'Star Wars: Battlefront II' and the Power of "Arm Chair Developers"
How the influence of gamers can shape a game before its release.
After a massive public outcry over the weekend about Star Wars: Battlefront II and it’s “pay to play” loot system, developer EA has reduced the price for characters in the game. While it’s a vast improvement that speaks to the power of players — whom some might call “arm chair developers” — should we count this one a victory for gamers or a defeat for the industry? Maybe it’s both. At the very least, the controversy falls within a greater gaming trend in recent years.
Anecdotally, one of the earliest and most important demonstrations of fan influence on gaming came in 2012 when, despite positive acclaim for Mass Effect 3, a loud outpouring of criticism about the game’s ending caused BioWare to release free DLC that changed it entirely. The internet gave fans a voice, the developer listened, and a game was altered to make fans happy.
Now, big developers adjust their triple-A games to appease fans as common practice, especially in online multiplayer titles that come with promised DLC and ongoing updates. Blizzard constantly tweaks the combat mechanics in Overwatch on a regular basis and Bungie does the same for the Destiny franchise.
All it takes is a complaint to pick up enough upvotes on the Destiny 2 subreddit. Community Manager David “DeeJ” Dague then might relay the complaint to the development team. Bungie puts out weekly updates and hot fixes for all manner of adjustments, oftentimes addressing the more prominent player complaints.
Is one gun overpowered and seeing too much use in competitive multiplayer? It might get what we’d call a “nerf.” Did a glitch emerge that breaks something in the game? Bungie might pull the emergency plug and shut down an entire game mode.
With a movie, the theatrical version is the final product, and the most different thing you could get is an extended or director’s cut. But with many games, they keep evolving.
The Star Wars: Battlefront II controversy presents an interesting new development in the trend, especially because the bulk of complaints came almost a full week before the game’s release. It also speaks to the prominent role that Reddit plays in gaming communities. Developer EA listened to complaints and reacted so quickly, and strongly, because the company’s response to the controversy became the most down-voted post in Reddit history.
In an attempt to save face, EA published a blog post explaining the intention: “Unlocking a hero is a great accomplishment in the game, something we want players to have fun earning.” As it stood, players could either devote at least 40 hours of gameplay or perhaps more than $100 to unlock just one elite character like Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader.
Now, the cost of all heroes has been reduced by 75 percent, and EA promises to host a Reddit AMA on Wednesday so they can “welcome” more player feedback. But if they can make such a drastic change, then it speaks to how little they understand their own internal currency system. Were they intentionally trying to goad players into dumping additional money into the game to unlock the playable characters? Or is this simply an oversight?
Either way, gamers deemed it unnacceptable, and their voice was ultimately able to enact change. And this is only the beginning for Star Wars: Battlefront II.
Star Wars: Battlefront II will be released November 14, 2017.