Examples of Damage Control in Gaming: The EA Star Wars Damage Control Strikes Back

(Gee, maybe I should put Star Wars on this banner instead.)

EA has needed to provide a serious amount of damage control for Star Wars Battlefront II in a little more than the last month, to the point that describing every action they’ve taken would be an entire post in itself. The last incident involved EA temporarily pulling the microtransactions from the game after their awfulness received widespread coverage beyond the gaming press, which included places like CNN and the Washington Post. A call from a Disney executive to EA CEO Andrew Wilson led to the final decision, likely due to the former company wanting the least amount of negative coverage as possible leading into the theatrical arrival of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The implementation of the game’s loot boxes also faced backlash outside gaming corners, including from Belgium’s Minister of Justice, Hawaii’s state government, and UK Parliament. Despite loot boxes being included in several games that released this fall, this game was singled out due to their decision to tie necessary upgrades to them, and because of the mass appeal of the Star Wars brand. The backlash has also hurt its sales, as physical copies of the game sold 60 percent less than the first game did at launch in the UK. While it’s likely some who purchased the first game brought the second one digitally, that’s unlikely to have made up for the deficit.

Surprisingly, I still haven’t run out of screens to use.

As a result of this saga, EA’s lost $3 billion in stock value, as stockholders started losing confidence that it will reach its sales expectations by the end of the holiday season. This is why EA CFO Blake Jorgensen decided to speak at the Credit Suisse Annual Technology about the decisions made, and what lies ahead for Battlefront II in the near future.

Jorgensen reiterated how the microtransactions are only temporarily gone, though didn’t give any indication as to when they’ll return. Between now and their eventual reintroduction, they’ll be listening to what the community wants from them, though he also claimed EA isn’t changing their strategy. That’s a strange claim considering the vast majority of players don’t want microtransactions, which would actually necessitate a change in their overall strategy. Jorgensen claimed they nailed the feature in sports games, but that’s contradicted by how FIFA 18’s community has been plotting how to get EA to remove its microtransactions following the Battlefront II fiasco. It sounds like someone might be divorced from reality here.

Jorgensen also discussed why they went with gameplay alterations for the bonuses in loot boxes instead of cosmetic ones, because the latter might “violate the canon.” Darth Vader in white, he continued, wouldn’t make sense, and claimed people probably wouldn’t want him in pink. Both of those options sound great, especially the pink option for either appealing or appealingly hilarious reasons. It sounds like someone is definitely divorced from reality here.

Also, they went with gameplay alterations for the loot boxes because people wouldn’t spend as much real money or time grinding for cosmetic ones. That reason is clear, given the company we’re discussing.

A cast that will never be.

He also talked about the fate of Visceral Games’ “Ragtag” Star Wars game, which was cancelled over a month ago and resulted in the shuttering of the studio. He claimed people don’t enjoy linear games as much as they did five to ten years ago, and that the cancellation and closure were economic decisions. The game was unlikely to meet EA’s sales expectations, so “you gotta cut the bridge when you realise you can’t make a lot of money on something,” he claimed. The game was too far in development to merely switch its direction, which is why the project is being restarted at EA Montreal using assets from this project.

Funnily enough, Jorgensen’s comments somewhat contradict Wilson’s from earlier in the month, who claimed the cancellation had nothing to do with it being a single-player game. Wilson continued by saying the focus for the new project will be on making a game that’s right for players, a title that they can return to and enjoy for a long time. This was presumed to be in reference to the game’s troubled development, thoroughly detailed by Kotaku at the beginning of the month.

Jorgensen’s comments were actually more honest, as shelving the project due to its linearity has something to do with it being single-player. Given that he also claimed EA isn’t changing their strategy earlier, you should absolutely expect this new title to be an online-focused one with loot boxes and microtransactions. Also expect plenty of complaints about those elements when this particular project releases, because time is a flat circle.

Who could have imagined the EA Star Wars damage control saga would have this many installments? I sure didn’t, and this won’t be the end considering their intention to reimplement the microtransactions soon. There presumably shouldn’t be any more before episodes in this dramatic tale before The Last Jedi’s release in two weeks from tomorrow, but don’t count EA out.

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