EA, Star Wars And The Force (Of Payments) That Wasn’t With Them

If EA Games — the third- or fourth-largest video game company in the world — had set out to write a step-by-step guide on how not to release a new high-profile gaming product to the world, they probably could not have succeeded any better than they did (by accident) with the release of “Star Wars: Battlefront II.” This hotly anticipated game has managed to make almost everyone on the internet who cares about such things fundamentally angry.

“Star Wars: Battlefront II” is an online multi-person shooter video game that is available, starting this weekend, for purchase on PC, Xbox and PlayStation. Ahead of its release, EA made a 10-hour trial of the game available to its subscription members as a perk.

Everything proceeded to run downhill from there — at a stunningly fast pace.

There are many lessons to be gleaned from their story:

— Don’t antagonize video game players or “Star Wars” fans, and definitely don’t antagonize video game players who also happen to be fans of “Star Wars.”

— Do not condescend to fans on social media — unless you actually want to create the most down-voted post in Reddit history. Given Reddit’s history, that’s actually a fairly impressive accomplishment.

— Do not rapidly and on the fly make changes and then change them back: That only makes people angry and confused.

— Perhaps the most important takeaway (one that is near and dear to us living in payments and PYMNTS land): Don’t design an online gaming payment system that is so complicated it requires an advanced degree to comprehend. If payments are important to making the game work, perhaps hire someone who can help you do that in a way that minimizes friction to the user.


Credits + Crates + Crystals + Crafting + Cards = Confusion

We would love to be able to explain the economic system in the new “Star Wars” game, but we’re not entirely sure it’s possible. The team at Ars Technica did a great job offering a tight 1,800-word explanation of the in-game economy that many have declared senseless.

But to break down the problem into its very simplest terms: “Star Wars” took the micro-transaction/freemium model that has been popular in mobile gaming for the last decade and found a way to turn the friction associated with it up to an 11 (on a scale of 1 to 5).

There are — depending on how one counts — four or five different types of “currency” in the game. Securing those types of currency allow players access to better characters, better accessories and better weapons: more or less the elements that make playing a video game enjoyable.

Some of those currencies are earned by playing. Some are earned by spending actual money. Some are created by a mix of the two. Some are generated purely by luck. And some of those currencies can be exchanged for other forms of currencies, either by spending more real-world money or through other abstract ways.

And sometimes they can’t be exchanged.

Also, some items can only be bought with certain currencies. By all accounts, it is random what things can be bought with which currencies.

If you think you have a headache now, the experience is worse when you try to play through it.

To say it was unpopular doesn’t quite begin to cover the social media meltdown last week.


Hello, Someone Get Me to the Complaint Department

The complaints broke down into two categories.

The first complaint was against the freemium model: The game was designed to be expensive to play. Though it is theoretically possible to unlock enough points and types of currency to enjoy the kind of experience players are looking for — e.g. playing Darth Vader or flying the Millennium Falcon — one user threw some math at it and realized that for even one premium upgrade, it would take 40 hours of play. Which is not exactly ideal for anyone who can’t take a week or two off work to optimize their game — and is clearly designed to force customers to part with additional cash to move the process along.

The second complaint rang loudly from those who were fine with a pay-to-play model. Those people noted that the system is “byzantine” — that it interrupts the flow of gameplay and makes the video game unenjoyable. They are happy to pay to level up; they’d just like a mechanism to do it with that doesn’t involve keeping a separate notebook of types of currency and transactions. As it turns out, that is not the experience anyone is looking for from a “Star Wars” game.


The Rapid Retreat

EA Games didn’t help itself much with a now-deleted tweet thanking the “armchair developers of the internet” for sharing their input.

They made a preliminary move to lower the cost of in-game transactions, but that was not quite enough to dial back the gamer community outrage.

By the end of the week, Electronic Arts Chief Executive Officer Andrew Wilson reportedly found himself on the receiving end of an unhappy phone call from Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger about “Star Wars: Battlefront II,” according to sources familiar with the situation. Disney was unhappy, as “Star Wars” is their multi-billion dollar property, and the only types of coverage they like to see associated with the franchise involve the phrase “rapturous joy.”

A few hours after that call, in-game purchases were switched off.

“We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases,” said EA Games General Manager Oskar Gabrielson. “We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning. This means that the option to purchase crystals in the game is now offline, and all progression will be earned through gameplay. The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date — only after we’ve made changes to the game. We’ll share more details as we work through this.”

Micro-transactions will more likely than not be back — though when remains an open question. As it is a major release with a pricey license fee, EA can’t afford to take a miss on a revenue stream of that size.

But, reportedly, when it comes back, EA Games is promising something players will find more palatable. In the meantime, it will have to find ways to make its fans less enraged — and convince investigators in Belgium that’s it freemium system doesn’t constitute illegal gambling.

The moral of the story?

No one wants lumpy, friction-filled payments systems, even in a virtual world.  More important to gamers than buying crystals is the ability to have fun while playing a game. The Ars Technica article that dissected “Star Wars: Battlefront II” also called it a “fun and polished game” (deep down inside) that was forced to “breathe heavily through an unattractive black mask” because it has a payments system that’s both expensive and baffling.

Hey, EA: If you need help, drop us an email. We’d be happy to give you the names of a few folks in the payments ecosystem who could help you sort this out.

May the force (of less friction-filled payments) be with you.