675 thousand voices cried out

Age of the Geek Column: Well, that answers that question.

For the last couple weeks I've been pondering what it would take to bring Disney to heel. What level of consumer uprising would be required to make the all-encompassing media empire take notice?

The answer seems to have finally come in the form of Disney bringing the hammer down on Electronic Arts, the exclusive publisher of Star Wars video games.

As you may remember from a column last month, EA's "Star Wars: Battlefront II" made the list of notable offenders for abusing their audience's love of the Star Wars franchise to implement one of the most egregious uses of a microtransaction system in mainstream gaming to date.

For those that need a refresher, here's how it works. "Star Wars: Battlefront II" is a full priced action game that focuses largely on multiplayer battles where you and 39 other players re-enact famous battles from the Star Wars universe. If you want to be a Rebel soldier fighting off the Empire at Hoth or a Separatist droid rampaging across Naboo, this is the game to do it.

As you play the game you can earn credits, which can be used to buy loot crates. These crates give you a random assortment of upgrades and new abilities for your characters. Want to give your Stormtrooper a fancy grenade to throw, you'll have to hope you unlock it.

More importantly though, hero characters are also locked behind the micro-transaction system. Fan favorites like Darth Vader aren't available right off the bat. You'll need to sacrifice a hefty chunk of your in-game currency in order to unlock the Sith Lord.

A Reddit user did the math and calculated that it would take roughly 40 hours of play to unlock a single Skywalker.

Or, you can use a special code. That code being your credit card number.

This is, of course, the intent of the system. You deliberately hobble the natural in-game progression in order to manipulate players into shelling out cash to bypass it all together. It's been the modus operandi of free-to-play games for years now, but putting that system in a game that already costs a minimum of $60 is a new level of sinister.

EA, attempting some damage control, tried to convince their disgruntled customers that the intent of the microtransaction system was to "provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes."

To say that the gaming community didn't buy that sentiment would be an understatement. The post from EA is now the most downvoted comment in the website's history. With more than 600,000 people piling on, the PR problem turned into a full blown disaster.

In response, EA rapidly slashed the credit cost to unlock characters by 75 percent, but that seems to just be a band-aid on the lightsaber wound. Word has it that Disney, not thrilled about their billion dollar franchise getting bombarded with negative press weeks before the upcoming movie, directly intervened. Mere hours before the game officially launched, it seems that Disney forced EA to shut down their microtransaction system all together until either they figure out how to do it right, or at least until the heat dies down.

With luck, EA will use this time to tweak their progression system into something that doesn't take advantage of players, as it should have been to begin with. Who knows what they'll finally come up with, but it should at least be better than what was in place before.

It's an amazing turn of events, if only because it seems that gaming publishers have finally crossed that tipping point with their customers. After all, it's not like EA just came up with predatory microtransactions out of nowhere. They've been phasing them in for years, met with little more than disgruntled sighs from consumers as they opened their wallets.

The lesson here is that game developers, and this is true for any large business, are never going to be the ones to say, "OK, that's enough." Customers need to vote not just with their words, but their wallets.

EA has been named the "Worst Company in America" multiple times over the years and while they've acknowledged their reputation, they've done nothing to change the behavior that earned it. With dollar signs in their eyes, they've pushed that line again and again. Only pulling back when their bottom line was threatened.

It shouldn't be this way. It doesn't have to be this way. But it is.

Electronic Arts will push and push until they go over the line, then tempers will explode and gamers will push back. Then we'll all do it all over again. It's an exhausting waste of energy that is overall detrimental to the industry, but until gamers collectively draw that line in the sand and truly hold developers accountable, that's the way it's going to be.

Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and is glad he has Super Mario Odyssey to occupy his time instead.