Both gamers and game investors are no stranger to the concept of microtransactions. Although gamers have grown to accept them as a fact of reality, the recent Star Wars Battlefront II debacle shows that there is still a line that can’t be crossed. A commentary from CNBC suggests that microtransactions--once hailed as the silver lining for profitability in the games industry--could be set for a major shake-up.
CNBC reported that an 8.5% slide in EA’s share price from month to date had amounted to $3.1 billion of lost value. Take-Two and Activision Blizzard, meanwhile, are both up, suggesting that EA’s slide is a result of investors losing confidence in it. We checked and found that EA’s share had fallen 7.8% since the start of the month. We’re not financial analysts, so we won’t attempt to state definitively if the dip is related, but CNBC noted that Battlefront 2’s first-week UK sales were down significantly from the previous game and that it has failed to enter the Amazon Top 100 list for video games.
Whereas to gamers, the controversy surrounding Battlefront II was about price gouging and pay-to-win tactics, politicians saw it differently. A month before Battlefront II’s release, a separate microtransaction controversy was brewing--whether or not loot boxes are a form of gambling. We don’t know if the outcry against Battlefront II from gamers had anything to do with it, but politicians from the U.S., France, and Belgium jumped on Battlefront II, calling its loot boxes gambling.
In response to public outcry, EA temporarily switched off in-game purchases in Battlefront II. To the politicians, EA denied that microtransactions constituted gambling because the crates can be acquired without paying and also aren’t required to complete the game. The UK Gambling Commission weighed in by saying that loot boxes aren’t gambling under UK law because in-game rewards aren’t easily convertible into real money. Those who remember Diablo 3’s real-money auction house will know that it was shut down two years after its launch, possibly for this reason. Nevertheless, U.S. lawmakers are focusing on Battlefront II because they believe it uses “predatory practices” to appeal to children.
Does all this spell impending doom for the games industry? CNBC caught up with several Wall Street analysts, including Doug Creutz who said the following:
"'Battlefront II' is the pointy tip of the iceberg. … The biggest recent controversy has centered around EA's 'Star Wars Battlefront II,' where early evidence suggests player anger over a mishandled loot box economy may in fact be impacting initial sales." "We think the time has come for the industry to collectively establish a set of standards for MTX implementation, both to repair damaged player perceptions and avoid the threat of regulation."
CNBC’s report is an encouraging reminder to everyone to vote with your wallet. It’s what led microtransactions to where they are now, but it’s also what will stop them from going in a direction that we don’t want. The harder issue to deal with is whether or not regulation should have a hand in this. It’s certainly not the response the majority of gamers were expecting.
As Take-Two recently affirmed, microtransactions play a huge role in keeping games we like going, both from a content and monetary standpoint. Microtransactions have also had an unquestionable contribution in the increasing prevalence of free-to-play games, which have taken the lead in innovation in many aspects, such as gameplay and graphics, from AAA games.
Games like War Thunder satisfy flight sim-genre players that were abandoned by AAA game publishers, Mechwarrior: Online revived a beloved but uncertain franchise, and League of Legends feeds a thriving esports community.
On the political side of the discussion, regulators aren’t so much concerned by the pay-to-win aspect as they are with the possible addictive nature of in-game spending. Those who don’t agree that this is a problem stand to lose potential game content that they would have willingly paid for.
We’ve reached out to EA for details on its future strategy with regards to microtransactions.
DLC that is incompatible with people that don't have it and therefore split the player base is also worrying.
- Its not gambling because the lootbox we sell can be earned in game by playing it for 100000000000.... hours
- Its not gambling because when player opens lootbox he will always get some item, for example this item X that in our private game has arbitrary virtual value of 50$, but lets skip the fact players obtain same item in game in 1000k's, its absolutely worthless and considered trash
- Its not gambling because we dont change it into real money, lets ignore how players can trade it, list on ebay, trade accounts or in steam inventory
Stupid organisations that are supposed to decide what's gambling or not, instead of listening to players and trying to understand in game reality are listening to greedy developers who will never ever admit that they put gambling in game.
Additionally, EA followed up the release of Battlefront I with Battlefield I which uses similar crappy game mechanics. Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4 were pretty amazing titles comparatively, but most of us could tell that Battlefield 1 was just Battlefront I with a WWI theme and similar terrible game play. Both Battlefront I and Battlefield 1 feel like very similar games with different skins and although the graphics and sound on both are amazing, the games themselves are bad. I heard EA recently acquired Respawn who is responsible for producing Titanfall 2 and I became sad just hearing it because now I'm wondering what EA will do to ruin the Titanfall series.
EA has decided to dumb down their latest titles and fans of their previous titles want nothing to do with this new direction. Because of Battlefront I and Battlefield I, gamers now have low expectations from EA and are reluctant to buy their products. We've moved on from EA titles to the next latest and greatest non-EA titles.
Now with regard to offering loot boxes as a form of gambling, they may be on to something. But my stance on gambling (or any other thing one could become addicted to) relies on an emphasis on personal responsibility and self-control; personal choices.
No one is forcing anyone to buy these things. Most of these games have some fun-factor without the purchase of any loot box. Also, you have the capability to make a decision as an adult - as most of these games are rated MA and you need your own credit card to pay for micro-transactions - to refrain from buying any game that uses loot boxes for purchase with real currency. If you don't like it, don't buy it.
Also, if I like a game, I want to show support for the developers. I'm not opposed to supporting the further development of expanding environments (DLC etc...) within a given game by offering my own support through the purchase of DLC or micro-transactions. Some of these games offer years of updates. If they baked those expansion costs into the initial purchase, people would be griping about the sale price of the title. For me, if I'm playing a game more than a couple of months, it is a darned-good game (Battlefield 3 and 4; and Destiny 2 is looking to be this way) and I hope they keep adding content to it for the next few years. This is also why I'll throw a couple of bucks to freeware/shareware developers when I like their products as well.