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The problem with Titanfall's Burn Cards

Warning: I'm about to go off the speculation deep end, for a game that's still in beta. The Internet has dredged up nearly every Burn Card available in the Titanfall beta,as seen on CVG News. If you didn't partake in Titanfall's early access extravaganza that's been going on for the past week, here's the skinny: Burn Cards are items you'll randomly collect while playing, and they grant temporary benefits when activated (a la Call of Duty's deathstreaks). But there are a few things that worry me about the Burn Card mechanic--and they hint at some pretty unappealing possibilities that could be bubbling under Titanfall's sleek chassis.

First off, let's look at how Burn Cards actually function. You can equip three Burn Cards per match, and you can only use them once before they go away forever. If you die, the effects of the Burn Card--things like running slightly faster, having an upgraded version of a weapon, or reducing the wait before you can summon your Titan--go away. You have no control over which Burn Cards you get, because they're randomly awarded after each match, based on your performance.

Right away, this creates an imbalance between players, because some will have access to benefits that others do not. In Call of Duty, this is balanced via a limited selection of perks, all of which provide minor, permanent benefits at the cost of giving up the potential advantages of other perks (recent entries give you the full selection right away, letting you pick and choose what you want). Contrast this with Burn Cards, which--if you're horribly unlucky enough--may involve you never, ever getting the benefits you want.

Because your Burn Card goes away when you die, using them becomes an unnecessarily stressful situation. If you take a bullet to the head the instant you use your Burn Card, then ouch--it was a complete waste. If you get a few kills with an Amped Mag Launcher before getting fragged, you'll feel like you should've gotten more. When you aren't feeling the effects of a Burn Card, you'll wish you had one; when you do have one, you'll wish you had an unlimited supply instead of a finite, fleeting taste of greatness. And who could blame you--the Magic: The Gathering-style flavor text at the bottom of each card is totally sweet.

I'll say it again: this is all speculation, gathered from my limited time with a game I'm greatly anticipating. But what really scares me is the Spider Sense-like tingle I'm getting about microtransactions tied to Burn Cards. Nothing--I repeat, nothing--in official statements has indicated that this is a possibility. But randomized, highly beneficial boosts are a staple of the microtransaction model. Of particular interest is the Fast Learner card, which simply grants double XP. This has zero gameplay benefit during an actual match, but it's the perfect way to level up quick and acquire new gear in the process. That kind of convenience is what developers will happily charge money for, free of guilt or retribution from players complaining about imbalance.

Xbox One gamers are no strangers to microtransactions, seeing as they sprout up in seemingly every other game for the console. If microtransactions are indeed the master plan behind Burn Cards, it's entirely possible that we still wouldn't realize it; Respawn Entertainment managed to keep the possible existence of NPC monsters in their game under wraps until Titanfall was only a month away. Seeing Burn Card booster packs for sale would leave a bad taste in my mouth--and distaste like that can hamstring the excitement of an AAA shooter like Titanfall.

I can't wait until Titanfall finally launches, and I fully expect to be playing it a metric butt-ton at release. It's so fine-tuned to make each match feel like a riveting action movie; every kill, capture, and Titan I scored delivered the same overstimulating exhilaration as the scripted moments you see in most single-player games. But I fear that the existence of Burn Cards, and the effect they could have on moment-to-moment gameplay, could take away from that excitement. The last thing I want to think about when playing Titanfall--or any multiplayer FPS, for that matter--is how unfair my situation feels.

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21 comments

  • AgentSmith2518 - February 21, 2014 12:35 a.m.

    I don't see the cards as a problem because they ARE random. And, to be honest, they don't provide a HUGE advantage. Only slight advantages. And yeh, it sucks if you have a cool card, and then lose it because of an unlucky spawn, but that's the risk you take. It's just like a card game in my opinion, sometimes you risk using a card only for your opponent to have the EXACT card that stops it. I played the beta for a huge amount of time, and I never felt cheated by those with the cards, nor did I feel like they gave me a huge super advantage over others when I used mine.
  • Mogwai - February 20, 2014 7:57 p.m.

    The premise of this article is based on misleading information. I played the Beta for roughly 20hrs... burn cards sure did NOT seem random. When you completed challenges... like use one type of gun for X amount of time, or get X number of kills with it you unlock related upgrades like sites and magazines and burn cards that give you a charged version of that weapon. It was only Beta, and there were still enough players to ensure the teams were always closely rated. Ergo burn cards and upgrades were all on par for all pilots. I ended with like 25 unused burn cards... you dont use 3 a match... at least I didn't. And none of them are TOO powerful, and that's a good thing. I'd say on average people die 5 - 10 times during a match... you can only use up to 3 and if you do this, you're out of burn cards quickly. It's a good addition to the game IMO and nothing to worry about. I can't wait for this game.
  • Shigeruken - February 20, 2014 11:51 p.m.

    Some unlock based on based on challenges and level yes, but the some cards are "earned randomly" as confirmed by IGN's Ryan McCaffrey. http://www.ign.com/videos/2014/02/12/titanfalls-burn-cards-explained
  • The Mad Prophet - February 20, 2014 1:35 p.m.

    "Xbox One gamers are no strangers to microtransactions, seeing as they sprout up in seemingly every other game for the console" Wait, what? When did this happen? I haven't seen that at all in any game.
  • Shigeruken - February 20, 2014 11:40 p.m.

