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Can EA fix what’s broken with Star Wars: Battlefront II’s economy?

Enlarge[1] / Much like this space-defense mission, EA’s launch plans for the Star Wars: Battlefront II economy seem to be blowing up.EA/DICE

Before we deliver a proper verdict for Star Wars: Battlefront II, we want to take a moment to talk about the game’s troubling, multilayered economy. The online multiplayer shooter is now officially available for paying EA Access subscribers, which offers a 10-hour trial of the game ahead of its November 16 launch on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Fans are already biting into that game-economy burrito, and it sure seems like a seven-layer thing, made up of loot boxes, battle points, credits, crystals, crafting parts, and star cards (which themselves come in two types and four tiers).

The whole thing already looks confusing and messy, and fans have pointed out major issues with how the economy debuted in the game’s paid EA Access launch this weekend. EA has since responded to fans’ most heated complaints, both in ridiculous and seemingly sensible ways. But even EA’s best response belies a glaring truth: nothing short of a full rewrite will undo the damage of real money to Battlefront II‘s gameplay mechanics.

Cards, tiers, credits, boxes, crafting parts…

Before we get to the rage and EA’s public response, let’s start by making sense of this game’s economy.

Sit in a comfortable chair and maybe make a nice cup of tea or coffee. This will take a minute. Pretty much every major online shooter from the past decade has tried to keep players hooked with some sort of “progression” system.

This practice was arguably popularized in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which rewarded players with new gameplay options the more (and better) they played. BFII has a few progression systems, and the first comes in the form of Star Cards.

  • 35 selectable classes in all, broken down between basic troopers, vehicles, and “hero”-class characters and ships.
  • Each class gets three unique abilities, which can be altered by…
  • …Star Cards! Use these to either enable a bonus or to replace one of your three unique abilities.
  • Here, we replace one unique ability for another.
  • Here, we simply boost an existing stat.
  • This isn’t unlocked yet. Unlocking isn’t enough; you can also craft your way to bumping it from tier-1 to tier-4, and you can see how much better it gets with each tier in that “blast radius” count in gray text.
  • Yoda has only unlocked one Star Card at this point, and it’s a tier-one Star Card.

    That means his Star Card level is…

    1. The math of how Star Card levels are accumulated is explained below. It’s weird.

The idea: every character, ship, “hero,” and machine in the game–35 in all–has three card slots, and players can slap bonuses into each slot so long as they unlock specific Star Cards for that specific unit.

Want your assault-class soldier to enjoy reduced recharge times for special abilities or swap out its default grenade for a grenade launcher? Should you get the corresponding card, you can slap that bonus into one of the unit’s open slots. (If you get more Star Cards, you can freely switch them around; they aren’t permanently spent.) How do you get Star Cards?

The most direct way is to use a particular character or class until you complete a milestone. Kill 50 enemies using grenades, for example, and you’ll receive a “thermal detonator crate.” This path requires being particularly good with a certain character or maneuver, however, and if you find any requirement difficult, or just plain annoying, Battlefront II offers the alternate, roundabout path of loot boxes (which the game calls “crates”). BFII‘s loot boxes contain a variety of contents (including other currencies) and can be purchased in multiple ways.

You can purchase loot boxes with “credits,” which are primarily earned by playing the game but are also given out if a loot box contains a duplicate card. (This, of course, is in place of EA and DICE simply prohibiting duplicate items from appearing.) You can also purchase loot boxes with “crystals,” which can only be purchased with real-world money. You’ll find the following inside of BFII‘s loot boxes: Star Cards, those Star Cards’ higher “tier” upgrades, credits, “crafting parts,” weapons, outfits, emotes, and victory poses.

