How EA talks about loot boxes depends on who's listening

EA has been on the ropes before, countless times, for angering its fans. In 2011, it was the ending to Mass Effect 3. Two years later, the company took the long-running and beloved SimCity franchise, and made that year’s version into a game that required an internet connection to play. Servers were slammed and people couldn’t play the game’s single-player mode as a result. It took months to sort the problem out, and then EA shuttered the studio two years later.

The firm has been named “Worst Company In America” by fans polled by The Consumerist, multiple times, beating out predatory mortgage lenders and healthcare companies. And each time it’s happened, EA has responded by digging its heels in and stubbornly saying it’s done nothing wrong on investors calls and to the press, before admitting the exact opposite months later in a public forum like its annual E3 keynote or during big game reveals.

A few weeks ago the cycle started anew. The Daily Show‘s Trevor Noah hosted the Battlefield V debut event, and asked the developers present how progression would work during the streamed question and answer session. The team gleefully told Noah that there wouldn’t be any loot boxes or premium passes for additional maps and modes. They repeated that yesterday onstage before announcing that after being inundated with requests by fans, Battlefield V will include a battle royale mode. The audience applauded.

When Battlefront II design director Dennis Bränvall came out later, he recapped the controversy before offering a mea culpa and detailing a fan-centric roadmap for additional expansions to the game’s multiplayer suite. “We launched our game last November, and clearly we didn’t get it right,” Bränvall said. “Instead of coming out of the gate sprinting, like we really wanted to, we had to take a step back and make sure that we were delivering the game that our players really wanted.”

Specifically, DICE changed the progression system so that it wouldn’t take the estimated 40 hours to unlock Darth Vader as a hero character in the game, and (eventually) that the in-game loot boxes would only contain cosmetic items, not items that affected gameplay. He never paused for applause, and it took a full two minutes before the audience responded to anything he was saying, only breaking silence when Bränvall announced a forthcoming add-on pack from The Clone Wars, the popular Star Wars TV show.

“The team at home is excited to be building all these cool things,” Bränvall said, smiling. “EA and DICE are committed to Battlefront. We had a rough start, but I really think this game has a bright future.” He thanked everyone for playing the game and providing feedback, which is a nice way of saying: “Thanks for yelling at us on the internet.”

Bränvall closed with saying, “Together, we will make this the greatest game that we can possibly build. There would be no Battlefront without you. So, thank you. May the Force be with you.”

It was an earnest, humble response to adversity. That’s how you talk to players, by appealing to their emotions. You remind them you’re just like they are, except instead of simply playing the games, you’re making them too. EA has a history of this, using its keynote last year to tell fans that their tweets and forum posts were the reason Battlefront II would have a proper single-player story (below).

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