Blimey, this EA controversy is hilarious, isn’t it?
From the most down voted comment in Reddit history, to the shit storm of an AMA on the same website, and suddenly EA is the bad guy again, despite their strides in 2016. For those of you that don’t know, EA recently came out of their residence in Hell to defend their use of micro-transactions in the new Star Wars: Battlefront game, doing so in the most professional manner (screenshot of the Reddit comment below). Now, everyone sees EA as this big bastard and is questioning loot boxes once again, barely a month after the last outrage over loot boxes not being considered “gambling”.
Personally, I have no strong feelings against or for micro-transactions, and I don’t consider most arguments as compelling evidence. I buy a few loot boxes here and there, and that’s about it, but I am aware of the more… unhealthy habits, from gaming whales dipping 80 dollars for those fly cosmetics, to silly kids with mommy’s debit card. What needs to be taken into consideration however, is the underlying machine of the video game production cycle in general.
DISCLAIMER: Whatever you take from this Op-Ed, please don’t believe that I am promoting the use of loot boxes and other micro-transactions in video games. I am taking the most unbiased approach possible for this, and despite having no strong feelings either way towards this arguably unethical practice, I still feel the need to throw my hat into the ring. With that out of the way, let’s start at the beginning, that being Star Wars itself.
Ah, the mega-franchise itself. What else can be said about its influence on not just media, but the human race itself? It’s abundantly clear that Star Wars has affected multiple generations, and that it’s a thing nearly everyone can enjoy, but I’m not going to lie through my gritted teeth and say that Disney and EA are in it for the human element. This is a franchise, remember, and while that’s an obvious point, I think it’s something most people forget.
DICE might have to bend over backwards for EA, but at the same time, EA bends over backwards for Disney. Even though this conga line of arse-showing goes on and on, it’s clear that EA isn’t the bad guy here, or at least the most prominent. Then again, maybe this argument is only viable when it comes to Star Wars: Battlefront II, due to the massive license being used.
Loot boxes in games that aren’t part of a bigger media franchise itself, are another part of the puzzle, and may have a different answer behind their greed. Be it the supply drops in Call of Duty, those white boxes of horror in Overwatch, the chests in Gems of War, so on and so bloody forth. Here, the argument is more at fault with the publishers, and how freely they spend their money, with my basis for argument starting all the way back in 2011, with the release of Homefront.
While not being a good game by any means, it was a game that the once-great THQ were keen on promoting and publishing, which came with a budget. A budget that is up in the air, but estimates can be made. In an article that I couldn’t find, possibly due to the website being shut down since then, THQ reported that they needed to sell 2 million copies in order to break even. Using basic math, placing Homefront as a 60 dollar game at launch, that places an estimate of clawing back 120 MILLION dollars. Imagine the amount of Pepsi you can get with those dollaroonies.
That’s an overall budget, including the factors of developing, marketing, distribution and I dunno, maybe food catering to the developers in the coal mines. Publishers and developers are always quick to gloat about player counts, but rarely sales figures, or at least they don’t massively promote their sales figures. With that, comes the question of just how much they really cost to create. For an example next to me right now, let’s break it down with something like 2016’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.
First, there’s the game itself, the CGI and the motion capture for ultra-realistic faces in cutscenes, the sleek and shiny graphics, which all requires an engine. Bolstering that is actors that are famous beyond video games, examples in this case being Kit Harrington, Seth Green, David Hasselhoff and Conor MacGregor. Adding on the promise for further content with 4 map packs, and the budget comes to an estimate I doubt you can use your pocket money to patch up.
That’s an average game, and I do say average due to the bare minimum that Call of Duty is now. Infinite Warfare also tanked, due to the player base knocking it for being space garbage, preferring to see the same bloody D-Day landing for the 400th time. I personally believe that Activision had the foresight of knowing Infinite Warfare would fail, so how does Activision claw their money back? By adding supply drops, DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUUUN.
Some other factors might come into play here, like game sharing physically and digitally, buying game keys from unofficial sites like G2A and GOG, etc. However, with this evidence in consideration, I barely accept the use of these more greedy tactics, but I still put developers and publishers to blame. It’s clear that EA, Activision, Ubisoft and others are pissing away money and then frantically trying to fix the boat made of dollars they’re standing on, using stuff like DLC, Season Passes and Loot Boxes to keep afloat.
After all this, and what might come into play in the future, I still don’t really see a change. The fire may be burning brightest right now, but the lasting of it won’t be long. It’s another one to add in the string of money making bastard controversies, and you know as well as I do that it won’t be the last to come past you. You want to protest this disgusting marketing? Great, more power to you.
Just don’t expect the public to be behind you a week down the line.