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Electronic Arts’ stock price has climbed steadily since 2012 as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were winding down, but some Wall Street analysts are not sure about the publisher’s latest big release and the public reaction to it. Fans are angry at what they perceive as mechanics that enable people who pay extra money to gain an advantage in online multiplayer sessions in Star Wars: Battlefront II, which launches Friday. That led to an EA comment setting a new record as the most downvoted comment in the history of Reddit.
This outrage comes on top of some other concerns for Battlefront II. Its preorders were tracking 60 percent behind its predecessor in October, according to sources familiar with the situation. And now, during launch week, Wall Street investment firms are worried about fans who are furious about how much it costs to unlock heroes and character upgrades in the multiplayer mode.
Wall Street is wondering how EA is going to handle this. Merill Lynch gaming-industry analyst Justin Post specifically asked about the issue when EA chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen spoke at a meeting with the firm’s investors on Tuesday.
“Management highlighted game depth and quality, but did not provide an update on unit expectations,” Post wrote in a note to Merill Lynch clients. “As for the Battlefront 2 hero-cost controversy, EA indicated the original hero costs were established based on targeted rate of game play progression and balance — and not economics.”
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That explanation did not squash Post’s concerns.
“We see recent controversies as a potential risk for unit sales vs buyside expectations, although EA has conservative estimates for Battlefront’s live services,” Post explained.
Players and critics are starting to wrap their heads around Battlefront II’s business model, and the early word is that it is a finely crafted game with distracting microtransactions and a disheartening progression system. Pipar Jaffray analyst Michael Olson pointed to that as another risk in a note to investors.
“Early reviews have been impacted by negative sentiment around a character progression system that publications and consumers believe overemphasize microtransactions,” Olson wrote.
The analyst said that a brand like Star Wars can overcome some low review scores, but he still said it was a challenge the game will have to overcome.
EA is also saying that it is listening to feedback from fans, and it is working to keep the game’s progression fair and fun. In a question-and-answer session on Reddit, Battlefront II associate design director Dennis Brannvall said that “nothing is too late” when it comes to making changes that would create a more appealing final product.
This is bad publicity for a game that has a confluence of factors working for it and against it. Battlefront II is the latest game in the Star Wars universe, which is one of the most important brands in the world. EA’s new shooter is also debuting a month before the next film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
While all of that makes Battlefront II a blockbuster juggernaut, the series is still looking for its footing. In 2015, Star Wars: Battlefront launched and would go on to sell millions of copies, but it was also light on content. This time around, EA is promising a lot more to do online and in a single-player campaign to win over potentially hesitant consumers that may feel that Battlefront 1 burned them.
The dialogue surrounding the game at the moment, however, is all about microtransactions, loot boxes, and pay-to-win mechanics. If that carries over into its November 17 release, then EA’s big holiday shooter could end up missing the publisher’s and Wall Street’s expectations.
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