In case you've been living under a rock or possibly kept away from all of it, Battlefront 2's launch hasn't exactly gone swimmingly.
Quite the opposite, in fact. The inclusion of loot boxes in the latest Star Wars title has sparked a massive backlash online, which has now gone all the way to the UK's House Of Commons, the Belgian Gaming Commission and legislators in Hawai'i speaking out against it - not to mention the fact that it's having a knock-on effect on sales. According to the most recent figures, physical sales - that's over-the-counter in your local shop - are down by a whopping 50% on the first game.
So, first of all, what exactly is a loot box? Essentially, it's a randomised in-game item crate - that can contain either a character, a weapon, a ship, a map or a combination of all of these - that you pay money for. Using the in-game store, you buy a loot crate and you get access to a new item. The process is nothing short of predatory, and Battlefront 2 shipped to stores with a number of well-known characters and ships unavailable to play without purchasing them in a loot box. One figure that's done the rounds is that one would need to devote 40 hours of gameplay in multiplayer in order to be able to access one character for free.
40 hours. Just to put that in perspective, you could easily work your way through the main quest in Skyrim within 30 hours. Or you can just pay some money and get access to the character straight away.
The Belgian Gaming Commission is currently investigating whether or not loot boxes can be defined as gambling, and is currently debating whether or not regulating needs to be introduced to protect children. Meanwhile, Chris Lee, a member of the Hawaiian House of Representatives, made public statements two days ago declaring that Battlefront 2 was "a Star Wars-themed online casino designed to lure kids into spending money," and that legislation could be enacted in Hawaii "which could prohibit the sale of these games to folks who are underage in order to protect families, as well as prohibiting different kinds of mechanisms in those games."
There is, however, debate on whether or not loot boxes can actually be defined as gambling - and those who disagree with Chris Lee aren't exactly quiet about it. As of writing, Lee's Wikipedia page has been vandalised. Meanwhile, EA - the studio behind Battlefront 2 - have responded to the backlash against loot crates vigorously. In a statement given to Gamespot, EA said that "(the) crate mechanics... are not gambling," and specifically stated that "(a) player’s ability to succeed in the game is not dependent on purchasing crates."
What's more, the controversy surrounding all this is beginning to have an impact on EA's financial health. Since the game debuted on November 17th, the stock price has gone from $111.60 a share the day before its launch to $107.32 as of writing. Whether the controversy surrounding loot boxes has anything to do with this tumble in its share price isn't exactly clear, but EA's reputation - which wasn't the best with players to begin with - has taken another beating. In a statement released to media on the day of the game's release, DICE General Manager Oskar Gabrielson confirmed it was turning off all in-game purchases for the moment and would be reinstated "only after we’ve made changes to the game."
What those changes are going to be remains unclear, but the fact remains that loot boxes are divisive and controversial - and will likely remain that way for the time being.