By any standards, the launch of long-anticipated videogame Star Wars: Battlefront II has fallen drastically short of the glowing reception that any firm in the industry would desire for a high-tech offering paired with a much-loved brand.

Following millions of dollars’ worth of R&D by developer Electronic Arts (EA), the product has hit the buffers with fans over one, glaring issue: in order to enhance their progress through the game, players must carry out real-money micro-transactions as they go so they can unlock characters and purchase new abilities and weapons. In that sense, the asking price for the game is merely the prelude to a much more extensive spending experience.

An official EA defence of the game’s quirks published on Reddit became the most down-voted post in the platform’s history – but controversy around Battlefront II escalated to fresh heights when regulatory and political figures in Belgium and the US proposed that the game’s transactions-driven structure amounted to a form of gambling. As such, they argued, the product may be unsuitable for children: treacherous territory indeed for the Star Wars brand, which was built on – and continues to serve – a youthful audience.

Evidence is mounting that the furore around the game is having a tangible effect on EA as a business: according to figures, the company’s stock price plummeted by 8.5% over the month up to 28 November, while those of its competitors Activision Blizzard and Take-Two rose by 0.7% and 5% respectively.

Interestingly, days before the game came out, Forbes revealed that Google retains the services of a ‘failure analyst’, tasked with crunching through the histories of products that haven’t hit the mark and devising new ways to innovate. How can leaders improve their organisations’ processes to limit the likelihood of product failure?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper wonders: “Is this really a story about product failure – where the solution is mitigation of risk through analysis, as per Google’s move to hire a specialist – or is it, in fact, about ethical business? Is it more accurate to say that is more about the risks that a business incurs by taking advantage of your customers, and trying to get something past them?”

Cooper says: “Products will fail. Despite our best efforts, no one can predict the future – a point that Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book The Black Swan excels at explaining. There are no guarantees. However, you must always benchmark the financial and time costs you incur through being incredibly careful and cautious against the potential rewards that could come from taking a risk – because those gains are often far more spectacular than those which stem from being very risk-averse. The other, major drawback of risk aversion is that it automatically prevents new and innovative products from getting out there.”

She adds: “While there are no clear answers here, there are certainly some effective guidelines: i) know your customers; ii) provide them with what they need ethically, and iii) always have some sort of portfolio approach to your projects so that there’s a Plan B to hand, and you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket.”

For further thoughts on how to evaluate risk, check out these learning resources from the Institute

Image of Star Wars characters courtesy of AKKHARAT JARUSILAWONG, via Shutterstock