With all the talk from EA recently around the idea of “games as services”, we’re certainly getting an interesting glance into that future right now. Star Wars Battlefront II should have been a slam dunk win for the publisher but – it seems that in typical EA fashion – they couldn’t quite help but draw controversy over their awkward decision-making process.
Specifically, gamers have taken offense to the idea that they’ll be forced to play upwards of 40 hours just to unlock Darth Vader. That’s the same Darth Vader that’s one of the most iconic villains of all time. In trying to defend the comment, EA’s Community Managers put forward the most laughable defense this side of Alderon;
“The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.”
This, of course, ignores the fact you can slap real money down and get your hands on Vader for an extortionate fee. So much for that “pride and accomplishment”.
It hasn’t taken long for websites to line up calling out the company, labeling them as “out of touch” and “anti-consumer”. Despite all the noise and bluster, this is typical EA doing what EA does. There’s nothing new or remotely shocking about what the company is doing here – it’s another page in their library of “business” driven moves.
It’s a business that’s worked wonderfully well for the company over the years and will continue to do so long after this latest fiasco is settled.
The problem with EA is that they’re so disconnected from the customers they create products for that they’re deaf to critique. So big and overarching that they don’t feel need to react to gamers knee-jerk reactions. Star Wars Battlefront II will still sell by the truckload and, while EA may miss out on some of the sales they might otherwise attract, the people who dive in and purchase Vader will more than make up for that shortfall. For every gamer who opts out, there’s still plenty who will pay up. It’s a mentality that only pushes them to carve up their AAA-titles more and more.
This ultimately grants EA the license to flaunt this arrogance. There’s an air that EA doesn’t feel the need to compete creatively with other studios, so long as revenue per game is high enough. Their franchises so ingrained in the wider culture that they can afford to do things their way, even if that way is hugely negative for consumers. Very few developers could get away with this kind of behavior and thrive – yet EA can do (and has done so for the longest time).
Don’t believe me? This is the company that took Sim City and Command & Conquer, two franchises that are as storied and beloved among their fans as any other top series, and reduced them both to industry laughing stocks. The decision to have “always-online” didn’t come from Maxis. It didn’t come from the devs behind Command & Conquer 4. It came directly from EA who wanted to ensure that piracy wouldn’t be a problem, even if annoyed paying customers along the way. That one decision killed Sim City 2013, the franchise as a whole and probably killed Maxis – a developer that’s been around since the late 1980’s. It also arguably killed the Command & Conquer franchise – a series instrumental in popularising real-time strategy games.
This is the company that took The Sims, one of its biggest franchises in gaming, and rushed development on its latest incarnation so it wouldn’t miss out on milking the franchise for DLC money. The Sims 4 arrived in 2014 in a horrifying state – killing the games momentum and damaging the franchise so much that three years later, it’s still reeling from the negative attention it received. Only now, three years after the damage had been done, will EA consider pushing a console port of the game out.
This is a company that’s swallowed up so many developers over the years and spat them out into nothing. Redwood Studios, Origin Studios, Blackbox Studios, Pandemic, Bullfrog, Remedy, Visceral Games plus many, many more. EA’s arrogant chase for money has seen them pillage, plunder and ruthlessly cull studio after studio in their ceaseless pursuit of profit. Has this pushed gamers away? Of course not, because EA knows that the majority of gamers don’t care so long as they get their FIFA and MADDEN fix.
The sad thing is, I could go on and on. Recounting the negative things EA has done over the years. The harm caused to the industry by their negative practices, the countless franchises they’ve destroyed over petty greed. The droves of developers they’ve put out of work because their studios no longer “made business sense”. Despite all these negatives, EA’s behavior in the industry hasn’t just been ignored – it’s been encouraged by gamers and their spending habit.
That’s ultimately why I find the current fuss around Star Wars Battlefront 2 to be pointless. It won’t change anything because gamers can’t stop themselves from supporting the company. Yes the shouts are loud and yes it seems dramatic now – but it doesn’t slow the beast down. Even if EA reverse course, they’ll simply move the goalposts. They’re adept at their craft and, if nothing else, know how to survive negative press.
The reality is that consumer annoyance over the state of EA and their use of paywalls means little in the wider picture. The Star Wars license is just another tool in EA’s arsenal to gaining more money. There’s no drive from EA to deliver a creative, fresh perspective on the franchise, instead, the focus is merely on discovering new ways to get money out of casual gamers pocket. With so many beloved licenses within, they can be as arrogant as they want.
Ultimately, that’s why there’s never a tipping point for EA. Despite everything they’ve done wrong, all their negative moves and the inability to seemingly learn from their mistakes – gamers rush back to placate them at the earliest chance.
Until this changes, why should EA?