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Ex BioWare dev discusses EA’s “pivot” on microtransactions

It’s no secret that EA is pushing microtransactions a lot harder in recent years, with concern particularly surrounding Star Wars: Battlefront 2’s loot crate system. Ex BioWare veteran Manveer Heir recently opened up about his experience working with EA, shedding light on the company’s latest approach to post-game monetisation.

Just last week, EA released a statement on its closure of Visceral Games, a studio that was well known for its work on an unreleased single player Star Wars experience. This statement posed a “pivot” in the way that the publisher is set to handle its games, shifting the design to more multiplayer experiences.

This is apparently because of “fundamental shifts in the marketplace,” but according to Heir, “It’s definitely a thing inside of EA.” Discussing his time spent developing Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer during a podcast interview with Waypoint, Heir also delves into the more recent Mass Effect Andromeda and Star Wars Battlefront 2.

“It’s definitely a thing inside of EA,” he said, “they are generally pushing for more open-world games. And the reason is you can monetise them better. The words in there that were used are ‘have them come back again and again’. Why do you care about that at EA? The reason you care about that is because microtransactions: buying card packs in the Mass Effect games, the multiplayer. It’s the same reason we added card packs to Mass Effect 3: how do you get people to keep coming back to a thing instead of ‘just’ playing for 60 to 100 hours?

“The problem is that we’ve scaled up our budgets to $100m+ and we haven’t actually made a space for linear, good single-player games that are under that. But why can’t we have both? Why does it have to be one or the other? And the reason is that EA and those big publishers in general only care about the highest return on investment. They don’t actually care about what the players want, they care about what the players will pay for.

None of this really makes sense, as Heir goes on to discuss the potential to scale the pricing to suit the game. Waypoint mentions Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which came out at much less than full price and found its own market as a single player, linear narrative game.

“What’s really happening here is a really cynical view by EA, and you’re going to see this from other publishers as well, of saying ‘this stuff is dead, we need more of the Battlegrounds and the Rusts’.” This is explicitly shown in Anthem, to which Heir states is “not a traditional-looking BioWare game”

“If that’s what you’re seeing from a place like BioWare, owned by EA, a place where I worked for seven years; if that’s what you’re seeing from Visceral now closing and going to this other Vancouver studio; I think what it means is that the linear single-player triple-A game at EA is dead for the time being.”

“You need to understand the amount of money that’s at play with microtransactions. I’m not allowed to say the number but I can tell you that on Mass Effect 3 when multiplayer came out, those card packs we were selling, the amount of money we made just off those card packs was so significant that’s the reason Dragon Age has multiplayer, that’s the reason other EA products started getting multiplayer that didn’t really have them before, because we nailed it and brought in a ton of money. It’s repeatable income versus one-time income … I’ve seen people literally spend $15,000 on Mass Effect multiplayer cards.”

Lukcily, Manveer Heir has moved on to open his own indie studio, focusing on raising the money to fund a hard hitting project surrounding the destruction of black and brown communities, perpetuated by the war on drugs in cities by dominated by white supremacy.

KitGuru Says: The take-away from this is that studios invest more money into the unpredictable open-world game formula to incorporate more post-game monetisation, while declaring other markets dead without even attempting to re-enter it. I have faith that a new Star Wars single-player experience could reach the levels of Knights of the Old Republic-level fame if the company could just let it happen.

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  • Lucas

    Companies want to make money, and as long as people are willing to help at, this won’t change. Can’t really blame EA for that; they’re just taking advantage of a massive opportunity. And once people stop paying, they’ll lose it all if they don’t change.

    For great single player experiences, you don’t go to a major label like EA or Activision, and that’s fine with me.

  • BigJimbo

    ” ….the highest return on investment.” aka piss poor games aimed to get a handful of people addicted and drop a small mortgage on in game purchases…..also known as the FIFA franchise. I swear that FIFA series is what is behind this shift at EA rather than ME 3. ME3 just showed you could take the FIFA model to mainstream gamers.

  • Azure Crew

    As Jim Sterling said time and time again: publishers don’t want to make some money, they want all the money they can squeeze.

  • Nikolas Karampelas

    I blame the buyers. For everything, from pre ordering games (especially
    games with embargo on early reviews) up to the in game microtransactions
    and loot crates in full priced games.

    If people could think before spent and spent more wisely it could be better for all of us.
    (and not just in games).

  • mazty

    I think at this stage an EA embargo is needed as their attitude towards customers is abysmal.

    Plenty of single-player oriented games have found their way in the last few years:
    Skyrim
    Wolfenstein
    Hellblade
    Dark Soul
    Fallout

    The fact that EA just want to rinse customers for as much money as possible is an attitude that shouldn’t be easily forgiven.

  • SevTheBear

    That last part… FFS -__-‘

    Manveer Heir and his racist persona will not do his indie studio any favors

  • 96-06TSgt

    I was going to get BF2 on day 1 until this loot crate news came out. I just don’t have the time or desire to do a MMO style grind in a freaking shooter.

  • Hell, Skyrim is still popular. In fact, Bethesda is still getting a trickle of sales from older games that they made. All single player with not even a minor multiplayer element.

    Todd Howard has stated that they usually (at least conceptually) design a multiplayer for their games but end out cutting it before it even makes it into their games as their games work better as single player games. Each one of their games sells more than the last one despite remaining singe player only. So much for single player being dead.

  • At least, for all their faults, Square Enix is a major label that has not given up on single player experiences.

  • Lucas

    True, although with “only” a billion in revenue, they’re far behind the likes of Activision (6.6), EA (4.8) and even Ubisoft (2.9).

    But yeah, there are others in that league with an SP focus: Take-Two comes to mind; SEGA also still makes plenty of SP games.