What a 'Star Wars' video game can teach the banking industry about customer expectations
photo illustration by EA
Consumers today have more platforms for voicing their displeasure with brands than ever before.
Mostly, they voice discontentment when they feel that a brand has not delivered on its promise. Every consumer wants to feel that they've received maximum value for the money they've laid out on products from trusted brands.
In fact, the perception of maximum value is what cemented that bond of trust with the consumer in the first place. But when perception fails to match reality ... well, you can expect to read about it on on Facebook and Twitter.
Consumers know that they have the power of social media on their side, and they will not hesitate to leverage it when they feel cheated.
The financial services industry should take notice of this growing trend as new products continue to flood the market at a rapid pace and banks, fintechs and other financisl service providers fight for space on consumers' smartphones.
For a guide to how not to handle something, consider what happened to Electronic Arts in the weeks before it released what was one of the most anticipated video games this year.
Gimme the loot (box)
If you're unaware of what's been happening in the video game industry over the past few years, all you need to know is that microtransactions have become a four-letter expletive for gamers during that time.
Some developers have begun to release $60 video games at retail that come with an unsavory surprise for gamers: microtransactions in the form of "loot boxes."
Popular with free-to-play mobile games, microtransactions (or in-game purchases) have slowly become a trend within blockbuster console video games, as well. But what EA did recently with the latest Star Wars game caused some consumers to outright revolt.
EA boasts some of the most coveted gaming properties in the industry, and it's the only company in the industry to own a license for Star Wars. Holding a monopoly on this franchise in this particular product category sounds like easy money, right?
After all, Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon spanning almost four decades, and fans of the franchise (myself included) hold any media associated with the Star Wars universe to incredibly high standards.
So, what did EA do? The company made the serious (and costly) mistake of attaching a lousy progression system to the multiplayer component of the Star Wars Battlefront II video game. For the uninitiated, the game immerses players in Star Wars battles and locales from the entire franchise universe. Cool, no?
The problem is that players needed to put in an awful lot of hours with the multiplayer component to unlock characters like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.
So, EA created a way for users to upgrade more quickly to those characters by letting them buy loot boxes. These virtual containers feature game upgrades that help players unlock iconic characters sooner with help from enhanced weaponry.
EA created this pay-to-win system on top of the game's $60 suggested retail price — unless you want a special edition of the game that can cost as much as $100.
Gamers revolted against this system in the worst way possible for a gaming company: They cancelled preorders.
Even after EA made changes to the system in the weeks leading up to the official release, putting less focus on the pay-to-win aspect of the game and more on play-to-win character unlocking, it still wasn't enough for gamers.
The highlight (or low point) of the controversy came when an EA executive hopped on reddit to explain why the company had created such a system in the first place. Reddit users obliterated the comment, making it the most downvoted of all time.
The situation got so bad for EA that Disney, the owner of the Star Wars franchise, finally stepped in and put the kibosh on microtransactions just hours before the game officially debuted. EA temporarily removed microtransactions as of Dec. 5. We're still not sure when, or if, they will return to the game.
At this point, it probably doesn't matter. To date, EA has sold fewer than 1 millioncopies of Battlefront II across multiple gaming platforms. By way of comparison, "Call of Duty," the popular military first-person shooter, sold approximately 5 million copies within a similar time frame.
What was supposed to be a sure hit for EA has turned into a dud for a company whose reputation with gamers was already shaky.
If you're a banking, fintech or payments executive reading this and not seeing the connection, come a little bit closer to the screen so I can help you understand this situation better.
The pressure's on
As I mentioned before, new companies are introducing disriptive products in financial services, fintech and related industries at a rapid pace. Some have fared better than others. And some of the well-farers have seemed almost invulnerable to criticism.
Uber comes to mind on that front. Despite a long list of transgressions since its debut in 2009, the company keeps chugging along as the dominant player in the ride-sharing industry. Not even a social media campaign, #DeleteUber, could stop its progress.
In the payments industry, I read horror stories all the time about users' bad experiences with PayPal, Venmo and various prepaid card providers.
RushCard immediately comes to mind. But remember all the hoopla around the prepaid Kardashian Kard introduced during the Wild West days of 2009? The Kardashian Kard came with a $99.95 fee just for the privilege of owning one, plus a $9.95 purchase fee and 12 monthly fees that totaled $7.95. After the first year, users had to pay a monthly fee of $7.95.
Can you imagine the backlash if Twitter had been a bigger platform while this was all going on? But even with the controversy, the Kardashian brand itself continued to thrive.
And here's another thing to keep in mind. When companies appear to be taking advantage of consumers, it gets the government's attention.
Again, if you remember the Kardashian Kard fiasco, Connecticut Attorney General, now senator, Richard Blumenthal, railed against the fees associated with the product until it was taken off the market.
EA and other companies now are facing scrutiny in the U.S. and other countries that are considering whether loot boxes should be considered a form of gambling. Keep in mind that many of these games — including Battlefront II — are rated "T" for teen.
Financial services executives need to continually weigh whether the value of a product matches the price the consumer pays for it. Additionally, even when a product, such as mobile banking, is offered free of charge, it's crucial to remember that consumers will still hold it to a high standard.
No financial service provider wants to be their industry's EA.
Will Hernandez has 14 years of experience ranging from newspapers to wire services and trade publications. Before becoming Editor of MobilePaymentsToday.com, he spent two years as the content manager for PaymentsJournal.com, a leading payments industry news aggregator and information hub published by Mercator Advisory Group. Will spent four years covering the payments industry as an associate editor for multiple publications in SourceMedia's Payments Group based in Chicago.