Our Take: EA/DICE Battlefront II AMA on Reddit

By | 11/15/2017

This is a quick reaction to the “Star Wars Battlefront II AMA” by EA/DICE on the Battlefront subreddit.  It is, by its nature, a short take on recent events. My view/opinion on said events may evolve over time and will likely not be fully reflected here.

[Update 11/16/2017: The GM of DICE has announced that they have temporarily disabled cash microtransactions in SWBFII.  This was unexpected but given the market backlash, this is not entirely surprising.  Speculation: I expect the revamped system to be released after The Last Jedi.]

[Update 11/15/2017: CNBC article – Wall Street beginning to worry about customer & social media reaction to the game.]

EA/DICE recently held an AMA (ask me anything) on the Battlefront subreddit.  The AMA was primarily in response the negative consumer reaction to the progression system and “loot boxes” contained within Star Wars Battlefront II (SWBFII). Overall, it was relatively benign and there wasn’t a lot of new information to be gleaned from their responses.  To be fair to EA/DICE, as a publicly held company they aren’t going to make any concrete statements that could generate a reaction from shareholders. Nonetheless, it was disappointing to see them dodge a lot of the important questions on the minds of their customers.  A breakdown of each question and answer can be found here and here.  The general response to nearly every questions was that they are “looking at it,” “might make adjustments,” and they “value customer feedback.”

To understand what is going on at EA (and the associated explosion of loot boxes), it helps to think about large companies/conglomerates as collectives that essentially operate as single entities and not a bunch of small moving parts. I’ve spent a lot of time studying company culture and in a nutshell, employees in large organizations tend to drift towards the same set of strategic beliefs and values. Those beliefs and values are often very similar those of the executive staff and board of directors.  (e.g. “We value cash generation.”  “We value service models.”  “We value quick prototyping and testing.”)

One of the most common “problems” of large companies is that ideas that go against the overall values of an organization get pushed aside.  The employees that don’t buy into the current values (including executives that might differ) tend to get removed from the organization over time. The reason I say this is because EA is no different. The recent comments/announcement from the CEO (and the AMA) represent a significant push towards service monetization as a central pillar in EA game design as opposed to a way to generate additional revenue from the product. That particular design method is flowing into all of their associated products.  My assumption, based on experience, is that there is no active resistance in the EA organizational structure that is resisting that overall design methodology.

The AMA has made one thing very clear: Star card loot boxes are going to stay in the game regardless of other adjustments. The central design pillar in SWBFII is not the game itself (with monetization options given to the consumer as a service).  Instead, SWBFII is a game built around the existence of a monetization service. In other words, the game exists because of the service, the service doesn’t exist because of the game. This is a significant change in the way games are designed (traditionally) and the SWBFII AMA has made it clear that executive leadership values the service over the game. Barring a sudden change in heart (similar to the Diablo 3 auction house removal), it is clear EA as an organization is designing games around a continual revenue model and not the other way around (a revenue model around a game).  Developers, project leaders, and producers will continue to echo this design principle in all EA titles until executive leadership modifies the corporate strategy.

I want to be clear that I’m not attacking EA for designing in this manner; As a profit driven organization they aren’t going to change their corporate strategy until given a reason to do so. If they continue to generate profit with games built around service models (and by extension, loot boxes), and that action satisfies the shareholders, expect it to continue for the near to mid term (1-5 years).