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EA execs address Battlefront II loot box concerns

Publisher insists Star Wars shooter will offer good value to players, won't be pay-to-win

Electronic Arts has clarified its position on the use of loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront II, stressing that the final product will be less controversial than its beta.

The multiplayer test for the upcoming FPS provoked outcry when it was discovered purchasing in-game items was essential to progression. During last night's earnings call, as transcribed by Seeking Alpha, CEO Andrew Wilson was confronted by shareholders about this decision and the backlash that followed.

"There was of course the conversation around loot boxes, which is not a Star Wars Battlefront II specific conversation, but more one that the industry is having with players across the global community," said Wilson. "And we are engaged in that conversation, engaging with our players on a daily basis as we think about that.

"There's really two conversations going on there. One is about value. And in a world where a player pays $60 for a game, will there also be value in the ongoing digital ecosystem that comes for many years? When we think about value, we look at Star Wars Battlefront II and we say, we start with a game that's nearly three times the size of the last game. We take what much of the content that would've been gated behind a Season Pass, and we offer that to the community for free. So we feel very good about the overall value proposition focused on keeping the player community together."

The second conversation, he said, was about concerns around pay-to-win ecosystems but assured shareholder and players that "balance and fairness inside of gameplay... it's very important to us". DICE and EA will be making adjustments to the monetisation mechanics following feedback from the beta - in fact, a newly-published blog post reveals some of these changes. Notably the best weapons and Star Cards are now only available through gameplay rather than purchasing loot boxes.

"We'll continue a daily dialogue with our players to make ongoing adjustments for many years to come, as this event-driven live service continues, we feel very good about the fact that you can earn almost everything in the game," Wilson continued, adding that this "is the right way to balance the game."

CFO Blake Jorgensen added that EA is not yet sure how well Battlefront II's live service will monetise, and that the publisher is not expecting a surge of revenue in the game's launch quarter. Instead, he expects revenues to pick up in the long term as EA adds more content and hosts in-game events.

"In terms of the live service, I can't break out the actual forecast, but I would say it's not large for Battlefront II," he said. "Partially in the quarter, because we'll just get it going in the quarter and it will really start to drive the live events coming out of the quarter into the fourth quarter. So we really won't have a good sense of how well it's doing or how large it can be until probably at the tail end of the third quarter and really the tail end of the fourth quarter."

When asked how many units the publisher expects to sell - previously estimated at 14m units by the end of the fiscal year - Jorgensen said EA's focus had shifted from units to revenues.

"We're giving guidance on units once a year at the start of the year to help people size things," he explained. "We're finding units are becoming less and less meaningful to us, because obviously there's a difference between a digital unit and a physical unit. Obviously, we've been surprised on the growth of digital units. And it's all about the live service at the end of the day as well.

"And so assume that any change in our unit guidance for any game, including Battlefront II, is built into our annual or quarterly guidance changes that we've put in place. And so focus on the revenue guidance and not unit guidance."

Jorgensen went on to say that while EA expects retailers may well discount the game for Black Friday, which falls shortly after the game's release on November 17th, the publisher will not officially discounting the game until Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi hits cinema - a tactic that fared well for the original Battlefront.

"Maybe you'll even see some selective discounts around the holidays, either Thanksgiving or Christmas," he added. "That's the way the games business always has worked. And so if you see the title on discount, don't read anything into that other than the fact that that's the way you sell games in the holidays."