Star Wars Battlefront II, EA's newest game, has created quite a buzz in the gaming community. Outrage after outrage has been expressed since early betas, and continues to grow even now after the game has been released.
A large portion of this anger from fans revolves around the inclusion of loot boxes in the game. There has been a general discomfort in the gaming community about loot boxes, but Battlefront has taken it to a new level. Fans are utterly upset at the treatment EA has given their game and the amount of exploitation that is happening.
This game stands as a perfect example for video game companies to learn from. If they want to avoid controversies, earn trust of their fans, and stay clean, here's what they need to do.
Maybe Don't Include Loot Boxes
Let's start with the biggest issues gamers have with Battlefront II: loot boxes. Among gaming cultures, loot boxes are becoming a dirty and negative term. When people talk about the pros and cons of a new game, loot boxes always end up in the negatives.
If game companies only glean one thing from EA's blunder, it needs to be this. Maybe don't include loot boxes in games. Especially don't lock content of the game behind loot boxes like they did.
Alongside all of the displeasure from fans, governments are starting to investigate loot boxes. One major argument against loot boxes is that they are a form of gambling accessible to children. Already, the Belgian gaming commission considers them a form of gambling, and legislators in Hawaii want to create laws that prevent loot box games from targeting and being available to children.
Smart game developers and publishers need to recognize the dangerous route loot boxes are. They need to find either alternative methods to finance their games or change their model to not include microtransactions at all.
Branding Is Becoming Important
Video game branding is a weird mix. There is the branding of an individual property, developer branding, publisher branding, and sometimes even specific developer branding, that all plays a role in the success of a game. People begin to build trust with specific developers and series based off of their past experiences. It's why people look forward to Naughty Dog's next game, or even the upcoming game from Hideo Kojima. We have no hard evidence these games will be good, but we trust the brands and people making them.
Similarly, poor branding can have a negative effect on sales. You can bet that future games for EA won't sell as good as they could because of this bad press they've recently gotten. It's already impacting their sales now, with many people boycotting or avoiding purchasing Battlefront II.
Companies that want to find success for the long term need to consider how to build their brands. Of course, making good games is a great place to start, but building a brand is more than that. It's about understanding what customers want and having a company that speaks the same "language"as them. Nothing puts people off more than a company making fun games, but when talking with players, are full of corporate talk and aloof ideals. Company branding needs to match their player base's needs and wants.
People Want Company Transparency
After the news spread about the Battlefront II loot boxes, people were upset. Fans of the series felt betrayed, new players were confused, and people saw a scheme to force players to pay more money.
So, people took to the metaphorical streets and shouted in protest. Specifically, they went to the Battlefront's subreddit to complain. EA then tried to appease them with a post filled with corporate speak, misleading intentions, and with no real changes. That post is now the most downvoted comment in Reddit history. Similarly, the developers held an AMA on Reddit to talk to fans of the game and got bombarded with questions (most left unanswered) about loot boxes and their plan to fix the game.
People want their game companies to actively talk to them. Transparency from developers and publishers can go a long way to alleviate fears and help foster a community around a game. It's understandable that before the game is released that the developers want to keep things under wraps, but once it's out, it's time to start talking.
Social media is a great place to update fans on what is happening with the game. A quick Facebook video could give followers important updates and gives the company a face. Make posts detailing the company's plans regarding the game. If there is a problem, address it. Ask for honest feedback from players. They want video games to be good and are willing to go the extra mile if developers will listen.
Being Consumer Friendly Is Important
A good approach, both in developing and selling games, is to be consumer friendly. Instead of focusing on how to best improve profits, smart game companies need to pay attention to their audiences. If there is a practice that is abhorrent to players (like loot boxes are in Battlefront II), then don't include them.
As the game industry grows, consumers will notice which companies care and communicate and which don't. This is especially true if games continue with the "games as a service"model. If people are consistently playing a game, but the company isn't consumer friendly, it's more likely the players will leave. Make consumer friendliness a priority, and they'll find a happy player base.