Microtransaction outrage – A case of information cascade

On the 11th of November a highly anticipated video game called Star Wars: Battlefront 2 was released. This is a game that was known to have implemented something called “microtransactions”, a feature found mostly in games that are free-to-play. Microtransactions refer to having the ability to buy various items within the game, some of which affect gameplay and some that don’t. Like I said earlier, microtransactions are usually found in free-to-play games as their main income source, but they have also been found in other full priced titles such as Overwatch, Counter-Strike: GO, etc. But in those cases, the items one could buy were simply cosmetic, not affecting gameplay. In Battlefront 2 one could spend real money on crates in-game which would contain things like weapons, abilities, and credits, the currency which is used to unlock iconic characters such as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. Credits can also be obtained through normal gameplay, however the prices of the characters people would want at the time the game launched were as high as 40,000 credits. To give an idea of how much that is, a Reddit user calculated the rate of which one would gain credits through gameplay. The average match would grant you 275 credits, and the average match duration is 11 minutes and 9 seconds. It is apparent that it would take a quite some time to acquire enough credits to unlock just one hero, however the other option, which is to spend real money for the in-game currency, is clearly much faster and more painless. This is at the crux of why people are very unhappy about the game.

On the 13th of November a Reddit post regarding this issue received a response from Electronic Arts, the publisher of Battlefront 2. EA’s reasoning for the gratuitous amount of time required to unlock these characters was “The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.”. The response was very clearly not well received by the public, as it went on to shatter records as the most downvoted reddit post in history. At the time of writing it is at 680,490 downvotes. It did lead to EA reducing the cost of the expensive characters, but that would not be quite enough to calm people down.

I believe that this could be a case of “information cascade” or “herding”. Information cascade occurs when people connected in a network influence each other to make a certain decision, or to revoke their current decision to make a new one that is more in line with what other people are doing. Even though it is in a way about mimicking other people’s behavior, it is not without reasoning. It happens through making rational deduction from limited information, however it can also happen through social pressure.

The reason I believe this to be a case of information cascade is because EA’s response didn’t break the previous record of most downvotes by a small margin, in fact the previous record only had 24,333 downvotes, breaking the record by 656,157 downvotes. Such catastrophic feedback is sure to deter potential customers, or dissuade current owners of the game from continuing their support of the game. Like the concept of information cascade tells us, if a large group of people voice their concerns and make it clear that one should not support certain behavior, people who are new to this situation could quickly be swept up and decide to follow the crowd. This response garnered an incredible amount of attention and many people have decided to cancel their order of the game, or refund it due to this, and the general attitude towards EA on social media and forums like Reddit has plummeted. Many video game media outlets have written about this situation, but it has also drawn the attention of outlets such as BBC. Would this whole microtransaction debacle have garnered as much attention as it did if not for this one response that broke records? How much has this affected the sales of Battlefront 2? Will this even affect future products from EA? I find these questions to be very interesting, as well as difficult to answer. But I think it is safe to say that people were not quite as malleable as EA possibly believed.



D. Easley, J. Kleinberg, Networks, Crowds and Markets.