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Star Wars Battlefront 2: Answering Pay-to-Win Claims and Other Nonsense

I finally had enough.

It’s one thing to spend time on Electronic Arts’ Star Wars Battlefront forums, dealing with the lunatic fringe of gaming, or people who sometimes don’t seem to understand basic communication, critical thinking–or even reading skills. But it’s quite another to read a piece on the site of a reputable publication such as Forbes Magazine (who knew they cover gaming anyway?) that leaves you wondering if the author spent any time playing the Star Wars Battlefront 2 Multiplayer Beta at all.

I’m looking at you, Paul Tassi. On October 13th, three days prior to this writing, Forbes posted an article by Tassi regarding the thank-you message on the official Battlefront 2 site to fans who played the Beta. In it he makes several assertions that are just so flat-out wrong that I could not let it go past without saying something. There will probably be a podcast episode about this. Heck, I might even post a video to my under-utilized YouTube channel. That seems to be where all the gamers go.

From the outset the title of his piece is simply wrong on the face of it: ‘Star Wars Battlefront 2’ Reveals Sweeping Changes After The Beta’s Pay-To-Win Accusations. I am certain Mr. Tassi is not unfamiliar with a Beta; people play an early version of the game, testing the gameplay and presentation, while the developers test server traffic, fielding feedback of all sorts on how the game performs, then the developers identify those things which need to be fixed or changed prior to launch.

The first assumption one must make going into it is that there are going to be changes after a Beta. The two key terms here are ‘sweeping’ and ‘after’. First of all the changes are not ‘sweeping’, in fact, they don’t spell out any particular change to the crate system at all. The title also suggests that the only reason they are making these changes is because of the accusations that the game is ‘Pay-to-Win’.

While there are two paragraphs which indicate some things that the developers are looking at changing, the part of the post which Mr. Tassi quotes from are in a section introduced with the following:

“We know you have a lot of questions about Crates and progression, so we want to clarify a few things, as the complete system was not in the Beta and will continue to be tuned over time”

Not to sound pedantic and a little like Captain Obvious here, but when someone uses the word ‘clarify’, that usually means that what follows is already true, and that someone is unclear on it, not that it will be true in the future once it is changed. In other words, these are the things which are not changing, yet the construction of the article seems to insist that these are the very changes to be made.

  • There are many things you can earn in the game, including weapons, attachments, credits, Star Cards, Emotes, Outfits and Victory Poses.

The phrasing of this is unclear. The implication is that “earn in the game” means just through playing and hitting milestones, but the beta did not have any kind of real XP or leveling system, so playing the game might also mean…playing the game enough to earn loot boxes. This may get clarified as we go.

The phrasing “earn in the game” is not unclear. Later in the piece, which you will see below, he quotes the thank-you post which outlines exactly what is in the Crates. During the Beta, each class had two weapons, one of which could be upgraded with attachments that were readily available with crafting parts. This isn’t the first time where I begin to wonder whether or not he actually played the Beta, or at least question the amount of time he put into it.

Crafting parts generally were awarded within crates, however, and I can imagine that someone could purchase enough of the premium currency (called Crystals) to gain a bunch of crafting parts in order to craft all the attachments of a given weapon. However, sometimes the attachment wasn’t much of an advantage at all. On my Assault class, I was able to purchase a grip which improved the stability of the second weapon, which possessed a higher fire rate, but the damage was so much better with the default weapon, I preferred it to the one I could modify.

The only class which had a second weapon with an attachment that improved its damage any was the Officer, who could craft an attachment to his burst-fire pistol that provided slightly explosive ordinance. It was by no means as powerful as the Explosive Shot card in 2015’s Battlefront, and the Officer tended to be a liability in a firefight most of the time anyway, so it was not a game-breaking advantage.

  • As a balance goal, we’re working towards having the most powerful items in the game only earnable via in-game achievements.

This is…good, but I’m wondering what they view as the most powerful items in the game. I’m thinking of those 40% health, 20% fire rate Star Cards. The problem with those, however, wasn’t just that they were found in loot boxes, but that they existed at all as once utilized, however you get them, stacking them on top of each other can easily create a huge power imbalance among players.

This impression seems largely based on the Starfighter Assault mode. What he is claiming is best expressed in a piece he wrote on October 8th:

This system also raises the question of what happens when a new player shows up six months down the road and enters a game where not only are they a new player, but their enemies are stacked with 10% increased damage, 30% lower cooldown and 20% increase fire rate Star Cards while they have almost nothing. How can they even compete at that point?

This seems largely based on the Interceptor Class starfighter, which in its native state possesses a weapons system which overheats very quickly and  does minimal damage. What does a 30% better cooldown equate to for a system which overheats within 4 seconds of sustained fire? A full 1.2 seconds. Not exactly overpowering, is it? Let’s say one hit from your Interceptor does 50 damage. 10% increased damage is… let’s see, I have to do the math on this… move the decimal over to the… left, I think… carry the 1… ah, yes! 55 damage. Hooray for you. How can new players ever compete with that astounding ability? By simply being a better shot, that’s how.

Other Star Cards could be upgraded to improve the explosive spread of your Detonite Charge from 5 meters to a whopping 6.5 meters. Gasp! That might actually kill two opponents rather than just one! The misinformation and fear mongering over this ‘Pay-to-Win’ nonsense is simply astounding. There is no ‘huge power imbalance among players’. Not even close.

  • Crates will include a mix of of Star Cards, Outfits, Emotes or Victory Poses.

