EA vows to never offer paid 'loot boxes' in its controversial ‘Star Wars Battlefront II’ game

  • Electronic Arts on Friday announces big pro-consumer changes to the design and business model of "Star Wars Battlefront II."
  • An EA spokesperson confirms to CNBC that the changes to the game are permanent and there will be no paid micro-transactions for loot boxes going forward.
  • Loot boxes are opaque virtual items that when opened offer skill enhancements, virtual currency or other upgrades to players, but the determination of which item is given is implemented by random chance. Critics say the system compels gamers to overspend to get the item they want versus buying the specific item directly.
A scene from EA's Star Wars Battlefront II
Source: EA
A scene from EA's Star Wars Battlefront II

The rebellion has won.

Angry gamers are now victorious in the war against Electronic Arts' aggressive moneymaking strategy in "Star Wars Battlefront II" as the publisher announces major pro-consumer changes to the game Friday.

The uproar centered around loot boxes in the title's in-game purchases system. It allowed players to save time by paying extra money to accelerate the "unlock" of major characters such as Darth Vader and improve character abilities. Last year gamers flooded social media and Reddit, saying the game is structured as "pay to win." Due to the negative sentiment, EA temporarily turned off all in-game purchases a day before the title's official Nov. 17 launch day.

Loot boxes are opaque virtual items that when opened offer skill enhancements, virtual currency or other upgrades to players, but the determination of which item is given is implemented by random chance. Critics say the system compels gamers to overspend to get the item they want versus buying the specific item directly.

The controversy hurt the sales of the game. EA revealed on its January earnings call that "Star Wars Battlefront II" sold roughly 7 million units during the December quarter, tracking below its guidance in July for 14 million lifetime unit sales for the title.

And now the company is caving to almost all the gaming community's major complaints.

Electronic Arts on Friday announced big changes to the design and business model of "Star Wars Battlefront II."

"Since release, we've been hard at work making changes based on your feedback to create a better game for all our players," EA wrote in a post. "Today, we're happy to announce that the Star Wars Battlefront II Progression update, which includes a complete re-design of the in-game progression system, will begin rolling out on March 21st."

The publisher said Star Cards or any other in-game items that improve a player's ability will not be available for purchase or through randomized loot boxes. EA said the game will offer the opportunity to purchase cosmetic items for "new looks for your heroes" in April, but also not through loot boxes.

An EA spokesperson confirmed to CNBC that the changes to the game are permanent and there will be no paid micro-transactions for loot boxes going forward. The spokesperson also confirmed paid cosmetic items will be offered for direct purchase and not sold through randomized loot boxes.

U.S. politicians have been asking for more consumer protections from the gaming industry's aggressive monetization practices, specifically calling out the "Star Wars Battlefront II" loot box system as an example.

Well-known gaming YouTube personality Jim Sterling appreciated EA's reversal.

"I applaud Electronic Arts for taking several months to realize that people who wanted to play a normal Star Wars game wanted to play a normal Star Wars game, and are now getting this in April 2018. I'm puzzled by EA's decision to switch to cosmetic items as DLC, considering EA specifically stated it couldn't do that due to interference with the Star Wars universe," Sterling wrote in an email. "It does appear as if they were dishonest about that, but I am sure EA deserves us forgetting their prior misdirection because they have finally fixed their videogame months after launch."

Joe Vargas of the AngryJoeShow, who has more than 2.9 million subscribers for his channel, agreed.

"This is admittedly a step in the right direction, I'm happy that EA is backing off of at least paid progression through loot boxes — I'm only sorry that it took such a large backlash from all parties involved to get them to do something positive for the gaming community, giving us what we suggested in the first place," Vargas wrote in an email. "We will be keeping an eye on these types of practices in the future, not just in Star Wars but in other $60 retail Triple AAA titles."