Disney Checks EA Over Battlefront Microtransactions and Other Hilarity

As it turns out, all of that firestorm about Star Wars: Battlefront II did not change EA’s mind.  Electronic Arts was fine just staying the course and going all-in on pay to win in the name of boosting revenues.  They were willing to move the dials some, but actually turn it off? Nah!

I don’t directly have a horse in this race since I’ve written off EA as a horrible company and don’t give them money in any form any more, but I figured I ought to follow up last week’s post and also note the state of affairs so I can come back to it a year from now and see how things played out.  Also, my daughter, cringing at my childish artistic efforts, made me a new “EA is Hell” graphic for such posts.  I’d feel bad not using it.

Electronic Arts – Fun is Made Here

Anyway, as it turns out Disney had to step in and yank EA’s chain to get them to stop shitting all over the Star Wars franchise just before a big movie launch next month.  So I suspect we won’t see EA suspend their temporary moratorium on predatory practices and straight up pay to win until Star Wars: The Last Jedi makes its billions in screen revenues and toy sales.

Then there was the analyst who, displaying all the depth the profession is known for, like a true Scooby-do villain, blamed the whole fiasco on “those meddling kids,” in the form of Reddit and a momentarily not subservient gaming press.  Can’t they see that EA needs that extra revenues to stay alive?  Games are so much more expensive to make these days, or so we’re told, so if gamers can’t be milked for more revenue the whole industry will collapse.

Oh, wait, EA says that shutting off its Star Wars Battlefront II whale exploiting program won’t affect earnings.  So which is it?  Are these all a necessary evil in order to ensure games keeping getting made or just another unconscionable way to boost revenues?

Anyway, all of that nerd rage has buoyed the FIFA fan base to demand EA fix the exploitative nature of that franchise as well, to which I can only respond with a hearty Nelson Muntz “Haw, haw!”

Or I would if this sort of thing wasn’t on the rise everywhere it seems.  Your dollar votes make this possible.  I know, we all just want to play our video games with our friends, and it is easy for me because EA literally makes no games right now that I care to play, but at least give this some thought now and again will you?  Spending $60 on the box for a game that contains a blatantly, unarguably vulgar straight up pay to win mechanic just makes that more likely to happen again in the future, even if you don’t participate in the most crass aspects of the money grab.

Did I get enough adjectives in that last paragraph?  I think there is room for a few more.  Would more change your mind?  Or are you just going to buy the games anyway?  You’re just going to buy them anyway, aren’t you?  Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you way too late!

Meanwhile various small time government officials are trying to ride this storm for some publicity.  The Nosy Gamer has a post about some of this.  The gambling commission in Belgium, a French senator, a Hawaiian state representative, and now a state gambling commission in the Australian state of Victoria have weighed in, all looking to play this for some press to further their careers.

I mean, I have some mild hope given the direction some of this is going.  There seems to be a line of thought that random chance plus real money alone is sufficient to declare something, if not real gambling, at least a predatory practice that targets the young, without having to open the can of worms that would come from declaring virtual goods to have real world value.

But even with virtual goods being worth cash money, the whole idea that random chance and money are predatory causes me to see how this could immediately bleed over into collectable card games (I don’t care if adults play Magic: The Gathering, it is still viewed in the mainstream as the domain of 13 year old boys, while the Pokemon TCG is straight up aimed at kids), baseball cards, the gumball machine in front of the drug store that drops out random toys in little plastic capsules, and McDonald’s Happy Meals.

There is a long and lamentable history of laws being written with a specific intent and then being expanded to include semi-analogous but never intended scenarios.  If “money + chance + children” is predatory do you have a green light to sue McDonald’s if you don’t get the right Star Wars toy in you Happy Meal?  I’m sure some lawyer will take that case and try to make new law if you’re willing to pay his many billable hours and expenses.

Anyway, the potential for a law that might get expanded into various other venues will cause a cross-industry alliance against any such changes to be formed.  They will battle directly by making up numbers about how many jobs would be lost by such regulation and promises of self-policing in the industry while at the same time innocuous sounding industry groups will donate to the campaign funds of politicians… or directly to politicians… to sway their minds and soon, if EA can keep itself from publicly shitting the bed again for just a little while, the whole issue will disappear.

So that is my call.  Ain’t nothing going to happen and a year from now the status quo will still be in place.  I mean, maybe EA won’t be trying to sell its pay to win so egregiously, so there will be a small win in that.  But that will have been accomplished through direct economic pressure.  No legislation or regulations will have been passed in any but the tiniest of jurisdictions.