I don’t recall getting any outfits in the beta, so that’s new. The implication here is a ratio of 3:1 cosmetic to power-based items, though that was certainly not how things played out in the beta, as the drops were mostly Star Cards or equipment.

Yes, of course getting outfits is new. He says this as though it is some remarkable revelation. What we know of the game prior to launch is that certain preorder customers will receive skins for Rey and Kylo Ren from The Last Jedi. The extent to which we will receive new skins for other classes remains to be seen. However, I don’t see how there is any implication of a “ratio of 3:1 cosmetic to power-based items“, because players will know that they also received credits and crafting parts in crates. This is a strange conclusion to draw from the limited information provided.

  • Players earn crates by completing challenges and other gameplay milestones, or by purchasing them with in-game credits or Crystals, our premium currency.

I don’t see how this is changed from what we saw in the beta. I guess free crates for hitting milestones is a new addition, but it’s still utilizing the crate system.

I suspect he doesn’t see how this is changed from what we saw in the Beta because this isn’t a change. Players received a Daily Crate each day they logged in; a Starter Crate per class each time you played a particular class; and with every 1,000 credits, the opportunity to purchase a crate. At an average of 180 credits per round, it took about six rounds of gameplay to purchase a crate.

Given that the credits earned per round were capped (I earned 270 a couple times with some successful hero play–maybe a Beta bug), one can imagine players will earn the credits to purchase Crates at a rate commensurate to their ability and achievements. There were also daily achievements during the Beta. Now, whether or not these yield Crates directly, or the credits with which to purchase them, the effect is the same.

Another telling quote is this: “but it’s still utilizing the crate system.” With this, Mr. Tassi reveals that he is predisposed against any kind of loot crate system whatsoever.

  • If you get a duplicate Star Card in a crate, you will get crafting parts which you can then use to help upgrade the Star Card of your choice.

Was there really not a dupes-give-you-crafting-parts system in place in the beta? That’s kind of a no-brainer for a loot crate system like this.

I do not purport to be any kind of gaming journalist, but I did say at a Holiday Inn Express once, and I played this Beta extensively. I logged 15 hours on Day 1 alone. Any player giving cursory time to this Beta should have realized that duplicate cards did not yield crafting parts.

The community at large realized this at least two days in, and I’m certain there were players who realized this before I or Battlefront Updates did. How is the author surprised by this? I can only think of one reason.

  • And lastly, you have to earn the right to be able to upgrade Star Cards and unlock most Weapons. You can only upgrade or unlock them if you have reached a high enough rank, which is determined by playing the game.

Now this is a pretty major change. It seems weapons are being pulled out of crates and are unlocked the old-fashioned way, by playing with a specific class. And you must rank up to reach the higher levels of unlocks on your Star Cards, and rank is no longer determined by how many Star Cards you have, it seems, which was a chief complaint about the beta. Many of these changes seem to reference some sort of XP/Milestone/Rank system that was nowhere to be found in the beta at all, so I guess we’ll have to see how it works once it arrives. It…sounds more like a traditional shooter, but loot crates do still feel like the backbone of the upgrade economy.

This is not a major change at all. First of all, weapons are not being pulled out of crates as the Beta had no weapons in crates whatsoever. There were two weapons per class, as mentioned above. How can someone who covers gaming miss this plain-as-day fact? Each class had a progress bar when viewed on the Collection screen. Yes, class rank was partially based on the level of your star cards, but this was only a part of the progression.

The Beta allowed players to get a wide range of star cards at different levels to get a flavor for what sort of items will be available. The crate screen even says, “Crate contents and rarity distribution are intended for Multiplayer Beta only.” The fact remains that there was a XP/Milestone/Rank system in the Beta, though it was limited. To say it was “nowhere to be found in the beta at all” suggests he didn’t even play it.

The final straw for me is this complete fabrication from a piece written on October 10th:

That seems far less true in Battlefront 2, as during the beta I played many games where one standout player with a roster full of crazy Star Cards was the across the board MVP, racking up 40+ kills and thousands of points with a super hero or a beastly aircraft. No one could even touch them. The only way to really compete is to also have those upgrades and then skill can factor into play.

This is either total ignorance, or an out-and-out lie. There is no way to tell whether or not this MVP with 40+ kills had a “roster full of crazy Star Cards”, whatever that means. I saw many MVP’s with this kind of number of kills, but I can’t count how many times I was in the top 5 playing as an Officer with 5 kills, nabbing a hero for a handful more, and predominantly scoring Team Support points.

Mr. Tassi also probably doesn’t realize that he completely negated his own point. Ostensibly he is lamenting the fact that a player who buys his way into crates can acquire so many cards that he will dominate matches with 40+ kills. How, then, did these ‘standout players’ acquired these Star Cards?

He appears to be a busy man, with many games to play and write about, if one scans his Twitter stream. I’m sure he played it a little, read some subreddits, watched a few YouTube videos, then wrote his piece. I’ve written my fair share of articles and research papers–I can sniff out a lazy hack job because I wrote a few for a grade in College. I’m certain whatever editorial review there is at Forbes assumed he knew what he was talking about and ran with it, because a competent editor would have at least sniffed out his rhetorical failure. However, he raises so many strawman arguments, and reaches easily refuted conclusions, and reveals a clear predisposition against this system, that one must assume there was no editorial review at all.

I have no qualms with people who hate loot crate systems, no problem with those who hate microtransactions. I have no argument against those who take issue with EA on the merits. But what I cannot abide is intellectually dishonest and poorly researched hit pieces.

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