“Last Month in Games” looks at notable news or events from the past month. I’ll break down their significance to the game industry and community.
EA Acquires Titanfall Developers, Respawn Entertainment
After close to ten years as an independent studio, Titanfall developers, Respawn Entertainment, have been purchased by EA. The acquisition cost EA $455 million. The figure includes performance bonuses, equity and cash.
EA’s purchase outbids South Korean publisher Nexon, who first bid the $455 million figure. EA had 30 days to match Nexon’s offer sheet, and so EA matched it.
Respawn, founded by former Call of Duty designers, continue work on Titanfall 3 and a Titanfall virtual reality title.
The studio acquisition comes at a controversial time for EA. Just last month, EA closed Visceral Games, the studio responsible for Dead Space. EA built a reputation as “studio killers” since many of their acquisitions result in closures. EA acquired well known, now closed studios like Maxis (The Sims), Pandemic Studios (The Saboteur) and Dreamworks Interactive (Medal of Honor).
Among fans, EA ownership instills more apprehension than confidence. When Titanfall 2 released in 2016, publisher EA slotted the title between Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty – two massive shooter franchises. The crowded release calendar slowed Titanfall 2 sales, despite the critical acclaim.
Titanfall first launched as an Xbox One exclusive, while Titanfall 2 released across three platforms. The fast paced, sci-fi shooter sequel also introduced a campaign along with the multiplayer component. Despite the larger userbase, new campaign and recognizable name, Titanfall 2 failed to match the rate of success as its debut.
Vince Zampella, chief executive of Respawn Entertainment, echoed the same concerns with the launch window. In an interview with Glixel when asked about publisher support, he acknowledged the dedication between EA IPs and external franchises. “It’s always a concern,” he said. “That’s what I’ll say. Especially when you have two games on top of each other.”
Because of the tight competition, Titanfall 2 sold well below expectations. “The game was successful, it sold well, but it didn’t quite sell as well as it should have,” Zampella later told GameSpot in August of 2017.
Even with the coming sequel and financial backing, many fear EA doomed the Respawn studio for eventual closure. EA’s focus on microtransaction parallels Titanfall’s monetization structure, but both companies implement them to different degrees. Titanfall 2 sold skins and other cosmetics in a virtual store in exchange for free DLC updates. In EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II, loot boxes and character boosts affected in-game performance and item unlocks. Unlike Titanfall 2, spending money in Battlefront gives you an edge over the competition. With EA owning the studio, fans assume EA’s loot boxes will also affect Titanfall 3.
Loot boxes may not see implementation in Titanfall 3, but Battlefront II already went through multiple microtransaction revisions before the official launch.
Star Wars Battlefront II Microtransactions Disabled Following Community Outrage
EA stopped selling Star Wars Battlefront II microtransactions hours before the public launch of the game.
During the first week early play through the EA Access service, complaints and analysis circulated on Reddit. Users discovered characters like Darth Vader take around 40 hours of game time to unlock. And since currency earnings per match do not depend on performance, the earnings stay the same for all users.
In response, EA and DICE made multiple revisions to the item costs. Hero costs dropped 75%, so a hero like Luke Skywalker costs 15,000 credits instead of the original 60,000. However, their changes didn’t alleviate the community outrage.
The Trooper Crates, Battlefront’s version of loot boxes, contain Hero Cards which change character strength. Equipping these cards onto to Darth Vader, Yoda and other heroes grant bonuses. Your heroes can deal increased damage or take decreased incoming damage. The Trooper Crates in turn benefit players willing to spend real money. The more money spent, the larger the advantage for the purchaser during their match.
Loot boxes and microtransactions exist in games as a way to generate revenue while also releasing free content updates. In a game like Overwatch, all players receive all maps and all characters for free. To unlock the in-game character skins, players can purchase loot boxes to speed the process. The skins act as cosmetics for each hero and do no affect performance.
This monetization method keeps the userbase playing the same content. Games like Battlefield 1 offer season passes for its maps and modes, but the paid content separates the community. Unlike the free updates model, the season pass model will (should) offer larger updates and of higher quality. Battlefront promised to release free maps and modes instead of selling a separate season pass.
The loot box method exists to generate revenue in exchange for free, continuous updates, yet some developers exploit players. Call of Duty: WWII sells a $50 season pass for a year of multiplayer maps. In addition to the season pass, the game also sells loot boxes of weapons skins and emblems.
Unlike Titanfall 2, Halo 5: Guardians and Overwatch, Call of Duty gives away nothing for free. Games selling a combination of loot boxes, upgrades and maps ignore the entire purpose and intent of other monetization methods.
Battlefront II’s marketplace of Hero Cards inside randomized Trooper Crates exploits the players, both paying and free. EA and DICE’s intent to provide free content feels disingenuous, even after disabling microtransactions. When reducing hero costs didn’t improve community feedback, EA then disabled all sales of microtransactions.
In a blog post outlining the changes, Oskar Gabrielson, DICE general manager, said, “The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game.”
The microtransactions will return, but we don’t know whether or not they return as cosmetics instead of in-game performance boosters. As of this post, EA has not enabled the microtransactions, leaving players to grind through the old unlock system.