Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson described the company’s missteps in monetization for Star Wars: Battlefront II as a “learning opportunity” in a conference call today with analysts. From the perspective of gamers who were angry about EA’s approach to in-game purchases of loot crates, that’s an understatement.
“Having made adjustments based on sentiment and community data coming out of the beta and early trials, we ultimately made the decision to pull in-game purchases out of the game prior to launch,” Wilson said, in the closest thing EA has come to a mea culpa yet.
He added, “We never intended to build an experience that could be seen as unfair or lacking clear progression, so we removed the feature that was taking away from what fans were telling us was an otherwise great game. We are fortunate to have such passionate players that will tell us when we get it right, and when we don’t. We’re now working hard on more updates that will meet the needs of our players, and we hope to bring these to the Battlefront II community in the months ahead.”
EA acknowledged that sales of Battlefront II — 9 million during the holiday quarter that ended December 31 — were below expectations because of the loot crate controversy. Fans were upset that you could buy powerful characters like Darth Vader using loot crate purchases, rather than earning the characters purely through gameplay in multiplayer combat. EA backed off on the aggressive monetization plan, but it said it would reinstitute the loot crates when the timing was right.
“We remain committed to the franchise, the team is working diligently on new content and live updates,” Wilson said in an analyst conference call. “Response has been strong to the content we released so far. We will look after that community and fulfill the commitment we made to them for a long time to come.”
As to whether the loot crate problem hurt EA’s relations with Disney, Wilson said, “You shouldn’t believe everything you read in the press. We are very proactive in relationships in service of our players. We have good relations with Disney. When we have the right model for players, I have no doubt we will get support for Disney for that. The big picture is there is no one size fits all for event-driven live services. But at the very core we should start with a foundation of player choice.”
Blake Jorgensen, chief financial officer at EA, said in the call that the next big Star Wars game to drop will likely come from Respawn Entertainment, which EA bought last quarter for $455 million, in fiscal 2020. That means it will ship in the year ending March 31, 2020.
Here’s the full Wilson’s full remarks during the beginning of EA’s analyst conference call:
Q3 was a quarter defined by strong performances and important learnings for us at Electronic Arts. We love making games. It is a privilege to bring fun and entertainment to people all around the world. As we look across our games and services this quarter, we have a lot to be proud of.
We brought hundreds of millions of hours of play to fans during the holiday quarter across console, mobile and PC. We also appreciate that our players have high expectations of us and the games we make – and that passion drives us. As we push the boundaries with every new experience, we are continually listening, learning and taking action to serve our players.
Now, let me touch on Star Wars Battlefront II. This was definitely a learning opportunity. You’ll remember that we brought three of our top studios together on this project, and the result was a massive game with a new Star Wars story; space battles; and huge multiplayer variety. We wanted a game that would meet the needs of the vast and passionate Star Wars fan base, so we designed it with the intent of keeping the community together, and a commitment to continually add content long after launch.
Given the newness of this design, we knew that player feedback during the pre-launch testing period would be key. Having made adjustments based on sentiment and community data coming out of the beta and early trials, we ultimately made the decision to pull in-game purchases out of the game prior to launch.
We never intended to build an experience that could be seen as unfair or lacking clear progression, so we removed the feature that was taking away from what fans were telling us was an otherwise great game. We are fortunate to have such passionate players that will tell us when we get it right, and when we don’t. We’re now working hard on more updates that will meet the needs of our players, and we hope to bring these to the Battlefront II community in the months ahead.
Having made these changes before launch, Star Wars: Battlefront II has been delivering fun to millions of players around the world, through the holiday season and beyond. With the breadth and depth of the game, fans spent twice as much time playing Battlefront II over the previous game during the launch quarter.
The unique story of Iden Versio at the center of the game has drawn nearly 70 percent of players into the single-player campaign. Engagement has been strong in the first season of free post-launch content from The Last Jedi, and we’re excited to bring new seasons to fans in FY19. As we grow this game with more content, we believe that Star Wars fans will continue to have fantastic experiences over the long life of Battlefront II.
Going forward, we believe 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. We’re committed to continually working with our players to deliver the right experience in each of our games and live services.