The Last Jedi and The Last Straw

HWM (Malaysia) - - COLUMN - By Ian Chee

It seems that pub­lish­ers will, in­ten­tion­ally or un­wit­tingly, for­get that it’s also im­por­tant to de­liver a gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that gamers would ac­tu­ally want to pay for.

With EA get­ting mi­cro­trans­ac­tions so ter­ri­bly wrong – es­pe­cially with Star Wars Bat­tle­front II, the down­ward spiral of a roller­coaster ride it gave it­self was so blind­ingly fast that it’s so dif­fi­cult to keep up. Now that things have slowed down a bit, I thought I’d cover ev­ery­thing else that hap­pened, which brings me nicely to a mes­sage that EA has made abun­dantly clear, even to those with cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment – mi­cro­trans­ac­tions have no place in a premium game.

Of course, ev­ery­one is en­ti­tled to their opin­ion. And on the topic of mi­cro­trans­ac­tions, there are two main camps – those who be­lieve as I do, that mi­cro­trans­ac­tions don’t be­long in US$60 (RM250) games, and those who are ob­jec­tively wrong. And I now say this with more con­fi­dence than ever due to two things that EA did. The first is telling its in­vestors that turn­ing off mi­cro­trans­ac­tions won’t af­fect their bot­tom line. The other be­ing the im­prove­ment to in-game re­wards in Star Wars Bat­tle­front II.

It couldn’t pos­si­bly be made any clearer that games are not too ex­pen­sive to make that mi­cro­trans­ac­tions are nec­es­sary to keep sell­ing them at US$60 vi­able, short of a game pub­lisher ad­mit­ting out­right with­out any cor­po­rate dou­ble­s­peak. Be­sides, what we got was an ad­mis­sion of guilt that’s as clear as day that EA will still profit as ex­pected even with­out mi­cro­trans­ac­tions. Of course, if you’re a com­pany with ob­vi­ous fi­nan­cial obli­ga­tions to in­vestors, it’s never enough to make money; you have to make as much money as pos­si­ble – or even bet­ter, all the money in the world.

Then came the time when EA im­proved Cred­its earn­ing in Star Wars Bat­tle­front II. Not only has the gen­eral amount of Cred­its earned per game nearly dou­bled, the amount of Cred­its you earn per game ac­tu­ally re­flects per­for­mance. The MVP of each round is no longer get­ting a mere 10 Cred­its more than some­one who spent the whole game AFK. The daily Credit cap of Ar­cade Mode has also been tripled, and you get more now from you daily lo­gin bonus’ loot crate.

All these im­prove­ments to pro­gres­sion rates not only sug­gests, but is clear ev­i­dence that pro­gres­sion was set di­a­bol­i­cally slow be­fore this to ‘give play­ers the free­dom of choice’, to suf­fer through mind-numb­ing te­dious­ness and bore­dom of the grind, or pay more money to progress. Some choice, that is. Might as well give play­ers the choice be­tween be­ing run over by a train or drown­ing in a pool of hy­drochlo­ric acid. If pro­gres­sion wasn’t gimped to make you buy into mi­cro­trans­ac­tions, then there would be no need to fix the pro­gres­sion sys­tem af­ter mi­cro­trans­ac­tions have been frozen.

If this string of events isn’t the clear­est proof that the ac­tual in-game re­wards neg­a­tively af­fected by mi­cro­trans­ac­tions be­ing shoe­horned in, then the PlayStation 2 is not the best sell­ing con­sole of all time.

The bot­tom line here is, EA or any other pub­lisher is en­tirely ca­pa­ble of cre­at­ing a bal­anced game. But at the same time, while chas­ing short-term prof­its for in­vestors, it seems that pub­lish­ers will, in­ten­tion­ally or un­wit­tingly, for­get that it’s also im­por­tant to de­liver a gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that gamers would ac­tu­ally want to pay for, to get that money for the in­vestors in the first place. It’s one thing to want your cake and eat it too, but it’s another en­tirely to want to spoil the in­gre­di­ents used to make the cake in the first place.

On the con­sumer end of things, the bat­tle is won but the war rages on. EA’s stocks may have dropped US$6 bil­lion in value, but let’s not get com­pla­cent. Keep the pres­sure up, and we’ll be able to at least stave off mi­cro­trans­ac­tions from spoil­ing our games. Or at the very least, the preda­tory loot boxes.

And on that still cyn­i­cal bombshell, adieu to y’all.

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