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According to Forbes – Games
For my money, the craziest story of 2017 remains the Battlefront 2 loot box controversy, where EA was forced to strip microtransactions out of the game days before launch, and this year has entirely revamped the progression system to eliminate loot box elements entirely.
This was a Road to Damascus moment for EA, it seems, who now seems absolutely terrified of running into another controversy like this in future games. EA exec Patrick Söderlund recently spoke to The Verge about all this, and some of his quotes are pretty striking.
“We have taken significant steps as a company to review and understand the mechanics around monetisation, loot boxes, and other things in our games before they go to market,” Söderlund said.
“For games that come next, for Battlefield or for Anthem, [players have] made it very clear that we can’t afford to make similar mistakes. And we won’t.”
Söderlund goes on to say that feedback to Battlefront 2’s progression/microtransaction revamp has been positive, and has gotten players to come back. But it’s pretty clear that the original controversy has shaken EA to the point where I genuinely wonder if they’re out of the loot box game entirely, at least for games like Anthem and Battlefield and Battlefront (FIFA Ultimate Team is another story).
A while back there was speculation that if loot-shooter Anthem did have loot boxes, that EA would make them cosmetic after the BF2 dust-up. But given the nature of their BF2 update and fixes, I have to wonder if loot boxes will exist in the game at all. The progression rework of Battlefront all but eliminates randomized drops entirely, and what cosmetics are sold are not in loot boxes, but available for premium currency. Launching with no loot box elements at all would give Anthem a leg up over rivals like Destiny and The Division.
It’s hard to understate what a big deal these developments are. Just a few months ago, it seemed as if loot boxes were poised to infect nearly every game on the market, but because of intense pushback by fans, in 2018, loot box monetization is scarce, existing mostly in titles that already had them, while new games hitting the market are forgoing the concept. Games based around loot box rewards have been forced to increase their drop rates of good items (Hearthstone, Overwatch), while others have kept randomization but eliminated the ability to buy loot boxes outright (Destiny 2’s special event engrams). The most popular game in the world right now, Fortnite, sells cosmetics for a flat price, and has a subscription like Battle Pass that players pick up every few months. Not a loot box in sight.
If EA starts using Battlefront 2’s new progression/microtransaction system as a base for its other games, I predict it will be able to steer clear of most controversies. It is incredibly important that as a new IP, Anthem launches in a state where players are talking about the merits of the game, rather than its microtransaction model, which as Battlefront 2 demonstrated, can totally dominate the conversation and coverage around the game, and end up suppressing sales.
I remain deeply impressed that the entirety of the gaming community has been able to push back against
exploitative loot box monetization like this, and actual got tangible results. Obviously things are not perfect, but we are clearly seeing a reversal of a trend that at one point, seemed like it could only keep spreading. And as EA goes, many others will surely follow, and I’m curious to see how their future titles handle this issue.
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