Battlefield’s “Premium” grind

EA has decided to bless Battlefield 3 (BF3) players on this post-New year’s weekend with a special event.  It’s called 2XP which translated to English means “Double Experience.”  It means what it says.  During the event, time spent playing BF3 this weekend will get you twice the experience points than normal.

Why should you care?  Well, Like most FPS games, the more experience you get the faster you rank up.  Higher rank has privileges like access to better weapons, equipment etc.

Just like most shooters, starting out in BF3 doesn’t afford you many frills.  “This is my rifle, this is my gun…” and that’s pretty much it.  If you plan to spend any time with it you’ll want to rank up as quickly as possible.  If for no other reason than to avoid being everyone else’s practice dummy.

Trust me, dying every 30 seconds is no fun.

So Double XP sounds like a good deal right?  Well, it would except for the part I left out.

See, BF3′s 2XP event is only for “Premium” players.  You know, those people who thought it was reasonable to effectively pay twice for the same game and get a few maps tossed in for good measure.  Initially the “Premium” Battlefield subscription offered all present and upcoming DLC  (maps) for the game as well as early access to it.

EA’s decided to sweeten the pot, however.  Along with the DLC comes other perks like special weapons, exclusive servers and of course our “2XP” events.

The problem with that is, as you play BF3 with “Premium” members you frequently find yourself outmatched not on the basis of their experience but their wallet.  Now you may be saying to yourself, ” So what, they paid for it so why not give them the perks?”

On a purely economic level that’s true but there’s a few problems with that.

First, BF3 has been offering DLC and special “shortcut kits” even before Premium was announced.  That means if you bought all the DLC and other upgrades separately you could pay twice the price of a “Premium” membership and still be left out in the cold.  So it’s not really a question of investment.  Second,  EA has effectively invalidated any investment you made outside of the “Premium” program.  That includes game purchases, time and effort because what you do as a “standard” player will never pay off as much as being in the “Premium” program.

Look, multiplayer games are nothing but an exercise in futility if you don’t take the gameplay seriously.  That involves a significant investment of time before you start reaping the benefits.  If it were a pastime that could be mastered in a few hours that would be the end of the story but BF3 isn’t like that.  It’s designed to be a time sink and uses the classic rank and skill tree formula.  That means the more you play the better the payoff.

Therein lies the problem.  In the course of building up your stats you’ll find that EA has made a conscious decision to discriminate against you if you’re not a “Premium” subscriber.  In doing that, you’re going to find it much more difficult to reap the rewards of your efforts.

Want proof? Then consider the following…

Play BF3 long enough and one day you’re likely to find one of your favorite servers has turned  “Premium only.”  It doesn’t matter if it only hosts the base game maps either.  You already know about the “exclusive” 2XP events.  Finally, let’s not forget entire skill trees and upgrades completely “un-obtainium” without “Premium.”

There are now two effective classes of BF3 player because of it.

EA has every right to turn a buck and heaven knows they take advantage of every opportunity, nobody denies them that.  The problem is one of bad faith and betrayal of a loyal fan base of the franchise.  Ultimately it has less to do with any one game than the EA’s business practices.  The best way to explain it is an analogy unrelated to gaming.

So here we go…

Imagine you and your friend walk into your local Chevy dealer and decide to buy Corvettes.  Being picky you decide you want a base model that you can later customize just the way you want it.   Your friend decides to get an upgraded model, say a ZR1.  Now you both  happily drive your new Corvettes off the lot and start to head home, satisfied with your purchases.

You both live pretty far from the Chevy dealer so you have to take the freeway home.  You know your friend’s Corvette is better than yours but you’re perfectly happy with your choice.  You both merge onto the freeway ramp but suddenly you see a sign that says, “ZR1 Corvettes only all others must exit.”

That seems a little strange but you get off the freeway and decide to try another way home but you keep running into that same sign, “ZR1′s only.”  Your friend’s oblivious to your dilemma and just speeds off by the way…

Frustrated you drive back to the dealership to complain that you can’t drive anywhere and nobody told you that would happen.  The dealer offers to sell you upgrades that can make your car just as good as a ZR1.  That should work, you think,  even if it costs me more.  So you give them the go ahead to do the work and take a cab home.  A few days later you get a call to pick up the car.  It’s all done and it’s just as good as a ZR1.

Happily, you take delivery, marvel at all the upgrades and speed off to show your friend your “custom” Corvette except you still can’t get on the freeway.  Your Corvette’s just as good as a ZR1 now but it’s not a ZR1 and forever after you’ll have to drive on dirt roads to get around because only ZR1′s are allowed on the freeway.

That’s how it feels to be slighted by EA’s “Battlefield Premium” subscription.  You may have already paid more but you’re still a second class citizen.

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