Yes Gevlon, I read your post.  I disagree, if only because I cannot imagine the systems in the US and the EU working with such haste.  The EU only gets itself in gear if it thinks it can milk US companies like Google and Apple to punish them for being better at what they do than their European counterparts.  Somebody will point out that any changes won’t just hurt EA but Europeans as well and that will be that.  And in the US… well, the NRA and its congressional puppets have been reading from the “video games cause gun violence” script for years and that hasn’t changed anything of substance.  What chance does this have?

Anyway, we shall see.  If I remember I’ll make this one of my predictions for 2018.  I need to start thinking about that.

Until then I’ll go back to playing World of Warcraft, at least until they start selling mythic raid drops in loot boxes for cash.  After that it will just be Pokemon for me I guess.  Nintedo would never do this, right?  And they’re going to announce a Pokemon Diamond & Pearl remake next year as well, right? Right?

14 thoughts on “Disney Checks EA Over Battlefront Microtransactions and Other Hilarity

  1. bhagpuss

    +1. Best post on the topic to date – and there have been a lot of posts.

    But then, I think we are in basic agreement on the laws of unintended consequence and be careful what you wish for. Since it appears it’s too late to call off the dogs my hope rests on what I said in response to Gevlon (which you won’t have read because my comment is still pending moderation – savor the irony) : “Fortunately, the kind of politicians most likely to make a lot of noise about this are the ones least likely to be in a position to do anything so the outcome will probably be what it usually is – no significant change.”

    If we’re wrong and it does go the distance it’ll be instructive to see which online games “sunset”, which revert to subscriptions and which turn out to have been making enough on just hats after all. My predictions would be “a lot”, “very few” and “none” in that order.

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  2. Gevlon

    Wilhelm: you still miss the 2016 election memo. Campaign money doesn’t matter much anymore. Whoever can find some angry but not too active voters and give them a reason to go to the ballot box, wins. In 2016 it was white working class. In 2020 it’ll be gamers.

    NRA talks but doesn’t matter, because they are hyper-partisan: Ds have no reason to give them anything because they’ll never vote D, and Rs have no reason either because they’ll never vote D. But gamer “kids” can go either way. Whoever give them what they want (non-P2W games) get their vote.

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  3. Dinsdale Pirannha

    At least there is something we can agree on: EA is evil.

    I for one will continue to play my outdated Civ V and some old Paradox turn based strategy games, and ignore the idiocy of the pay-to-win genre, which includes Eve.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Gevlon – Is that what you think? Money suddenly doesn’t matter?

    That is all that matters, that is all that has ever mattered, that is all that will ever matter. You think Ajit Pai is killing Net Neutrality because he thinks it is a bad idea or some other lame rationalization? No, he’s killing it because when he’s done with his government time and is looking for a big executive desk on which to park his huge Reese’s mug he’ll be going back Verizon to collect his reward for improving their bottom line.

    Trump farming outrage is just a smokescreen to hide the fact that he’s selling to the highest bidder the same as any other politician. He is merely restocking the swamp with gators of his choosing.

    As for gamers having any influence on any election ever? I am not convinced.

    Anyway, we’ll see in a year. You’ve set your stake in the ground with your post, which I will quote here as a reminder:

    “Mark my word: one year from now, it’ll be illegal to sell anything random or powerful and it’ll be also illegal to not disclose major gaming concepts like how the matchmaker works.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. SynCaine

    What was that item Gevlon promised a while ago here, that I can’t remember but I’m sure was also dead wrong, just like this will be in a year? Something EVE-is-dying related wasn’t it?

    Also “money doesn’t matter anymore” isn’t the dumbest thing Gevlon has ever said, because that list in approaching infinity and has some real heavy hitters at the top (streamers paying bots to be stream snipers is a recent favorite of mine for the levels of stupid it contains), but it’s up there.

    Unintentional comedy aside, agree with you here, not much will change in terms of laws, but there will be changes because of a fear of backlash and general gamer education. It’s just another step in the evolution of gamer education as it relates to all things F2P. It’s slow going, because the world is full of goblin-dumb people, but we are making progress, with this fiasco being the latest and biggest example.

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  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Random Poster – Oh yeah, Star Wars Battlefront II is the Harvey Weinstein of this scenario, and now we’re going to start hearing about every other similar transgression.