  • The first time I logged in to the game, I was greeted with a “Founder’s Crate.”
  • It contained the following: two cosmetic items, one tier-3 Star Card (which is pretty high), and some credits to be spent on… more loot crates. Or unlocking pricey heroes.
  • You don’t say, EA?
  • A few days later, I was greeted with this surprise collection of unlocks, as my review copy apparently came with a bunch of loot boxes.
  • And these loot boxes were waaaay better than any I’d bought with credits.
  • Since I unlocked a bunch of tier-4 cards here, that means I got a few classes up to the Star Card level of 5 or more, which unlocked a second Star Card slot.

    That makes a big difference in terms of mathematical bonuses to gameplay. I could also just buy a bunch of loot boxes with real money to get those Star Card levels up for so many of the game’s classes.

By the way: instead of waiting for your dream Star Card’s base version or “tier” upgrade to appear, you can spend the aforementioned crafting parts–which are either awarded via select milestones or given out in loot boxes–to make and upgrade exactly what you want. This partially addresses a major loot box issue of making players rely on random chance to get major in-game options.

However, crafting parts are slow to earn, both in loot boxes and via milestones, and they can’t be used to unlock other parts of the game. To unlock new weapons for each class, you must either complete specific milestones or hope the weapons appear in loot crates. For specific, high-level heroes, like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, you can only get them by spending credits, not with crystals or crafting parts.

Again, you can either earn credits slowly in the course of normal play, or buy so many loot crates with cash that more credits appear in place of duplicate Star Cards.

Buying your way to instant power

Are you still with me? Rather than narrow all of this down to a single currency or unlock model, EA has already created this bonkers schism of multiple currencies and progressions and what each can and cannot do. It only gets worse from here.

  • Look at how much better that regeneration stat gets as you crank up this Star Card’s tier.
  • Having more slots just makes you more powerful, period.
  • And those tier-4 Star Cards only compound the sheer strength you can reach very quickly by simply buying a ton of loot boxes with real cash.

Again, you can slot up to three Star Cards on a particular class, but you only get one Star Card slot per class at the outset.

To attach more Star Cards to a class, you have to unlock and craft cards to reach a high enough “card level” for each class. Each Star Card counts as a card level point; each card’s tier adds another point. So, three tier-1 cards and a tier-3 card count as six points… so long as all of those cards are for the same class.

You’ll need five points per class to unlock your second card slot and another five points per class for its third card slot. You’ll receive roughly 4.5 cards per loot box, by the way, and not all of these will be Star Cards, since they’re sometimes full of credits, crafting parts, outfits, and other cosmetics. If you pre-order the game or buy a “starter” card pack, you can expect some card packs at the outset, but this is still quite the grind to get all three slots unlocked, let alone pack them with valuable, higher-tier cards.

The performance divide between “only one low-tier Star Card” and “three souped-up Star Cards” can be substantial. Star Cards let you do things like speed up health recovery, reduce damage taken, increase damage output, and upgrade special abilities. Plus, each card can be enhanced by jumping up to a new “tier” (represented by blue, green, and purple colors, ? la World Of WarCraft item ranks).

You can either luck into higher tiers via loot box earnings or craft them with those crafting parts, which exist primarily in loot boxes. There is one incredibly fast way to rack up Star Cards, bump their tiers, and get that all-important number-of-slots upgrade for the class you love, and it’s by paying out for loot boxes.

Can EA fix what’s broken with Star Wars: Battlefront II’s economy?Enlarge[2] / Look at all those savings if you’re an EA Access member, though! They’re practically giving crystals away.

The first problem with this whole system is that it affords more performance bonuses to anybody who either spends time or money. Compare that to series like Call of Duty or Battlefield.

In those games, more experienced players can unlock a variety of weapons, items, and perks, but generally, they add gameplay styles, not mathematical advantages. But every single Star Card and every bump in a Star Card’s tier only adds boosts to each class’ default loadout, with only a few of these fairer, “mathematically equivalent” unlockables. So long as BFII‘s starting players all suffer with fewer slots and lower-tier cards–and so long as many of the most noticeable boosts can be paid for with nary a minute of gameplay–the performance divide is spoiled.

