When a major company misjudges the way in which they treat their customers, letting them down after intentionally whipping up excitement pre-launch, you know they’re going to have a job on their hands extricating themselves from a sticky situation. Sadly, the debacle surrounding the Star Wars Battlefront II game has presented rather a mountain to climb for EA, whose decision to make the game revolve so closely around microtransactions caused huge controversy amongst fans and in the wider media.
Part of the problem for EA is, ironically, the fact that they have had so much success in the past getting the balance right between making customers pay more to enhance their gaming experience and making the free gaming experience a valuable one, a balance that particularly paid off in their foray into mobile gaming and, in particular, The Simpsons Tapped Out, which has managed to generate over $130million in lifetime revenue since its release back in 2012. To get it all so wrong now, therefore, makes the scenario seem so much worse.
— SpeedRacer Gaming [TeamSSG] (@xSpeedRacerx4) December 1, 2017
In fact, EA have had to watch the fuss over Battlefront II become one of the five biggest gaming controversies of the year, as well as watching on in pain as the game finds itself outsold by the latest Call of Duty release at a rate of five being sold for every Star Wars Battlefront II copy sold. Despite this, the EA stock price is still up by 34% compared to this time last year, and the company is clearly defying those who predicted that the company might start to fade away as mobile gaming started to rise. They do, however, need to show fans that they still care about them and don’t just see them as a route to making money.
Customer Care Lessons
While EA have clearly harmed their brand when it comes to the perception they have amongst gamers now, having to pull in game microtransactions as a way of attempting to repair the marketing damage done, they can learn from the actions of other big companies. Coca-Cola, for instance, often give away free bottles of their product, PlayStation let players try VR for free for a small amount of time, Hippodrome Casino have learned how to show customers they are valued by offering free slot spins and the chance to get welcome bonuses, and Nintendo have indulged in bringing back some nostalgia to their fans and even letting them enjoy some previously unreleased games. Perhaps the difference between these brands and EA is that the latter believe they are just too big to need to bother.
— Rick King (@RickKing16) December 12, 2017
This perception of being too big to fail is based on the fact that the company has an iron grip on sports games and are involved heavily in the world of mobile gaming, with the potential to make over a billion dollars in one quarter alone. Apparent attempts to understand the anger of gamers have been made by representatives of the company but the truth is that with sales down 60% compared to the launch of Battlefront I, EA need to start embracing more than just the appearance of being caring; they actually need to start to genuinely care.
The Road Ahead
Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that while the world of micropayment gaming or the mobile freemium model may well be the big winners in the world of gaming revenue, with companies like Plarium and Supercell using this to earn huge profits, it is clear that the balance has to be brought back into line if gamers don’t want to feel exploited.
Indeed, the beauty of the freemium model is that it allows a taste of a game without having to pay to get it, and the clear challenge is to strike a balance that means that gamers who have to spend some more money will be happy doing so because they will be able to enjoy a game they already love at its best. To strike this balance, EA will now need to look to a new strategy where more promotional money is spent on actually consulting with gamers to see what represents value to them. If they can do this, then not only will they not need to be so reliant upon the latest Star Wars film to help boost their appeal, but perhaps they won’t be compared poorly to other brands’ takes on the franchise, with LEGO and their take on the same brand providing a stark contrast to that of EA with its choice of over 200 characters.
LEGO® Star Wars™ Microfighters – Engage your hyperdrive and get ready to travel the galaxy!Play LEGO® Star Wars™ Microfighters’ and experience a fun, flying action game! Fly four iconic LEGO Star Wars ships like TIE fighters and X-wings as you collec… https://t.co/YIxQJgxhjx pic.twitter.com/jBXrBrhWaT
— Apps4AppleTV (@Apps4AppleTV) December 9, 2017
If EA can learn the hard lessons from this year, then they may be able to bounce back with a title that doesn’t end up being universally panned but instead recognized as a new way forward in the world of in-game payments, which would help to brand EA as being on the side of the gamer; not as the master of the person they are trying to rip off.