Battlefront II goofed, but gamers are still spending more on additional content

By now, no one needs an introduction to the raging gamer hatred toward Battlefront II. While the vitriol is nothing new for Electronic Arts, who has a long history of inciting ire, distrust, and downright hate among its consumers, Battlefront II is the poster child of a new and uncomfortable growing pain for the games industry.

Walking a fine line between increasing content offerings and engagement (and of course revenue) and alienating gamers, the ongoing experiment of microtransactions has had successes and failures. Although gamers are quick to complain that publishers are excessively monetizing additional content for games, players continue to support service-based monetization with their wallets.

Add-on content sales are increasingly out-earning the traditional one-time purchase model, and the trend shows no signs of slowing. PC and console game publishers, who are aware that each segment has a finite audience, are looking for ways to further monetize both the existing audience and find new ways to attract new consumers by lowering the entry barriers. For many platforms and games, this has been wildly successful. Another EA franchise, FIFA, has had significantly less pushback on its monetization strategies, while growing its FIFA Ultimate Team and additional content revenue double-digit percentages each year, on top of the game’s typically $60 premium upfront purchase. The strategy mirrors Battlefront II, but with some key exceptions. And it’s those exceptions that can make or break the game’s success.

By shifting to games as a service, large AAA publishers hypothesize that future game monetization may eventually do away with $60 full-game products in favor of product ecosystems, where players pay for subscriptions services to access base games and further monetize through in-game purchases for the content they enjoy playing. Publishers are willing to sacrifice the full-game box price because they believe that subscription services can increase player retention and spending by effectively exposing players to other games within a publisher’s portfolio that they would otherwise ignore in today’s market due to the existence of an upfront price tag for games.

But EA has a ways to go in fully understanding gamers’ appetites for microtransactions in different games. Activision’s Call of Duty franchise has consistently over-performed EA’s Battlefield in microtransactions by relying on character customization and weapons. However, EA have by no means been the first to get burned by what appears to consumers as money-grubbing techniques. Players of Assassin’s Creed Unity pushed back against what they saw as Ubisoft’s high-priced microtransaction shortcuts: they ultimately earned only 7% of the game’s additional content revenue.

It remains to be seen what effect EA’s course correction on microtransactions will have on Battlefront II, but it’s fair to say the vocal fan community isn’t enthused. Despite this, it’s clear that gamers are continuing to spend on well-executed additional content, and the market presents a massive opportunity for publishers.