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  7. Gevlon

    @Wilhelm: in the recent US special elections candidates with 2x-10x bigger war chest lost. Jon Ossof lost the most expensive congress election despite spending 5x more than Handel. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia%27s_6th_congressional_district_special_election,_2017

    The thing with Ajit Pai is exactly what you describe: he is done with government and cashes OUT. Same for Jeff Flake and several others. You can still buy incumbents, but you can’t buy elections anymore. So it IS possible that someone runs on the platform of “no P2W, no lootbox”, just to realize that there is so much money to be made by changing his mind that he says “F re-election, I take the money and retire”. But then he’ll be replaced by the next “no P2W, no lootbox” candidate. Sure, they can buy him too. But they have to buy every single one of them and they are replaced fast. If just one is an idealist, or simply aims for longer career, they are screwed.

    I still stand by my 1 year prediction for a simple reason: games a global products. Remember how CCP caved and banned IWI after the Washington state gaming commission ruled against another company and I informed them that they’ll be reported? How many EVE players are in Washington state USA? It doesn’t matter, because if there is just one and that one’s father presses a lawsuit for his son losing $10K on IWI, CCP will face millions of punitive damages. So, for me to win, ONLY ONE country or US state have to ban lootboxes and all the companies just cave rather than refund their customers in that country and stop operating there AND hope that no kid will play from there using VPN anyway.

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  8. Pingback: Disney and EA Pricing Models – Kill Ten Rats

  9. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Gevlon – You misunderstand what I meant when I say money always matters. I did not say it could buy elections. There is plenty of historical evidence to support that, including Hillary, Mitt Romney, John MacCain, and Bob Dole. Money cannot fix a candidate that people just don’t like.

    But unless you have a certain minimum threshold of money, you don’t even get on the ballot, and you don’t get that money without having sold out to somebody already. Money always matters.

    And don’t count out incumbents. It isn’t like there was some huge turn-over in the house or senate with the presidential election. Congress critters are in there for the long haul and are always looking for somebody to donate to their next campaign. And the lobbyists who represent the donors write most of the legislation. How else do you explain Trump’s tax plan essentially screwing over all the disgruntled red state poors he get to vote for him? But his private jet, that gets a tax deduction!

    Meanwhile, gamers as a voting demographic is a non-starter. Just look at how many people bought Battlefront II and didn’t give a shit about P2W. That analyst I quoted is a bit of a shit, but he’s not wrong in thinking that the revolt against it is minority movement. It is a vocal minority of a sub-group that people look down upon. If somebody ran with “fix the video game industry!” on their platform it would be a complete joke, as they’d have to spend more time explaining what they meant.

    And you don’t get to move the goal posts now that I’ve disagreed. Let me re-run that quote of yours again:

    “Mark my word: one year from now, it’ll be illegal to sell anything random or powerful and it’ll be also illegal to not disclose major gaming concepts like how the matchmaker works.”

    So no, that is NOT all you have to have in order to win as your statement was far more expansive than that. If, a year from now, I can buy a random loot box and don’t have details on how matchmaking algorithms work, you lose.

    But I guess you can see how you might not get to what you said so let the hedging begin! Explain to us what you “really” meant now.

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  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Gevlon – If you want to go back and do a new post disavowing that prediction as unrealistic in hindsight and come up with a new, revised prediction, I wouldn’t hold it against you.

    @SynCaine – There was something about the average PCU being under 20K or something by now if I recall right. Gevlon, do you remember that prediction? Did it come to pass as predicted?

    Edit: Never mind, I quoted it here. You still have some time on that one, and a built-in “out” in the form of a “stunt” declaration.

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  11. Gevlon

    @Wilhelm: I’m not sure we can trust the PCU in the age of alpha clones. After all, an alpha is free.

    The huge layoffs didn’t print a too rosy picture of CCP isn’t it and the only reason they can be in bad shape is low (subscribing) player count. I do believe that the “omega PCU” is already under 20K or rather 10K.

    About the prediction: it’s possible that some no name game try to skirt the edges. But serious games (AAA titles, titles from studios you heard about) won’t have lootboxes and P2W and will have to disclose (they probably lie and get caught slowly). The only exception will be 18+ titles, since the regulations will be under “save the children”.

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  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Gevlon – Except that when you wrote that Alpha clones were already six month along. So were you wrong then or are you wrong now?

    As for the current prediction, we’ll see in a year.

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