Many videogames are no longer a one-off purchase where the game you receive in a cartridge or disc is a final product, untouched by the developer for the rest of time. With the internet and the ability to patch games, and offer future downloadable content, videogames are more of a service than ever before. Many publishers have tried different ways to monetize this service model, that resonates with players but also mitigates their risk. How can we find a model all players and publishers are happy with?
Recently Dice and EA have taken a lot of heat over their monetization scheme for Star Wars Battlefront 2. In the Beta, Battlefront 2 has a loot box system that offers Star Cards and cosmetic rewards, such as Victory Poses. Star Cards are where the problem arises because this is Battlefront 2’s main way of player progression. Now loot boxes are also purchasable for real cash, turning Battlefront 2 into a gambling pay-to-win game. Why did Dice and EA go this route?
EA has mentioned that the current DLC model of games such as the 2015 Battlefront and Battlefield 1 fragment the user base between players who’ve purchased DLC and those who only own the base game. EA attempted to fix this issue in Battlefield 1 by allowing friends to play the new DLC with each other, if one of them has purchased it. This was a remedy for a friend to friend case, but still the user base as a whole is fragmented. EA and Dice want to offer more content to players, while maintaining the revenue of their DLC model. So, they offered a compelling reason to purchase Loot boxes: Real in-game upgrades.
It’s very easy to find the fault in this system, but EA also had a reason. They wanted to bring all DLC content to all players, but they still need to make money. Since I’ve been developing a Free-to-play mobile game, I know there is no easy solution to monetization, especially when entering the service model. There’s a fine line between sink or swim. Currently with the DLC model, there is too much emphasis on releasing content post release. The initial launch needs to be big, especially for a $60 price tag. The 2015 release of Battlefront suffered from this tremendously. I played for an hour or two and realized there was not much else to see. This seems to be fixed in the sequel.
Battlefront 2 needs to lose the stigma of pay-to -win. A system that many developers have not implemented is using gameplay to enhance cosmetic rewards, creating a progression based system. Let’s wipe Battlefront 2’s method from our minds and start over. Star Cards could be only in-game obtainable power ups. Players need to play the game and unlock these Star Cards. These Star Cards can then be placed on character skins to power them up. Players can still purchase loot boxes for real money, however they only earn cosmetic items. In this example, the player can use the Star Cards they’ve earned in Battlefront 2 gameplay to upgrade their cosmetic pieces.
Solution in Summary:
- Players can obtain Star Card upgrades only through gameplay
- Players can use in-game currency to buy new character/class skins
- Players can purchase loot boxes for real money to earn purely cosmetic upgrades, including new character/class skins
- Players can use their star cards to upgrade their character/class skins
This allows players to progress their character with gameplay, rather than money. Players can purchase Loot Boxes to look badass, but it’s still up to their play to upgrade it. This removes the Pay-to-win model. Players aren’t fulfilled by real money purchases in video games. It breaks the designed progression for the player and eventually leads to buyer’s remorse. With the solution I mentioned above, players will still feel a connection to the items they earn in-game. Playing the game is still a necessity to moving forward.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the trend of videogames as a service moving forward. Using tactics to squeeze money out of the player base makes sense in a Free-to-play mobile game, but implementing systems that coerce the player to pay more money after they’ve already paid the $60 price tag is pushing the envelope too far. EA may argue that this system makes up for the loss of revenue from DLC purchases. In my opinion, that is a totally different case because the player knows exactly what they get for their money, and there’s only so much content the player can buy. With Battlefront 2’s current Loot box system, it is a gamble with no limit on possible spending.
I was extremely excited about Battlefront 2. It appeared as if EA heard what went wrong with their 2015 Battlefront release and remedied it. This beta has really tainted my view of the game, which I find tremendously sad for the developers who poured their lives into it. In Gamespot’s The Lobby, the team spoke about their experience with the game, mentioning that in 8 hours of gameplay, they were not able to put a scope on a preferred gun (Click here for that video). These sort of monetization schemes seem to be coming more to the forefront with the reveal of Activisions’ patent to use matchmaking to encourage players to use microtransactions as a main means of progression (Click here for that article)
My hope is that the focus once again can be pushed towards releasing fantastic games. A line in the sand needs to be drawn on what is fair to a player. I believe it will be up to the player base to determine that themselves moving forward.
If these monetization developments worry you or not, please leave a comment below. Will this increased revenue for Publishers result in better games, or will this focus on monetization ruin what makes videogames special?