    Forza, Killer Instinct, Ryse. It a joke about the games published by Microsoft.
  • AgentSmith2518 - February 21, 2014 12:30 a.m.

    Check out Ryse, you can "pay" to get exp points basically, and the racing game (forget which one it is) does the same thing.
  • The Mad Prophet - February 21, 2014 2:46 a.m.

    I actually finished Ryse a couple of weeks ago and never noticed this. LOL. oh well, at least we're not being beaten over the head with it, like most mobile games these days. Of course, in those cases you're generally paying to skip the inevitable waiting involved. I finished Ryse in one sitting with no waiting for anything.
  • AgentSmith2518 - February 22, 2014 11:50 a.m.

    Agreed. I don't mind microtransactions, as long as you can get the same things by for free by just playing the game. I don't care if others get it faster than me.
  • db1331 - February 20, 2014 12:55 p.m.

    I'm not worried about the cards at all. If you earn them at the same rate you did in the beta, everyone will have access to some good ones. Even if they do become purchasable, there is no one card that will help a bad player who forked over $1 for a card beat a good player. I think it's a great system. I loved the beta, and can't wait to get my hands on the full release. This is the last round I played last night. It was one of those flawless rounds where pretty much everything goes your way. I got to go out on a high note, like winning the super bowl and then retiring: http://youtu.be/uZsupPj4oFs
  • tiagosouzacandido - February 20, 2014 3:53 a.m.

    War isn't fair.
  • Justlilme - February 20, 2014 1:17 a.m.

    Don`t forget that EA is also responsible for SWTOR`s MT model - hidden gambling, pretty much just like ME3.
  • Shigeruken - February 19, 2014 8:41 p.m.

    My problem with the burn cards is the same problem I have with every randomized unlock, I barely ever see any of the rare ones. In Battlefield 4, I have unlocked only one useful scope in 20 hours of gameplay. In Mass Effect 3, it took me months of grinding every day of the week to unlock a character that wasn't human. In Titanfall, I saw maybe one card of the highest tier of rarity after playing dozens of games in which I usually placed first.
  • wiitard07 - February 19, 2014 8:38 p.m.

    Respawn has stated that there will be no micro transactions, and many burn cards are awarded from challenges.
  • bx_superior - February 19, 2014 7:51 p.m.

    They already said they will not do micro-transactions for this game.
  • BladedFalcon - February 19, 2014 9:27 p.m.

    And Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto stated emphatically that they wouldn't release another version of the 3DS anytime soon back in 2012... Only to announce the 3DS XL version just a couple weeks later. This industry hasn't exactly been known for being trustworthy.
  • croganm - February 19, 2014 7:17 p.m.

    Well see, Respawn's community manager (Usually the person with a major say in micro-transactions) has explicitly stated that Respawn will NOT charge for burn cards, as it was meant to just satisfy one of the programmers who has always had a thing for Magic. So don't worry, Respawn is a company for the community. They learned the biggest key in business, which is to sell more for a little less (Talking about just the game and the amount of consumers who purchase the game) rather then sell a little less for more (Talking about charging for the game and burn cards, but having to sell less games due to that reason).
  • BladedFalcon - February 19, 2014 9:24 p.m.

    Yet the game is published by EA, arguably the most shamelessly greedy AAA publisher in the industry, and infamously known for abusing the micro-transaction model with games like Dungeon Keeper and Dead Space 3. And while not as infamous, ME3's multiplayer had a microtransaction system that worked very similar to how burn cards could be sold... I appreciate that developer didn't hesitate to deny that they would charge for them, but that doesn't mean it could never happen. Specially since we already know that EA HAS done dealings concerning TitanFall that the developers didn't necessarily want, such as when it was announced that EA sold Microsoft the rights for this first TitanFall game to become exclusive to MS consoles, and The director of Respawn immediately stated that it was beyond his call. I mean, I hope I'm wrong, the last thing I want is to see more games having this kind of shameless business model. But in this case, while I have no reason to distrust Respawn themselves, i DO very much Distrust EA, and until the game comes out, I can't be 100% sure that they won't pull a shitty underhanded move like that.
  • croganm - February 20, 2014 2:51 a.m.

    I thought Vince zampella stated he wanted to sell the rights to just one console? And EA has already had problems with respawn. Respawn has gone against what EA says by doing actions such as opening up the beta. So their relationship is iffy right now, we can only see how closely EA stays with respawn, and if they will soon just become that publishing company who makes money without a say in the game
  • Kwolf12 - February 19, 2014 6:48 p.m.

    One thing about the article that is a major flaw, there are some that are random when you win a match you get one random one. Most of the burn cards are rewards for completing challenges, and they are based on the challenge you complete.. The ones you're rewarded with are tied to the challenge, so if you complete a challenge for the smart pistol you will get an amped smart pistol card. This gets players burn cards for what they focus on using. So it isn't as much of an atrocity as you make it seem.
  • winner2 - February 19, 2014 6:47 p.m.

    Be afraid Lucas, be very, very afraid. You're right to fear this, I would not be surprised in the slightest. EA's publishing right? I'm pretty sure it's come up in the board room many times. It's a biiiiig IP, I'm sure they want to hit it big as hard as they possibly can.

Showing 1-20 of 21 comments

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