Maintaining balance in a free-to-play game is no easy task. The free-to-play sales pitch goes something like this: "You can play the entire game, see every map, and get every upgrade without paying a cent." The truth of the matter is a bit more complicated: "You can see every map and get every upgrade sooner if you pay."
Last month, EA's "EAsy" division, which runs the free-to-play Battlefield Play 4 Free, elected to lower the damage of paid in-game weapon add-ons in the interest of balancing the game. Users were justifiably angry that the in-game items they had paid for had been taken away, particularly as they were offered no refund.
EAsy explained their actions in a December 20th post on the game's official forums (The linked-to thread is the original thread and has now been closed to further discussion. A new thread has been opened here):
At the start of this month, we released weapon customisation, an update that gave players the ability to personalise their arsenal as they saw fit. During this update we removed all "Elite" and "Veteran" primary weapons and in their place owners of these weapons were given new weapon attachments named "Legacy" items, that they could add to their guns.
As some of you may have already noticed, these "Legacy" items have made these weapons too powerful, significantly affecting the balance of the game which we did not foresee. So in an effort to restore balance and an enjoyable experience for everyone, we are eliminating all "Legacy" attachments and removing them from the game.
Existing owners of "Elite" and "Veteran" weapons (a.k.a "Legacy" attachment owners) will still get something in return, as we will replace your existing base weapons with new, unique, "+3" versions. These "+3" weapons are more powerful versions of the current base weapons with slightly increased stats and can still be upgraded with the full catalogue of customisation items.
We value our community and your experience with the game is our top priority. We know it's not fun to feel like you can't win, and we know it's not fun to feel like there's no challenge. We've taken these steps to help ensure that we are delivering the most enjoyable gaming experience possible.
After that post, the forum erupted; it closed at 319 pages of upset posts. To purchase weapon add-ons, users must convert real dollars into "Battlefunds," which are in turn used to unlock weapon and kit upgrades in both Battlefield Play 4 Free and Battlefield Heroes. 700 Battlefunds costs $US4.99, and pricing for items runs from under 100 Battlefunds to a few thousand, depending on the item in question. According to the official Battlefunds info page, "Battlefunds have no monetary value and do not constitute currency or property of any type."
In an email to Kotaku, a member of the game's community laid out the gist of the user complaints:
While it is understood that online games have specific Terms of Service agreements and the users are bound to the verbiage outlined within, EAsy has taken to very distastefully methods in taking the gaming public's money and offering a sub-par product in return. While much talk of litigation of some form or another also rages on, there is still no clear cut explanation as to the legality of EAsy's action in this instance.
That said, this is a stain on the bigger shoulders of EA, and I don't believe it is one that they care about at this point. This seems to be very similar to the issues that arose when Battlefield: Heroes was vastly altered and outrage at the changes flooded the forums.
He is referring to the similar changes that were made to another of EA's free-to-play Battlefield games, Battlefield Heroes. As our own Luke Plunkett reported back in December 2009, the publisher made sweeping changes to the Battlefield Heroes online store and in doing so risked ruining the game.
Today, representative VitalBullet (the EAsy spokesperson who posted the initial forum post) posted an official response, announcing some changes to the +3 weapons in reaction to fan discontent. That response is as follows:
As you all know, we recently removed "Legacy" attachments from Battlefield Play4Free as a way to introduce a better level of balance in the game. We appreciate all the feedback that you've been giving our team since this change and we assure you, this was a tough decision and not an easy one to make. That being said, we believe that it will deliver the most fun and enjoyable gaming experience to all players and as such these changes will remain.
In the spirit of continually improving Battlefield Play4Free, we are listening to your feedback and responding. Over the next few weeks, we will be implementing several community requested changes to the "+3" weapons:
Damage will be increased across all ranges of +3 weapons
(Currently +3 weapons do 2 additional base (body) damage over all ranges compared to their non +3 counterpart. This will be increased to 3 addition points of damage)
Base ammo count will be increased across all +3 weapons
(This will vary depending on the weapon and the weapon type)
In addition, we will be making some changes to currently imbalanced boosters (for example, the Mortar Strike and RPG Boosters).
Some users are still unhappy. In an FAQ at the bottom of the above-linked post, they have clearly informed that there will be no refunds for purchased weapons as per the Battlefield Digital Services Agreement. Some users claim that the accuracy of the +3 weapons is a bigger problem than the now-increased damage. User EgoPrimez writes, "With this move you are admiting that you consciously planed campain of false advertising of your products with goal to rob customers." User Shafa asks, "What can I do with this if I cant hit anyone?"
When it comes down to it, most users simply feel that they paid for something and then had it taken away with no warning. As user Septuagint puts it, "If someone steals 100.00 dollars from you and offers to give back 20.00... Would u be happy?"
When contacted for comment, an EA representative directed us to the updated, closed forum thread and its included FAQ. Kotaku will be following this story and will update with any new developments.