EA are a controversial company – a divisive one that have created ripples throughout the gaming industry with both inspired and also seemingly illogical decisions. In this article two AMH writers Paul James, and Sean Hawkins will discuss what EA have done right, wrong, and where they need to go from here. Read on
Paul James: Many gamers over the last decade have built a hate-hate relationship with EA, but it never used to be this way, what has changed, why does EA get the hard time and abuse that it gets and is it all necessarily warranted? AMH gaming reviews Sean Hawkins and Paul James discuss in this, our first conversational piece.
So Sean, why is there so much public hatred towards EA?
Sean Hawkins: The hatred towards EA stems from many places, but the first and most obvious one is that as a subculture, “the internet” (and by extension Gamers on the internet) needs a villain. Someone for everyone to band around to point at and say “They are evil.” There was a time it was Activision, and before that people were against Steam for their DRM policies. The people want a villain.
That being said, EA’s business choices over the last few years have been less about making amazing games, but instead shoehorning in monetization strategies in many successful franchises (see Plants VS Zombies, NFL on the iPhone, Dungeon Keeper). There’s also the Day One DLC debacle, the past problems with Online Passes, Killing Westwood, Forcing Multiplayer, and the whole Origin debacle.PJ: I certainly agree with your point about the people needing their villain, and EA have painted a target on their own backs. No doubt EA has made a few major mistakes over the past few years, Dungeon Keeper cuts deeply, and the server issues surrounding Battlefield 4 and Sim City have been awful, but I don’t see the issues of Day 1 DLC and Online Passes being an EA exclusive problem, in fact most other publishers have been supporting these features for a while too (though EA probably got the ball rolling).
Despite some obvious missteps, I’m quite happy with what EA have delivered this generation, Dragon Age, PvZ, Mirror’s Edge and Brutal Legend to name but a few, and they seem keen to continue this over the next generation with TitanFall landing in this past month. They even took the Mass Effect franchise off Microsoft’s hands allowing them to bring the games to Playstation fans who otherwise would not have had access to the trilogy.
SH: Dragon Age was good, but Dragon Age 2 seemed rushed and a blatant cash grab. PvZ is a good franchise, and I’m looking forward to playing Garden Warfare, but PvZ 2’s hamfisted micro transactions ruined what could have been a good game. I have nothing negative to say about Brutal Legend, stemming from my love of Tim Schafer and Metal (insert Guitar Riff here).
I think a major problem people have with EA is the fact that they have become complacent. Every year there is the same amount of games that come out that are exactly the same as the previous year’s iteration (See: Madden, Need For Speed, Fifa, etc). It’s the Malibu Stacy with New Hat problem. Of course those games will sell because of the new Hat, but they aren’t doing anything for improving games. Thank goodness we have indie games on Steam, something you won’t see on that DRM riddled nightmare called Origin.PJ: As far as Dragon Age 2 is concerned – as with the Mass Effect 3 controversy, I’m not sure that this was an EA influenced outcome, Bioware have owned up and taken full responsibility for the flaws of that game.
As for the sports games, I think that is an unfortunate result of their popularity. FIFA and Madden for example target a very non-core gamer demographic, and I think their priority is with making a polished experience, rather than reinventing the wheel each year, with that said though, I was pleasantly surprised with FIFA 14 for their changes to fundamental mechanics that really altered the way you play it.
They deserve to get a hard time for their mistakes, but there are a number of good deeds that the public are too quick to dismiss – Mirror’s Edge and TitanFall for example.
SH: Mirrors Edge, while a very very VERY good game, has always been on the back burner, instead focusing on other “safer” games. They’re allowed to, those games are going to be the ones that will make the fat stacks of cash. For the record, I don’t HATE EA, I just feel like a disappointed parent: They have the ability to show amazing potential, and the ability to change the way we do business with video games, but always end up either failing miserably (see Battlefield 4’s launch) or being spectacularly greedy (see Dungeon Keeper). Is it wrong to want a company with such a dominant market share in this industry to try and innovate, rather than replicate?
EA of the 1990s was a dominant force: Populous, Wing Commander, Ultima, Command and Conquer, even System Shock 2 were released by EA Games. These were games that were influential to Video Games growing as a medium. Command and Conquer’s incredibly cheesy FMVs, Wing Commander’s use of Mark Hamill, System Shock 2’s perfection, all things that EA brought to the dance, and succeeded! Now it’s just regurgitating similar games in the dash for cash. I miss that EA. The EA that had seven syllables when you started a sports game. The EA that helped grow PC gaming as a whole. Where’d it go?PJ: For as brilliant as Mirror’s Edge was, the reason it hasn’t gotten a sequel until now was due to a lack of sales, put simply, the gamers didn’t buy it and therefore EA couldn’t justify the expense of a sequel.
I agree with you that 1990s EA (depsite some current day winners) was the company at their prime and I see the John Riccitello departure and the installation of Andrew Wilson (Yay an Aussie!) as an excellent move, one that, whilst not perfected yet, has already shown signs of EA heading in the right direction once more.
I guess the simple question as we wind this down is – where to from here? What does EA need to do to either:
A) Return to the glory days?
B) Forge a new path that simultaneously returns them to consumer favourites?
SH: I almost feel like the little girl in the mexican ads: Why not have both?! I think there’s a possibility for EA to forge a new path, and also pay homage to the past. That being said, they would need to avoid the mistakes of the previous few years, when it comes to reusing old franchises. Consumers would love a new Command and Conquer game, but as long as you didn’t need to use real world currency to buy a GDI Commando.
PJ: I think we can certainly agree on that, the issue that EA, like all other publishers have had over the last few generations is an over-reliance on existing successful franchises. An extra effort needs to be put into either creating new IP or changing the game with existing franchises in order to avoid them getting stale.
The engines that their developers have been creating are extraordinary (such as Frostbite) and perhaps outsourcing them to other developers will generate some extra cash flow allowing EA themselves to explore new pathways in their games – this means investors are still happy financially, while the masses get an exciting range of games to play as well.
Paul James Sean Hawkins