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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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