The makers of Star Wars Battlefront II will restore Emperor Palpatine to the game a little over a month after they removed him. That will cap several weeks of online discussion about how long an announced “hotfix” should take and just what a game studio and a fandom should do when the community manager is on vacation.
It’d be bizarre, if it weren’t so typical of how modern gaming works.
In a message posted to Battlefront II’s forums and subreddit early this morning, the game’s community manager, Ben “F8rge” Walke, announced the plan to bring Palpatine back and noted that the Emperor would return with lightning powers that can no longer target players through walls.
Fans had been waiting for this news for some time.
In a July 5 posting, Walke said the Emperor was going to be temporarily cut from the game. Fans inferred this was because a series of changes made to the character had resulted in game-breaking lightning powers. He said that the game’s creators at the EA-owned Swedish studio DICE were working on a “hotfix” and explained that such changes are implemented rapidly, though he could not provide a date for when it would be applied to the game.
On July 31, EA’s official Twitter account for its Star Wars games promised fans that Palpatine would be back. The Tweet’s top replies consist of snark and 280-character-limited eye-rolling. “Whoa Whoa Whoa You called this a Hotfix?!?!,” one user wrote. “It’s 4 weeks after you broke everything. This is not a hotfix.”
EA’s Battlefront games have delighted many players, but numerous business and design decisions, including a lack of content in 2015’s Battlefront and some time- and potentially money-wasting systems initially implemented in Battlefront II, have left the fanbase frequently in a state of irritation.
The most hardcore of modern gaming fans engage with the product and with the people behind it on social media. The most modern of gaming companies employ community managers like Walke who attempt to meet them halfway. Posting under his “F8rge” nickname, Walke regularly pops up in the Battlefront forums and subreddit to field questions and take the heat.
On July 16, with the Palpatine hotfix not yet implemented, Walke Tweeted from his personal account that he’d soon be going on vacation for two weeks. Fans noticed. He’s tagged enough in Tweets from Star Wars gamers that he surely knew they would. He mentioned in his vacation Tweet that he reps Battlefront and Need For Speed. The top reply thread to that Tweet is a person laughing about Battlefront not having a full-time community rep and then debating with Walke whether Walke gives sufficient time to the game. Walke engaged them, saying he knew how to do his job but also talking through the fan’s grievances. He made it seven replies deep before leaving that conversation.
For the last week or so, fans on the Battlefront subreddit lamented Walke’s absence. Many of them referenced Walke’s vacation and wondered why there’d been negligible communication from EA or DICE about the game in his absence. Some were polite. Some seemed pissed.
Yesterday, because modern hardcore gaming fans will keep track of such things, a Battlefront subreddit user posted eight “questions for Ben for when he returns to work.” Walke replied to them.
The first question was: “Did the hot fix take longer than expected? And if so, why?”
Answer: “Hotfix - combination of things. Some of the issues were problematic to solve, which pushed the date outward further than we would have liked. No excuses though, it’s not acceptable and rest assured I’ll be bringing it up.”
The seventh question: “Why did communication suddenly stop when you were on vacation? Are the devs not allowed to communicate with the community?”
Answer: “People are allowed to communicate.”
To another player who asked about the status of a Han Solo vest that was shown in an ad for the game but isn’t in it, Walke replied: “I’ve chased this, and chased it. Will chase again today.”
It’s unclear where the power sits in all of this. Walke works at and for DICE, so when he says taking so long with a hotfix is “not acceptable” and that he’ll “be bringing it up” it’s unclear what he can do more than relate fan anger about the wait to the people building the game.
It is clear that fans are understandably annoyed, though, and that Walke deals with them with impressive patience. That dynamic is in play in numerous gaming fandoms. The community reps for Ubisoft’s third-person shooter The Division, to name another, demonstrated cheer and occasionally offered apologies during the course of that much-patched game’s rougher moments in weekly video livestreams full of salty livechat from fans.
Given the constant updates today’s video games get, it’s inevitable that fans will get riled at games that are not as good as they seemingly could be just as it is occasionally horrifying how exercised they’ll get. Community managers like Walke are meant to, among other things, keep the peace.
Right before Walke’s vacation began, a fan on the Battlefront subreddit wrote a message urging other players to be patient. Walke replied in a manner that may have surprised some, might have been a Jedi mind trick or simply asking for trouble: “If you’re unhappy, you should never stop saying so - just do it in a constructive and respectful manner.”