If you’re not yet aware of the massive controversy surrounding EA, Star Wars Battlefront II, and its pay-to-win mechanics, then welcome to November 2017. To briefly summarize (and avoid beating a dead horse), EA has come under fire for keeping many of the game’s features and heroes such as Darth Vader locked upon purchase, requiring players to grind incessantly for “loot boxes,” which are offered sparingly and have a slim chance of containing the desired content or the in-game currency needed to buy it—unless, of course, the player pays real money for extra boxes. The company has been absolutely eviscerated on the Internet and is in real danger of losing sales, but it appears as if their troubles don’t end there.
Yesterday, the Belgian Gaming Commission opened a formal inquiry into the legality of loot boxes, both in Star Wars: Battlefront II and Blizzard’s Overwatch. Deeming their inclusion “games of chance,” the Chancellor of the commission goes on to note that “such a game is especially a danger to minors, who spend a lot of money under social pressure.”
And to make matters even worse for EA, as of this morning the Dutch Gaming Authority have launched their own investigation into loot boxes. “Especially in the case of minors,” the organization warns, “there is a risk that they can not easily see the consequences of such games.” In either case, if the mechanic is ultimately deemed unacceptable, the liable companies would be forced to pay hefty fines or see sales of the games banned altogether in the regions.
EA responded to the allegations last night, but it’s not a particularly strong argument. “Creating a fair and fun game experience is of critical importance to EA,” the statement reads. “The crate mechanics of Star Wars Battlefront II are not gambling. A player’s ability to succeed in the game is not dependent on purchasing crates. Players can also earn crates through playing the game and not spending any money at all. Once obtained, players are always guaranteed to receive content that can be used in game.”
While players can indeed participate in the battlegrounds without shelling out extra cash, the heart of the Battlefront controversy lies in content already available on a $60 disc being locked behind an additional paywall—and one that’s randomly determined at that. Additionally, the loot box items cross a very hard line by including items that can truly affect gameplay, like more powerful characters and weapons, even if it’s not an automatic win. Compare this to the Overwatch loot box system, which offers solely cosmetic items, and the ire of the community seems very much founded.
The EA/Battlefront controversy doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon. And if these commissions come out with some damning findings or tough decisions, the gaming industry will have to find another way to keep players paying for a game they’ve already purchased.