Nov 16th 2017

Battlefront II AMA the good, the bad, and the ugly

The Reddit AMA yesterday had DICE leads for Battlefront II answer some questions from fans. The three leads that answered fan questions were John Wasilczyk (executive producer), Dennis Brannvall (Design Director), and Paul Keslin (Multiplayer Producer). Unlike many AMAs it was surprisingly civil, albeit full of upset fans.

During the time they spent there they were able to answer thirty questions on subjects from cosmetics to loot boxes. You can see a list of links to their answers here. Although, reading through them they start to sound like they had to be approved before being posted and that may have contributed to the three of them only answering thirty people. They did have answers for the recent controversies though, even if many of them were that they would have to wait and see how it impacted players in game. This upset a lot of fans as they were very vocal about how this was not a good enough answer.

One of the biggest worries with the loot boxes in Battlefront II is that it will unbalance the multiplayer, and Dennis Brannvall explained to a worried father without as much time to grind or money to spend that it wouldn’t be an issue. He said progression would be, “Mainly through matchmaking. We take into account not only your gameplay skills, but also inventory and time played, when we match players together in multiplayer. You should not ever be matchmade together with players who are much better than you are...” He went on to explain that they will continue to rebalance items, it will ultimately come down to skill, and star cards have a maximum value “regardless of how they are unlocked.” In that same thread John Wasilczyk added on that “Our matchmaking system will rank players who do well against other players that do well. If they wreck players in one game, the next game they'll be put against other players with similar skill...” He also explained that server population may also influence this, as if there aren’t enough people some higher tier players will have to be bumped down.

Worries about how long it would take to unlock everything in the game were also brought up. About this John Wasilcyzk said, "We've seen the speculation about how long it takes players to earn things - but our averages based on the Play First trial are much faster than what's out there. But as more players come in, that could change. We're committed to making progression a fun experience for all of our players." However, people replying in the AMA were upset that they wouldn't give out what the averages were, or really any solid numbers at all.

Another big issue was how the single player arcade mode had limited credits a player could earn in a day. Paul Keslin responded to that issue. He explained that the limit was there because they didn’t want it to be abused. However, they wanted “to let players earn Credits offline via a more relaxed game mode…” However, when asked how purchasing a loot crate that impacts multiplayer immediately compared to getting credits, he almost word for word quoted what he had just said the issue with offline arcade mode was. It ended up coming off like he was reading from a list of corporate responses.

Denniss Brannvall ended the AMA. He said the goal of the AMA was “to give you a look at where we are in digesting the feedback we’ve gotten over the past week.” He also said that the team is disheartened from the negative community response, and even went so far as to say, “we hated it…” He believes Battlefront II is a great game, but has been overshadowed by a progression system that has issues. He also said they will fix it. He promised that the team would try to be more transparent in the future, and would share details once they were set. However, to many people the promises of looking into issues that are brought up aren’t enough, especially for one user.

By far the top question was by the Jimquisition, and as expected it was straight to the point and somewhat aggressive. Then again, he has made it clear on multiple occasions that he despises loot boxes, especially in games that have an upfront cost. Arguably he broke the three question rule, but his question was;

“Do you not feel loot box design is inherently predatory by nature? They exploit addiction and encourage at least the simulated feel of gambling, despite the lack of legal definition. Is this not a concern for the industry going forward?

What exactly prompted you to take Battlefront II on a path that was inevitably going to be slammed as a “pay to win” experience, did you not feel it was particularly insulting to try and make so much money from this game after the first Battlefront was admittedly rushed and incomplete?

They say games are too expensive to make and that’s why they need season passes, DLC, deluxe editions, microtransactions, and loot boxes (to say nothing of merchandise, tax breaks, and sponsorship deals). Can you honestly tell me that a Star Wars game was too expensive to make? That you couldn’t have made a Star Wars game, as in a game about Star Wars, and that it would not conceivably sell enough to make its money back without all these additional monetization strategies? Should you be in this business if you cannot affordably conduct business?”

The AMA answered some questions, but not really. Most of the answers seemed to be too vague, or that they would look into it and adjust things if necessary. This was especially rough with EA's chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen talking at the UBS Global Conference. There he talked about how they didn't need to make new games if they monetized games with "live services" because they could rely on a constant flow of money from that games user base. He especially regretted how they didn't monetize Battlefield 4 somehow because of the lasting power it has had. "If we had a live service on that, and could keep people engaged, give them even more to play them, we would also be able to try and monetize them over time..."

Only time will tell if Battlefront II can recover from this controversy, but if history is any indicator they haven’t lost much. They’ve lost a lot of good will and trust, but the people who were going to spend a lot of money on the game, the whales if you will; they are still going to spend a lot of money in the game. That’s because Battlefront II is sliding into an odd area where it is designed like a free to play game. Even if theoretically the boost is temporary, the chance of an advantage is still there with loot crates, and when people catch up the first DLC will arrive bringing more stuff that people can unlock with loot crates. It’s worrying when games push things this far, and even with backlash from a normally apathetic community (at least in regards to this sort of thing), profit from it. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I doubt it. What do you think? Am I making things out to be worse than they are? Let me know your thoughts. As always you can find me on Twitter at @spencerhavens.