Change.org’s Viral EA Petition (Amanda Mustafic Interview)
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The trajectory for EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II has been a wild ride, to say the least. This game, a sequel to the somewhat well-received Battlefront “reboot,” should have been a big deal. It had incredible visuals, tons of characters, free DLC, a story mode, and the usual quality gameplay from DICE. But a miserable focus on loot boxes caused Battlefront II to be the poster game for a global controversy. Governments got involved, and even the ESRB adopted new warning labels for in-game purchases. After months of effort put into rehabbing and reshaping the Battlefront II experience, the fanbase that stuck around found a game they came to love. Now the roadmaps are coming to an end, and these fans are pleading with EA for more content. 

A viral Change petition has been making the rounds, with over 50,000 signatures from Star Wars Battlefront II fans asking EA and DICE to continue making new stuff for their favorite intergalactic shooter. They’re even willing to pay for it, as long as the game doesn’t, in their eyes, get taken back behind the shed. Folks at DICE have even responded to the survey, saying there isn’t much the team can do to get EA to sign off on more content. Intrigued by the situation, we found the opportunity to speak to Change.org's Communications Manager Amanda Mustafic about the affair. Here is the conversation that followed...

CheatCC: Change is an intriguing website from the outside looking in. It seems to be an outlet meant to affect political change, with successful petitions ranging from getting hospitals to alter visitation policy during the pandemic, to almost watchdogging large companies taking dubious small business loans. Entertainment seems like an odd presence. Is there a precedent for success with entertainment-adjacent petitions on Change?

Amanda Mustafic: This is a great question. Change is an open platform, so we see a number of petitions started around what everyday people are passionate about. Sometimes that can be around political or social issues, but we also see them around huge cultural trends. For example, Dylan’s massive Game of Thrones petition asking HBO to redo the last season with new writers - it became a cultural juggernaut of its very own. While that was satirical and not meant to be successful, we’ve seen other major entertainment-based petitions find success.

The first one that comes to mind is a recent victory around a petition calling for Warner Bros. to release the Snyder cut of Justice League - with HBO Max announcing they’d exclusively release it on their platform, and yet another renewed cult favorite TV show Timeless for another season. In another remarkable story, fans petitioned to save The Expanse after it was cancelled by SyFy - and it won! It was picked up by Amazon, who cited the online fan response as a major motivating factor for them.

CCC: Specifically in video games, I seldom hear of Change unless a petition gains traction due to controversy. Often we’ll see petitions making demands of publishers or developers to change subjective things like story decisions, or something like that weird one about Far Cry 5’s ostensible portrayal of right wing extremists. This Star Wars petition has a more positive bent, with fans asking for more of something they like instead of a change or anger. Does Change as an organization have a process to consider certain petitions posted in bad faith? Or is it hard to make decisions akin to moderation unless there are more blatant ToS violations?

Amanda: Some of the most powerful campaigns in history arise from anger about inequality or unhappiness with the status quo - it’s how we affect change on a larger scale than ourselves, by tapping into that anger or passion and driving action through it. While it can play out slightly differently in the video game universe, the passion is still there - and there’s an element of consumer pushback as well, when a product lets players down. Controversy is really feedback.

However, Change.org does have a strong process to make sure any petitions that cross the line from activism or public pressure to bullying or harassment of an individual, or hate speech, get elevated to our policy team and removed if they violate our Terms of Service. We encourage anyone who uses our platform to report concerning petitions or comments - we take this very seriously. That said, we are an open platform - Change.org itself doesn’t take a stance on petition content or causes. We want to empower everyone to make the change they want to see in the world.

This petition definitely has a positive bent - both casual and dedicated fans love Star Wars Battlefront 2, and want to see it stay alive and active - so it’s been really wonderful to see all that energy driven towards positive feedback for EA. 

CCC: What role, if any, does Change play in communicating petitions like this? Does the answer differ for petitions in this space compared to petitions in more direct action or people-focused campaigns?

