One of the video gaming industry’s major producers of content, the game publisher Electronic Arts, has been no stranger to controversy surrounding microtransactions in their videogames through the past couple of years. The release of the video game Star Wars Battlefront in 2015 was faced with a huge backlash from the gaming community regarding the launch of the game lacking a single-player experience and the overall disappointment with the amount of content the game offered, especially considering the game was priced at .
Despite that price tag being normal for a release from a major game publisher, it was also accompanied by a $50 season pass for future downloadable content, referred to as DLC, not included with the base game. According to an article on comicbook.com, the main EA studio head, Patrick Soderlund, stated “It was a conscious decision we made due to time and being able to launch the game side-by-side with the movie that came out to get the strongest possible impact.
As a result, it’s clear to see that the company released an unfinished video game with the intention of capitalizing on movie sales during the introduction of a new movie trilogy in the Star Wars franchise. After the controversy with this game, things were looking up for the gaming community once EA announced that the sequel game in 2017, Star Wars Battlefront 2, would feature no paid DLC passes and that all content after the game’s release would be free. This seemed too good to be true given EA’s track record of maximizing their profits at the cost of the consumer, and it turns out the consumers were right.
The launch of the game featured a vast array of content locked away behind “loot boxes” that could be unlocked through earning in-game currency or with purchasing the currency with real money.
This method of earning in-game content wouldn’t have sparked such controversy if the loot boxes only provided players with cosmetic items for their characters in game, however, EA placed item boosts, character upgrades, and additional hero characters behind the microtransaction paywall, making it an unfair playing field for those who couldn’t spend money to unlock these items. Also, it was an intentional struggle to earn these items naturally to urge players to spend money on these in-game items rather than earn them. For example, according to an article on the popular gaming website Kotaku, it would take an estimated 40 hours of gameplay to unlock popular hero characters such as either Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker.
Due to an extreme amount of outcry from fans of the franchise and due to poor sales in the first month of the game, EA had no choice but to pull microtransactions from the game to try to appease their audience. Cosmetic items as microtransactions were eventually added to the game, however at this point the trust for this company has been largely impacted from this large scandal. Overall, this poor utilization of microtransactions had a large negative impact on the sales for the game and resulted in Patrick Soderlund stepping down from his position in the company. It is unethical for a consumer to have to pay an initial fee for a game expecting to have access to all the content available in the game at launch, only to have upgrades and non-cosmetic items locked behind paywalls or a ridiculous amount of gameplay the average consumer is incapable of.