So chances are you've heard that everyone – including some actual countries and politicians – is currently very cross at EA because of the microtransactions in Star Wars Battlefront II. You also probably know what loot crates and microtransactions are. But if you haven't played Battlefront II, or you're not into video games and have just been seeing this appear in mainstream news, then it might be harder to understand why this has spiralled out of control so much that EA had to turn the microtransactions off for a bit (possibly forever; we don't know when or in what form they'll be back yet). So let's have a look.
What are microtransactions?
Just in case you need a quick primer, microtransactions are smaller instances of you giving money to the game's publisher after you already own said publisher’s game. In F2P (free-to-play games) like mobile games, it's not as much of a deal (currently, and people who woke up to massive bills 'cos their kids spent loads on more lives in Candy Crush or something would say different) because you didn't already pay for the game once, and generally speaking there's no random chance involved, you're just paying PopCap to play more of the game immediately. In video games, microtransactions can often come in the form of loot crates, which are boxes of extra goodies you can buy with slightly randomised contents, though the exact nature of the randomisation varies in different games. But this is part of the first problem people have with them: for a game like Battlefront II you've already dropped around £60, and now the game wants you to spend more.
What is Star Wars Battlefront II?
It's a sequel to 2015's Star Wars Battlefront, which is itself a reboot of a series from the early 00s with the same name, which makes Googling this kind of thing unhelpful. Battlefront 2 is, at the core, an online multiplayer game where dozens of players can compete in big Star Wars-themed battles, one team fighting against the other. You take on the role of cannon fodder pushing for an objective, so when you die in the game you'll respawn back into the fight as another soldier after a few seconds, although there are different types of soldier you can be.
What are the different currencies in Battlefront II?
There are a few different ones. There are Battlepoints, which you earn for playing well while you're in a match and aren't transferred over anywhere. For the purposes of this we don't really care about those. The ones we're interested in are:
Credits, which you earn from completing multiplayer battles, completing the single player campaign, completing career challenges, or from getting duplicates of Star Cards.
Crafting Parts, which you currently get from completing some of the career challenges or from inside loot crates, and you use to buy or upgrade Star Cards.
Crystals, which are a reward for a very small number of the career challenges, but you mostly have to buy with real money, although they've been turned off while EA figures out what to do. Previously you could buy 500 Crystals for £3.99, 1000 for £7.99, 2100 for £15.99, 4400 for £31.99 or 120,000 for £79.99.
How much do the loot boxes cost in Battlefront II?
The most expensive is the Trooper Crate, which costs 4,000 Credits or 200 Crystals (before Crystals were switched off, remember). The Starfighter Crate is 2,400 credits, or 120 Crystals, and the Hero crate is 2,200 Credits, or 110 Crystals.
What are you actually buying in the Battlefront II loot crates, though?
Well. Well. This is the thing you see. Primarily you buy loot crates for Star Cards. There are three types of crates (Trooper, Starfighter, and Hero) and each will contain at least one Star Card of that type (i.e. a Trooper Crate will contain '1 or 2 Trooper Star Cards', which is a weird way to say 'one, minimum'), Crafting Parts, and at least one other item, which could be another Star Card for another class, a Victory Pose or Emote, or a weapon. If you get a Star Card that you had already then it'll be converted into credits.
Wait, so what are Star Cards?
I am super not glad you asked, because this is where it gets even more complicated. In the Battlefront 2 multiplayer you can switch to a different class every time you spawn in, which all do slightly different things in an online fight. Each of these classes has different Star Cards, and three different slots to equip them in. Star Cards either swap out weapon abilities, like grenades, shields or scanners, or give you a passive boost like better health or defenses. Star Cards have a rarity value too, so the Card that reduces your weapon heat will reduce it by 20% at Common rarity, but 40% at Epic. You can upgrade Cards to Epic.
But wait, there's more! Each class has a Card Level that affects how many Star Card slots you have (you start with one, and the second and third open at level five and 10 respectively) and if you can upgrade the Star Cards for that class. The Star Card level is determined by… how many Star Cards you have for that class.
I still don't understand why everyone is angry
The first annoying thing is that you can buy and upgrade Star Cards with Crafting Parts… but you mostly get Crafting Parts from the loot crates. EA has said it's looking at other ways players could earn Crafting Parts.
The second annoying thing is that you can't control what's in the loot crate, which is pretty standard for a loot crate, but in this case is even more frustrating. For example, say you buy a Starfighter Crate 'cos you want Star Cards for the Interceptor class of spaceship, because that's what you want to play. Well, there are three classes of ship, so you might not get a Star Card for them. There are six Trooper classes. And 23 hero classes. I currently have three Star Cards for a hero I haven't even unlocked to play as yet. Get it?
The third annoying thing is that Star Cards can make a difference in battles, and the idea that some other player keeps doing you over and over in a fight because they splashed some cash before the microtransactions were stopped is irritating. They could, for example, have been able to afford enough crates that they've upgraded a Star Card to epic rarity and made their primary weapon damage 10% better than yours, which is quite a lot.
That's why gamers are angry. Why is everyone else angry?
Yeah, this broke into mainstream news and now the Belgian Gaming Commission and some Hawaiian politicians have come out and said loot crates count as gambling. It may be partly because Battlefront II has a PEGI 16 rating and is closer to kids gambling – in the UK you have to be 18 to go in a betting shop, but, weirdly, 16 to buy a scratch card – and partly because Star Wars is a massive IP that people have heard of even if they've not heard of Call of Duty.
But the issue of loot crates has been ramping up recently anyway, because more and more games are adding them, and people have been highlighting children spending a lot of money on FIFA packs. Plus there have been some fairly high profile scandals involving YouTubers encouraging children to gamble on stuff like CS:GO skins. CS:GO is a bit different because you can actually sell on what you win there, making it actual gambling – loot crates like the ones in Battlefront 2 have so far avoided being termed gambling because the contents of the crates don't have monetary value in that they can't be sold to someone else – but the debate has been simmering. Star Wars Battlefront 2 seems to have finally made it boil over.
What's going to happen now?
No idea. Hope this helps.