The Star Wars Battlefront II loot box debate moved to Reddit yesterday, where the studio behind the game held an Ask Me Anything session in an attempt to quell the anger building up against this tomorrow's release.
"Lots of people told us we shouldn't do this as it wasn't going to go like we hope it would," acknowledged multiplayer producer Paul Keslin, but maintained that DICE (and by extension EA) are "committed to continuing this dialogue, even if we need to face some harsh feedback."
Sure enough a moderator notes that many of the team's answers to player questions were being mass-downvoted, making them harder to find. Nonetheless, trawling through the thread reveals constant reassurances that DICE will be tweaking Battlefront II's in-game economy as often as it can - much as publisher Electronic Arts said earlier this week.
"We've seen the speculation about how long it takes players to earn things - but our averages based on the Play First trial are much faster"John Wasilczyk, EA DICE
Many of the comments failed to satisfy the most passionate users - partly because they often boil down to 'we're working on it, but can't confirm when changes will be made'. There were, however, a few encouraging messages from the team.
Executive producer John Wasilczyk addressed claims that while content can be unlocked without spending on loot boxes, doing so would require an unreasonable amount of time. Indeed, our sister site VG247 reports this morning that players estimate unlocking all Battlefront II content will take more than 4,500 hours - or cost $2,100.
"We've seen the speculation about how long it takes players to earn things - but our averages based on the Play First trial are much faster than what's out there," Wasilczyk said. "But as more players come in, that could change. We're committed to making progression a fun experience for all of our players.
"Nothing should feel unattainable and if it does, we'll do what it takes to make sure it's both fun and achievable."
One Reddit user then pointed out that 3,000 hours, for example, would be "much faster" than the 4,500 estimate, and asked for specific averages, although it appears Wasilcyk was unable to provide any.
Design director Dennis Brännvall maintained that "[Loot] crates can be a fun addition as long as you don't feel forced to engage with them in order to progress."
He continued: "I feel that's where the issue is with our game right now and that's where we'll look to solve as quickly as we can. We're looking to add additional ways to progress your favourite character or class, while allowing crates to be a fun thing for those who want to engage with them."
"[Loot] crates can be a fun addition as long as you don't feel forced to engage with them in order to progress"Dennis Brännvall, EA DICE
The use of loot boxes to monetise Battlefront II players is largely to offset the cost of developing new content, since Electronic Arts decided to drop the Season Pass model used in the previous game. However, it also plays into the company's wider strategy to create a mode steady business on live services and subscriptions - something that CFO Blake Jorgensen says can unlock "uncapped" monetisation.
Much of the argument around Battlefront II's loot crates has centred on its links to the progression system. During the beta, those who spent more on loot crates had a distinct advantage over other players in terms of weaponry and abilities. DICE and EA have since altered how the progression system works, but Reddit users were still concerned they will find themselves struggling to keep up on players who are able to commit more time or money than they are.
"You should not ever be matchmade together with players who are much better than you are," Brännvall said. "Ultimately your effectiveness is going to come down to skill, not the Star Cards that you have. If it doesn't feel that way, we'll see it on our side, too.
"Our data will tell that story and we'll make adjustments. We're looking at results from millions of matches and will be continuously rebalancing items, unlocks, and matchmaking to create a fair, fun experience for all of our players."
One regular suggestion was that the current loot crate system should be stripped out - something that is beyond unlikely this close to launch - and replaced with an Overwatch-style model where crates are used for cosmetic items only.
"Nothing is too late," Brännvall said on the possibility of cosmetics being added to the game. "As you've noticed, we weren't able to get the customization system into the game in time for launch. I'm actually having artists and designers walk up to me today showing me cosmetic stuff they really want to get out there. I think we have probably the best looking Clone Troopers ever made and I know players really want to customize them (I know I do).
"We were incredibly saddened by the negative response from you. In fact, we hated it, we truly did, because we want to make a game that you love"Dennis Brännvall, EA DICE
"I can't really commit to a date just yet, but we're working on stuff and I believe it will change the game tremendously on all levels."
Several users asked how DICE feels about the current critical reception to Battlefront II. In addition to ongoing coverage about the game's monetisation mechanics, review scores have been somewhat mixed. The title has still attained a respectable mid-70s score on Metacritic, but many outlets have opted for a review-in-progress to track changes to the economy, while some have rated the game as low as five or six out of ten.
Keslin stresses that the team is cares "more about how you all enjoy the game and how long your all play" than its Metacritic score, while Brännvall observed that the reception has definitely been "impacted by the feedback on our progression system."
"I believe the gameplay, art, audio and depth warrants higher recognition, but I'm a developer, so I'm not necessarily the most unbiased source," he said. "Reviewers are obviously entitled to their own opinions, and we respect that completely."
In his final comment wrapping up the thread and thanking the fans, Brännvall said: "We were incredibly saddened by the negative response from you, the community on Reddit about the game. In fact, we hated it, we truly did, because we want to make a game that you love. We've made a really cool, fun and beautiful game but it was overshadowed by issues with the progression system. We will fix this."
Star Wars Battlefront II launches for Xbox One, PS4 and PC this Friday (November 17th). To say it's been a turbulent run-up to the game's release is an understatement - even today, it's been revealed the Belgium Gambling Commission is investigating the title's use of loot boxes.
We'll know on Monday how well the game has sold in the UK, and whether this seemingly loud outcry among the hardcore audience affects Battlefront II's mainstream sales appeal.