Game publisher Electronic Arts took it on the chin late last year when fans vehemently objected to the use of microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront II. The backlash was so bad EA temporarily removed paid purchases from the game in order to retool the system, but gamers and even lawmakers are concerned about how these paid features are implemented across the industry. EA has reaffirmed its commitment to microtransactions, though. In its recent investment call, CEO Andrew Wilson said microtransactions aren’t going anywhere. As irksome as that might be, it’s kind of our fault.
According to Wilson, EA believes that “live services that include optional digital monetization, when done right, provide a very important element of choice that can extend and enhance the experience in our games.” Battlefront II would apparently be an example of doing “live services” wrong. Fans cried foul when Battlefront II launched with paid loot boxes that contained gameplay-changing items. The alternative was to grind for dozens of hours just to unlock a single hero character.
Wilson called Battlefront II a “learning opportunity,” so perhaps we can expect less aggressive microtransactions in the future. However, EA has no reason to drop microtransactions. In fact, it would probably be sued by investors if it tried. According to the company’s latest financial reports, so-called “live services” account for most of its income. With total revenue of $1.23 billion in the last quarter, a whopping $787 million of that comes from live services. Only $260 million came from full game sales. EA might not mind so much that sales of Battlefront II have been slow when it knows most of the revenue will come from heavy players once microtransactions are back.
Many of us express a profound dislike of microtransactions, but it’s a big business for EA. Game publishers and developers will stop integrating paid items in games when we stop buying them, and that doesn’t seem likely to happen. EA’s fiscal results show a substantial 39 percent increase in live services revenue compared with this quarter last year. Not only are gamers still dropping money on microtransactions, they’re doing it substantially more than they were before the Battlefront II dust-up.
EA plans to add microtransactions back into Battlefront II in the coming months, but it’s not clear how they’ll be changed. Some lawmakers have expressed concern that loot boxes are a little too much like gambling. EA could be keen to avoid that comparison going forward. That last thing EA wants is regulations slapped on its microtransaction cash cow.