Let’s add another complication. Just like in 2015’s Star Wars: Battlefront, you can use in-match “battle points” (BP) to get access to a high-level hero. During a match, you earn BP by killing foes, completing objectives, and doing other mode-specific tasks.

These BP must be spent by the end of the match, and you spend them to respawn as a recognizable, super-powered hero–like, say, Darth Maul or Yoda–for one life. However, some of the most recognizable and powerful “hero” characters, like Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker, cannot be accessed at all without permanently spending a lot of the game’s “credits” currency. The game’s original ask for Luke and Vader was shelf-clearingly insane: 60,000 credits each. One Reddit user’s analysis estimated nearly 40 hours of standard gameplay[3] to earn that many credits–and that count includes milestone-related credits and choosing not to spend credits on loot boxes.

Grinding players with Vader on their mind can’t even dip their toes into that all-important Star Card system. Should you opt to spend your credits on loot boxes instead of higher-level heroes, by the way, you may very well earn Star Cards for those locked-up heroes, and you can’t trade those cards in for other currencies. They’ll just be sitting there, taunting you until you pay up for the heroes in question. (You cannot unlock these high-credit heroes themselves with random loot box Star Cards.)

Way to bring “armchair” back

EA responded in a few ways, and the first was mind-bogglingly out of touch: a response from a DICE developer on Sunday[4] that simply read, “The armchair developers on the Internet.” The offending tweet has since been deleted, but Reddit’s major BFII community now includes a “flair” option that reads “armchair developer.” It’s already proving pretty popular.

One fan in particular outed himself as a developer and developed an auto-playing script[5] as both an eff-you to the line and a commentary on EA’s design decision. The company’s longer response on the aforementioned Reddit thread[6] was quite possibly more alarming. After mentioning a goal of adjusting and fine-tuning currency and economy counts based on how the community plays the game, an EA representative added, “The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.” The community almost immediately jumped down EA’s throats for this line, and not only by downvoting the comment into negative-number oblivion.

One angry fan bemoaned the insane imbalance between saving credits to spend on a single, popular character and spending them on seemingly required loot boxes. After describing the amount of time he already has to devote to real-life obligations like work and family, he said, “I shouldn’t require a sense of pride and accomplishment to play as a hallmark character in my favorite franchise.” Another commenter cut right through some currency confusion to make a point: “This is a joke, right? You have the same currency tied to unlocking crates as you do to unlocking heroes.”

One day later, EA announced a “credit price” drop for its biggest heroes[7], particularly Vader and Luke, who each dropped to 15,000 in-game credits. The company did not address whether the average credit-climb would go any faster, however, which may mean they each now require approximately 10 hours of gameplay to unlock. Which, for primary heroes already on the disc and expected by fans, is quite a bit of time to devote solely to those unlocks and not to any other seemingly necessary consumables like loot boxes.

I previously pointed to a change that came as a result of the game’s beta-test period[8]. The game’s highest-tier Star Cards can no longer be randomly gained in loot boxes, and they aren’t available for crafting until a player reaches a certain experience level. What I have since realized is that this change isn’t enough.

It doesn’t take much play to reach the corresponding level, and even before that point, you can still buy your way to a suite of powerful tier-three bonuses.

Can we flatten?

Can EA fix what’s broken with Star Wars: Battlefront II’s economy?Enlarge[9] / We’ll have more on the game’s polish and battling in a review.

So far, it’s running mostly silky smooth on Xbox One X in near-4K resolution.

What, really, can EA and DICE do at this point? It’s hard to say. I feel more confused, not less, having typed this entire explanation out, and I don’t look at the progress I’ve made thus far in the game’s EA Access period with any sense of pride or accomplishment.

