard that this is overshadowing an otherwise great game. This was never our intention. Sorry we didn’t get this right.

We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases. We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning. This means that the option to purchase crystals in the game is now offline, and all progression will be earned through gameplay. The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game. We’ll share more details as we work through this."

When selecting the Get More Crystals option from the loot crate menu, players will come to a blank screen where the five crystal packs once were. Crystals are still obtainable in game via milestones and challenges, but they require a large time investment to acquire.

What Now?

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As of the time of this post (November 22), Battlefront II is fully playable in all gameplay modes, sans microtransaction options. Developer DICE and publisher EA are currently working on a new system, and while Crystals are no longer available to buy in packs at this time, the developers have stated that the currency will return after adjustments have been made. Whether the in-game purchases will remain the same, or will be modified to offer different rewards remains to be seen. On November 22, US Senator Chris Lee representing Hawaii spoke out about the "predatory practice" from EA. "This game is a Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money. It's a trap," he said.

With its next batch of content coming next month in time for The Last Jedi, and with more content in the months ahead, the developers plan to support the game for the long-term. But along with new modes and content, EA and DICE are now coming up with a new progression system for the game to replace the one presently in game.

Be sure to check back with GameSpot for all future updates coming from the developers regarding the state of Battlefront II.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com
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