EA’s mistake on Reddit: Defending how it manipulates gamers

Image: EA via Kotaku

Game company EA is about to release Star Wars Battlefront II, but you won’t get to play Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader right away. On Reddit, the company defended of its policy to require payment or many hours of gameplay to unlock those characters. Reddit users responded to the EA statement with a record number of negative votes.

As reported on gaming site Kotaku, once you spend $80 on the game, you need to accumulate credits to get access to major characters like Luke or Darth. You could do that by playing for about 40 hours, or by paying actual money for crystals which earn you loot crates which you can use to unlock the characters (yes, really, and and it’s not clear how much you have to pay).

On Reddit, user MBMMaverick posted “Seriously? I paid 80$ to have Vader locked?”  EA’s response on Reddit generated 2,954 comments (before the overwhelmed moderators locked additional commenters out) and 648,000 down votes so far, a record for Reddit.

How to make gamers’ blood boil

Why the flood of hatred? Well, gamers are addicts. Game developers need to fine-tine their games to generate the maximum amount of passion, desperation, and money. Withholding Darth Vader from a Star Wars game fan until they pay or play is manipulative, but of course, all game development is an exercise in manipulation. The reason for the vitriol is the way this statement revels in that manipulation, hiding it beneath a thin veneer of jargon. Here the official response from developer EA with my translation of what they’re really saying.

The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.

Translation: The intent is to keep you desperately playing. If you don’t have time for that, you probably can pay cash for Darth Vader, but either way you’ll appreciate how valuable he is.

As for cost, we selected initial values based upon data from the Open Beta and other adjustments made to milestone rewards before launch. Among other things, we’re looking at average per-player credit earn rates on a daily basis, and we’ll be making constant adjustments to ensure that players have challenges that are compelling, rewarding, and of course attainable via gameplay.

Translation: We use a scientific algorithm to calibrate your addiction. Too easy, and you’ll get bored. Too hard, and you’ll give up. We need to find the sweet spot that keeps you at it forever as we dangle the characters that you can’t live without to keep you motivated.

We appreciate the candid feedback, and the passion the community has put forth around the current topics here on Reddit, our forums and across numerous social media outlets.

Translation: Thank you for being an addict.

Our team will continue to make changes and monitor community feedback and update everyone as soon and as often as we can.

Translation: We will continue to gather data from you so we can fine-tine the way we manipulate you. If this works, every game will withhold the most compelling characters until you play or pay.

Was this statement an error?

I’ve always advised companies to respond to their critics in social media. And Jay Baer wisely tells companies to “Hug Your Haters.” Did EA do the right thing?

It’s not clear that the company could say anything to appease Star Wars Fans who are gamers after withholding Darth Vader from them. This seems to be sticking the knife in, then cruelly twisting it — hence the record-breaking response. But honesty (like my translation) would likely have generated an even more poisonous response, including perhaps some gamers giving up on the game.

Perhaps a less corporate response would be better. How about this?

OK, you got us. We’ve made the most challenging game yet. And yes, we know how much you want these characters that we are withholding.

If you’re up to the challenge, you can get there. Darth and Luke await the most avid gamers. And believe us, we put in the time to design them very well — they’re worth it.

There are easier games where the things you win don’t matter as much. You could always play them. Or you can prove you’re up to this challenge. We’ll be watching to see what happens.

I have no idea if this is better. Once you’ve kept Luke Skywalker out of the hands of a Star Wars addict, you’ve entered a territory I can’t comprehend. What would you say?

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