One of the features of the soon to be released Star Wars-based video game Battlefront II is an in-game economy that allows players to earn credits to unlock items within the game.

The game is a single-person campaign that takes place after the Return of the Jedi film. The online multiplayer mode lets you battle as a soldier for either the Empire or the rebels, earning perks like better weapons or boosts along the way...

...Plus, playable characters like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. 

And therein lies the problem. Imagine you just spent $60 to buy the game--and then you find out that you have to spend tens of hours actually playing the game in order to earn the right to use the most popular characters.

Or if you don't want to put in that kind of time, you have to spend even more money to unlock them. 

To many gamers, that's like buying a car and then finding out you need to pay extra to get a steering wheel. And since many will play the online version, that economy creates a pay-to-play dynamic where players who spend money can gain a greater advantage by gaining access to better weapons and perks more quickly.

According to estimates made by early users, players who aren't willing to spend more money on a $60 game would need to spend 40 hours of grinding to unlock playable characters like Chewbacca and Palpatine, and 60 hours--each--to unlock Luke or Darth Vader.

But what if you're a highly skilled player? Doesn't matter: One person determined that in its current state, Battlefront II gives out credits based on time spent playing and not on skill. That means no matter how good you are...you would still have to grind. A lot.

So naturally gamers complained.

And here's how EA responded on the gaming r/subreddit, the ninth most popular subreddit with over 17 million subscribers:

With well over 600,000 downvotes, that comment is now the most downvoted comment in Reddit history by a substantial margin.

Why?

The problem starts with the sentence, "The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes." 

Pride and accomplishment are definitely a fundamental aspect of gaming. And allowing players to unlock more content through a progressive reward system within a full priced game isn't unusual.

But allowing other players to simply pay to unlock that content negates the sense of achievement of others.

Maybe I spent hours kicking ass so I could unlock Darth Vader...or maybe I just spent $9.95.

The structure naturally creates an incentive for players to spend additional money on the game. As one commenter said, "Oh come on, everyone and their mother knows that this is to force players to grind for a piece of a product they should have already gotten when they purchased the game in order to get us to buy lootboxes. Not even a 5 year-old would fall for this."

Clearly, that was the intent, and EA should have owned it. Or EA should have priced the game higher to begin with. Responding with corporate-speak only made the problem worse.

Following the backlash, EA announced changes to how it incentivizes players to unlock key content within the game. In a statement posted on EA's website, John Wasilczyk said the company will reduce the number of credits required to unlock classic saga heroes by 75 percent. 

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader will now cost 15,000 credits. Emperor Palpatine, Chewbacca, and Leia Organa will now cost 10,000.

"Listening, and providing choices in how you play, will always be our principle with Star Wars Battlefront II," Wasilczyk said. "We want to ensure the game is balanced and fun both today and for years into the future."

That--and the changes to the game structure--is a reasonable response to customer complaints. 

Too bad they came a couple of days too late.

What should EA have done?

Owned it. Clearly, they went a bridge too far with the original freemium economy and loot box structure. Every gamer knew it. Why pretend otherwise?

When you make a mistake, say so. Then take steps to fix it.

That won't make the problem go away...but it will make customers feel like you not only listen...you also care.

Published on: Nov 15, 2017
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