Last night, EA made one of the most dramatic U-turns in its history: temporarily turning off controversial microtransactions in Star Wars: Battlefront 2.
The decision came after a wave of negative publicity about the reaction to the game's loot crates from fans. In short, you can pay for a multiplayer advantage in the game. Not cool.
Now, the FIFA community, which has its own gripes about the way FIFA 18 works, is wondering what it would take for EA to turn off microtransactions in FIFA Ultimate Team, the most popular mode in the world's biggest sports video game.
This post, from redditor GeorgeCuz in a thread titled, "Changes can happen. Why can't we do the same?" sums up the sentiment from the hardcore FIFA community:
It's important to note that Star Wars Battlefront 2 and FIFA 18's microtransactions work in very different ways, but one thing inherent about FUT is it is, essentially, a pay-to-win mode. You can pay real world money for FIFA Points, which are then used to buy packs of cards, most of which include players of varying effectiveness.
These packs are FIFA's version of blind loot boxes. You can't buy a player directly, but you can buy the chance to "pack" a player. Spend more money and you'll increase the chance of packing the best players in the game.
Countering this, EA has done a decent job of balancing the game so players who don't spend money don't feel too disadvantaged. A high-skilled player should beat a low-skilled player irrespective of the cards they own. And you can create a decent squad without spending real money, as I have done, but when I go up against a team with superstar players, I just don't know whether they've been obtained through grinding out FIFA coins, or because my opponent splashed hundreds of pounds on packs and got lucky. The system is clear: you can pay for an advantage in multiplayer.
So, why hasn't there been the kind of uproar about FIFA as there has about Star Wars Battlefront 2? Well, a lot of that has to do with the kind of audience FIFA has, which is more casual than DICE's shooter. I think it's safe to say most FIFA players are oblivious to the ups and downs of internet furore, and plenty of those quite like spending money on FIFA Points.
50-year-old Warren from Bedford told me over email that he's spent £320 on FIFA Points so far in FIFA 18, which he expects to have pumped over 500 hours into by the time FIFA 19 comes out in 2018. "I must be EA's perfect customer," he told me over email.
Why spend money? As a husband and father of a young boy who recently started his own business, Warren's playing time is limited to a couple of hours in the evening. "I prefer to spend that time playing the game, rather than trading," Warren said.
"I have a disposable income which I choose to spend on things I enjoy; which includes PlayStation 4 games and microtransactions. I play Ultimate Team to build my fantasy team. As a PS4 player and Arsenal season ticket holder, this was my first opportunity to build a team around Henry, Vieira and Bergkamp.
"So the only way to build my ultimate team in a reasonable time-frame was / is to spend money on FIFA points.
"If I was in your position with the skill and time to achieve the same result without buying points I probably would. But my real life means finding an alternative method."
Some accuse EA of exploiting the FIFA fanbase by designing FUT in such a way to encourage players to spend money on FIFA Points. You'd think, then, that players such as Warren would be upset at splashing cash on a game he's already paid full whack for. But he sounds perfectly happy doing so. For him, buying and opening card packs is fun.
This gets to the heart of why FIFA has for so many years avoided many of the complaints other games get about microtransactions, despite being pay-to-win. It has constructed a video game that makes spending extra money fun. You've probably seen YouTubers lose their minds while opening packs of cards. If you get an extra special card, all sorts of fancy effects play out on-screen, including fireworks and confetti. You might even get what's called a "walk out", which is when the virtual version of the footballer appears on screen to celebrate you, the player, now being his owner.
Will EA ever turn off FIFA's microtransactions? It's unlikely. FUT makes EA a billion dollars a year. It's hugely popular, and despite complaints on the FIFA subreddit and on EA's own forum, the majority of FIFA players love it. If EA were to shut down FUT microtransactions, I fear the company's shareholders would revolt.
And, I get the impression FIFA - the real FIFA, I mean - isn't so precious about its brand as Disney is with Star Wars. Disney was likely furious after seeing negative headlines about the new Star Wars game on the likes of CNN. FIFA's quite used to negative headlines in the mainstream press.
Here's some more reaction to the Star Wars U-turn from FIFA players who don't expect much of anything to change with their beloved game.
Oh, and if you're wondering, Warren has managed to spend his way to his Ultimate fantasy football team, Henry, Vieira and Bergkamp included.