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EA not giving up on microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront 2

"For us it's a great learning experience..."

For nearly two weeks the ability to buy controversial loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront 2 has been unavailable, greying out the issue of the game being pay-to-win. EA said the ability to spend money in the game would return at "a later date" but we haven't heard anything since.

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'If we're not making mistakes along the way and learning from them, that's when you should worry about us' - EA's Blake Jorgensen.

In that time the fallout caused by Star Wars Battlefront 2 loot boxes has widened. The Belgian Gaming Commission waded in, as did Hawaii State Representative Chris Lee, who publicly denounced EA's game as "a Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money". With the movie Star Wars: Episode 8 - The Last Jedi fast approaching, the pressure is on.

But EA's resolve remains resolute. Speaking at a Credit Suisse conference yesterday, chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen said, "We're not giving up on the notion of MTX [microtransactions]."

When, then, will people be able to buy loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront 2 again? "We haven't decided yet," he said.

"We're really watching how people are playing the game. We're trying to understand are there certain modes where MTX may be more interesting than not? What are the consumers saying about it? How are the consumers playing the game? What do the metrics look like? We're learning and listening to the community to decide how best to roll that out in the future."

How did EA fail to see the loot box problem coming? "We did some testing around the MTX model but not enough to really understand some of the reactions we ultimately got," Jorgensen said. There were bigger concerns at the time such as the beta working with millions of people playing.

"We pulled-off on the MTX because the real issue the consumer had was they felt it was a pay-to-win mechanic," he added. "The reality is: there's different types of players in games. Some people have more money than time, and some people have more time than money, and you want to always balance those two.

"For us it's a great learning experience. We are trying to run the company with an ear to the consumer at all times, not only in the testing phase but when the game is up and running. We're trying to build games that last for years, not for months... If we're not making mistakes along the way and learning from them, that's when you should worry about us. But our view is these are great opportunities for us to continue to tune the game, to adjust things."

To fix Star Wars Battlefront 2, I would pull all Star Card abilities - character abilities - out of loot boxes so there is no way to buy progression in the game. But if Star Cards came out then something else would have to go in, as loot boxes are EA's way - as Jorgensen put it - of "layering in another economic model to try and make up for some of the economics you lose" by not selling DLC.

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Are there already more possible customisation options in the game?

The obvious solution is adding more character customisation options - more costumes, races, etc. - because for all the imagination poured into this aspect of Star Wars over the decades, Battlefront 2 displays very little of it. And there's hope. "We certainly might be able to do that," Jorgensen said.

He went on: "The one thing we're very focused on - and [Lucasfilm is] extremely focused on - is not violating the canon of Star Wars. It's an amazing brand that's been built over many many years. If you did a bunch of cosmetic things, you might start to violate the canon. Darth Vader in white probably doesn't make sense versus in black, not to mention you probably don't want Darth Vader in pink - no offence to pink but I don't think that's right in the canon.

"There might be things we can do cosmetically, and we're working with Lucas on that, but coming into it, it wasn't as easy as if we were building a game around our own IP where it didn't really matter. It matters in Star Wars, because Star Wars fans want realism. But Star Wars fans also may want to tailor things: different colour Lightsabers, things like that, so you may see something like that."

Mind you, a wider variety of customisation options might already be in the game. One enterprising sleuth by the name of Uninspired Zebra managed to uncover a hidden character customisation menu in Star Wars Battlefront 2, although it's not clear how.

For the moment, Star Wars Battlefront 2 treads water, steering towards a free bundle of The Last Jedi content arriving 13th December, packing two new heroes, Captain Phasma and Finn. Will EA attempt to reintegrate microtransactions for that high profile period, or will it wait until after?

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