Amanda: I am a Senior Communications Manager with Change, so my job is to elevate petitions that are taking off on the platform and gaining in signatures - and letting reporters know about these stories. This petition hit 50,000 signatures in such a short period of time, so we knew it was really striking a chord with fans and was galvanizing support off the platform as well. I’m both a gamer and a huge Star Wars fan, so this one caught my eye on a personal level as well.

We’ve found there are three elements to a successful campaign, in the video game space or otherwise - timeliness, a clear target or theory of change (i.e. a pathway to victory) and grassroots support. In this case, the announcement by DICE/EA made this timely; EA, the decision maker, or the entity (corporate, government, or individual) that can make that change is clear, and there was a huge groundswell of public support. Put all of these factors together, and you get media attention - which puts pressure on the decision maker (in this case, EA) to respond. It may be a longer tail to get there, but there is a potential pathway to victory with sustained campaigning.

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CCC: Even within the entertainment industry, video games are peculiar in how secretive and walled off companies are from the rest of the world. Information is tightly controlled, and direct community-driven change is often powered through feedback channels, official community spaces, so on and so forth. An external campaign seems like an ambitious project to take on, to say the least. And with Star Wars, you’re dealing with Disney on top of EA. What does a foot in the door for this look like?

Amanda: I like to say there’s no such thing as an easy campaign. In this case, you’re right - there are numerous challenges. Whenever you deal with major brands with massive resources and an element of secrecy, it can seem like it’s an uphill battle for the petition starter. But that doesn’t preclude a win.

I’d love to provide an example in the pharmaceutical space, because that can seem like a very intimidating space to campaign in - and yet a petition starter’s campaign led to a massive victory last year. Teva Pharmaceuticals stopped producing a children’s cancer drug, Vincristine, creating a massive shortage that put the lives of children in danger. Liliana, childhood cancer survivor and oncology nurse saw this happening and knew she had to do something about it - the drug was the reason she had survived her own bout with childhood cancer, and she wanted to give more kids a fighting chance. Her petition garnered over 200,000 signatures and media coverage that led to Teva releasing a statement that they would restart production of Vincristine. The drug is still in production. 

The key here is that she kept pushing until the pharmaceutical company had to listen - the public pressure was intense. The same can be done for massive gaming companies and brands like Disney or EA. Targeted, strategic campaigning communicates to organizations that it’s in their best interest to respond to outside concerns.

CCC: This petition is particularly remarkable, as it’s a plea to continue a game that has been about as tarred and feathered as a game can get in this community. EA ate a whole murder of crows and then some for the whole loot box controversy, and now we’re seeing at least a certain sect of Star Wars fans flipping the script. What’s the take on this from Change, from the perspective of what this platform is intended for, and what the petition could mean for optics and achieving the mission?

Amanda: This case is fascinating, because the initial public pressure against EA all those years ago made an impact - EA was forced to make changes due to the outcry. As we know, EA decided to temporarily remove microtransactions from the game, and then made changes in future so that these microtransactions didn’t affect gameplay, and are instead purchased directly through in-game currency rather than through loot crates.

I would argue that EA making those changes led to the game’s later success and the strong fanbase they’re seeing today. Consumers like to feel heard - and petitions are a way to communicate concerns, feedback, and - in this case - even support. Petitions are a form of democracy - an online gathering that allows everyday people to speak out about the things they care about, whether that’s their favorite video game, or an issue in their local community. I hope we hear more from EA, and that we see them show respect to their fan base by responding to their concerns directly - even if they don’t change their mind. That’s the sort of thing that builds brand loyalty.

Cheat Code Central and Editor-in-Chief Jason Messer would like to personally thank Mrs. Mustafic for taking the time to speak with us during this interview. Special thanks to CCC’s lead writer Lucas White as well. For more info on this and other important petitions you may want to support, be sure to visit Change.org!

CheatCC Team
CheatCC Team
@cheatcc

www.cheatcc.com
Date: 05/28/2020

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