During a presentation for investors at the Credit Suisse 21st Annual Technology conference on Scottsdale, Arizona, Electronic Arts Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgensen talked about the controversial issue involving microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront II.
According to Jorgensen, Electronic Arts saw some issue during the beta test, but developers were rushing to get the game finished, and they were trying to test a lot of things, including server performance. Some testing was done around the microtransaction model, but “not enough to really understand” some of the reactions that they ultimately got.
That being said, he added that for EA this is a “great learning experience,” and the company is listening to its customers. Doing so now and down the line is “very important,” and Jorgensen added that the moment in which they don’t make mistakes and aren’t learning from them, that’s when it’s time to worry about them.
In EA’s view this is a “great opportinity” to continue tuning the game and adjust things. Microtransactions were removed from the game because consumers felt that they were “a pay-to-win mechanic.” The reality of things is that there are different types of gamers, some have more time than money, and others have more money than time. The goal is to have a balance between them. EA plans to continue to work with its consumer base and to look at the data, learning from that to try to “understand the best ways to create a game that is deeply engaging, that people play for a long time, and that everyone can enjoy whether they grind, they pay, or they do both.”
At the moment EA is observing the gameplay so they don’t yet know how this will evolve. Yet, they’re “learning, listening, reacting” and they’ll continue to try to make Star Wars Battlefront II a great game, while learning on how they might roll out live services going forward.
We also hear that Jorgensen believes that for sixty bucks players are getting two or three years of entertainment, and “that’s a pretty good deal.” He can think of no entertainment medium offering the same. Going to a movie will cost you twenty to forty bucks before you buy the popcorn. That’s a much shorter experience than that offered by a game.
EA has not decided yet on when microtransactions will return. They’re currently watching how people play the game, which has lots of different modes, so they’re also trying to understand if there are certain modes where microtransactions might be more interesting, and what consumers are saying about them, and what the metrics look like. The most important thing at the moment is “listening to the consumers and designing events and live services that will keep them playing for a long time.”
We also learn that most microtransaction revenue wasn’t even included in the company’s revenue predictions, as they did not know what effects they would have.
Jorgensen was also asked about the possibility of having cosmetic microtransactions, and he explained that EA works very closely with Disney and Lucasfilm. They are “extremely focused” on not violating the canon of Star Wars, and a bunch of cosmetic microtransactions might start to do that. As an example, he mentioned that Darth Vader in white would probably not make sense, and you probably don’t want him in pink.
That being said, he added that some cosmetic microtransactions are still a possibility, and EA is working with Lucasfilm on that, but “coming into it wasn’t as easy as if they were building a game around their own IP, where it doesn’t matter.” On the other hand, in Star Wars it matters because Star Wars fans war realism. Yet, they may also want some level of customization. For instance, he mentioned letting players change their lightsaber’s color, and some of that might still happen. Ultimately, one of the reasons why EA went down the path it did was because of Star Wars canon and their desire to make a realistic game for the franchise. They’re going to continue to stay true to that even in the future.
Jorgensen also explained that the company moved away from paid DLC. The attach rate for DLC maps and content was typically around 25% or less, meaning that they ended up dividing the community playing the games. Electronic Arts is trying to keep the community together and as large as possible since normally people want to find millions of people to play with.
In order to achieve that, they decided to provide all the DLC for free, while layering in another economic model to try to make up for some of the economics lost. Jorgensen believes that there are some elements in this experience that are “Star Wars-specific” and may not exist in some other games.
According to Jorgensen, that strategy “certainly” won’t change, and Electronic Arts isn’t giving up on microtransactions or on the idea of providing post-launch DLC for free. The plan of keeping the community together, engaging players via new content and events is defined as “critical” for the future of the business. The publisher feels that they have nailed the model with sports games, and they’ll continue to work on finding the best model for its other games outside of sports.
If you’re unfamiliar with Star Wars Battlefront II, you can check out our review.