I just have a scant number of Star Cards unlocked, spread fruitlessly along a ton of classes, along with an uneasy feeling that choosing to buy loot boxes means I’m down a bunch of valuable credits, and thus, another few hours away from getting to play as Luke Skywalker. The only exception is the tier-3 and tier-4 stuff I’ve unlocked… which I got because my copy of the game included pre-order and special-edition codes. These popped up with zero play with the classes and heroes in question.

Without upending the entire game, the first solution, as far as I’m concerned, is a flattening of the Star Cards’ impact. At the moment players boot the game, give them all three Star Card slots for every class, along with a pre-determined Tier-4 Star Card to slap into each of them. This way, like in every other shooter game that doesn’t suck, players all start at nearly the top of the mathematical possibilities, and they can dig further to earn, customize, and tweak their favorite classes’ and heroes’ loadouts.

More importantly, this entire tier system, which rewards true mathematical bonuses either for playing or for paying, is a hot, wet fart of an idea and should go right into the toilet. From there, EA could flatten the currencies so that players earn and spend one thing for every aspect of the game. If you want to nickel and dime players over a long span of time, don’t split up their purchase potential.

This is a well-known trick to get players stuck on the bean-counting half of a free-to-play game. We don’t pay £60 to walk into that mess. I’m not against having extra hero characters be unlocked by an in-game progression system, and flattening currencies would help with this issue.

Fighting games like Street Fighter V and Killer Instinct have experimented with added characters that can either be bought or earned, and so long as the path toward each end of the unlock spectrum is made clear, that’s acceptable. You’re either paying with money or with keeping the game’s servers populated, which are both valuable for an online game. But as other, bigger Star Wars nerds have already pointed out, charging full retail price for a “classic, all-universes” Star Wars battling game and then putting the series’ most beloved characters behind a confusing paywall is the Darkest of Dark Side moves.

Assuming EA does not take my sage advice in redeeming BFII‘s economy, this will likely serve as another example of a publisher trying to convince fans that paying £60 for a game isn’t enough.

Rather than demand up-front price increases or subscription fees, however, EA seems committed to squeezing a few more bucks out of players in unsavory ways: mixed currencies and dopamine-filled, random-item loot boxes[10]. But EA has an uphill battle to climb in terms of convincing anybody that these economies, should they not be flattened to an acceptable degree, are worth anybody’s money. Ideally, by paying more than £60 per copy, we’re puffing up a game’s lifespan.

That’s money that can go into, say, more levels, characters, and modes. After all, unlike the last Battlefield game, there will be no season pass charge to divide the playerbase (which is one reason that game’s primary servers quickly turned into ghost towns).

But what’s the guarantee that BFII really lives all that long or delivers so much content? We’re only two years out from the last Battlefield entry.

It’s hard to believe that BFII won’t see a successor perfectly timed for the launch of Star Wars Episode IX or, heck, a next-gen gaming console. We also have to trust EA and DICE’s word about responding to player feedback and keeping fans busy with fresh content that’s worthy of further dives into various economies, both paid and earned. That’s a word that we’re already unsure of thanks to this week’s total misunderstanding of what gamers and series fans are mad about.

There may be a fun and polished game in here, but right now, it sure seems to be breathing heavily through an unattractive, black mask.


  1. ^ Enlarge (cdn.arstechnica.net)
  2. ^ Enlarge (cdn.arstechnica.net)
  3. ^ One Reddit user’s analysis estimated nearly 40 hours of standard gameplay (www.reddit.com)
  4. ^ a response from a DICE developer on Sunday (archive.fo)
  5. ^ developed an auto-playing script (np.reddit.com)
  6. ^ longer response on the aforementioned Reddit thread (www.reddit.com)
  7. ^ a “credit price” drop for its biggest heroes (www.ea.com)
  8. ^ a change that came as a result of the game’s beta-test period (arstechnica.com)
  9. ^ Enlarge (cdn.arstechnica.net)
  10. ^ dopamine-filled, random-item loot boxes (arstechnica.com)

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