I will admit that I haven’t been a fan of Electronic Arts for a long time. While I admit they make an occasional good game, most of their games are new versions of old games with small changes every year. This is just the start of my large list of issues with EA. It is time I address all of my concerns about EA in hopes that they might (although not likely) see this and turn things around.
Lets start with the biggest issue first. Games that EA makes annually (Madden, NBA Live, and pretty much every other sports game on the market) need to change radically. While games such as Madden have come a long way over the years and is still a fun game to play, it and other EA sports games are essentially the same game every year with a new roster, a visual improvement or two and maybe a new feature or two. Minor changes such as this do not make games in and of themselves. There are less changes in an EA sports game than an expansion for any other game I have ever played. If you are making less changes than is made in a simple game expansion, you should not be charging $60 every year for a new version of the game. Honestly, for the few changes that there are, anything above $30 is too much considering that is the price of most expansion packs for games. If you insist on making these small changes instead of going for a new experience in a new edition of a game, sell them as digital downloads on things like Xbox Live and the PlayStation Store. Doing this would not only save the consumer time and money, but it would cut out many of the production costs associated with a new game.
Next on my list of issues with EA is support, especially for older titles. As most gamers know, the support that EA provides for its titles is often pathetic. Sports games often have their online component shut down after only a couple years of being available and many pc based games never get the patches they desperately need. When it comes to long term support, Blizzard beats every other gaming company by far. To this day, Blizzard still releases patches to StarCraft which is 10 years old. Most EA gamers are lucky to get a years worth of support from an EA game. EA has numberous Command & Conquer games in need of a patch but don’t find it worth their time and effort to fix the problems with the games, even after they re-release them in a giant pack and are constantly packaging them in bundles. If you are going to continue to sell a game, you should continue to support the game, it is that simple. If EA patches a game any later than a year after a game is released, it is surprising. If EA wants to acquire loyal customers instead of drive more people to the ‘Boycott EA’ movement, this is something that it needs to start doing to gain a better reputation amongst the gaming industry.
Now, lets talk about DRM, the crowd favorite of all of the points I am addressing. If there is one thing gamers hate besides wasting money on a bad game, its having to deal with DRM on a likely bad game that they just wasted their money on. Earlier this year, EA released Spore, which quickly became the most pirated game of all time largely because of the heavy handed DRM placed on the game. The DRM issue sparked a huge backlash on various online sites such as Amazon which quickly had thousands of one star ratings in protest of the DRM. Unfortunately, EA did not learn their lesson from this. Instead, they just loosened the DRM restrictions on their next major game, Command & Conquer Red Alert 3. While some of the consessions were better than nothing, EA clearly still does not understand th headache that DRM causes legitimate customers. As Spore proved, DRM does little to prevent piracy and ends up hurting people who are willing to purchase the game. Assuming that everybody is out to steal your game just because a few people steal your game is a bad idea. I will admit that their move to Steam and not having DRM with it is a step in the right direction, but I think that has little to do with actually getting rid of DRM, which is what I will talk about next.
Until last week, it has seemed that EA has never really understood the digital download experience. Since many game purchases happen in store, EA never put a big emphasis on their own digital download software other than to bundle it with store bought games. Actually, it was probably a good thing that they never really pushed the product because never once, on any computer, could I ever get it to work. As of last week, EA will now be releasing their games on Steam. This is a move that I have dreamed they would do for a very long time. Digital downloads are great, especially if you are like me and have been burned by scratched disks in the past. I think if they put more emphasis on selling their products on Steam, it would greatly benefit them financially, especially since digital downloads cut out much of the production costs of selling a game at retail.
One of the biggest issues I have seen cause problems with EA lately is internal politics. The particular case I am referring to with this is the now canceled game, Tiberium (the new Command & Conquer FPS). Shortly after the game was canceled, team members started talking about issues with the team and why it was ultimately cancled (This is the announcement and the team members opinions are stated in the post comments). If you read the stories, it is clear that EA has problems with staffing and internal politics. When you have issues like this that kill much anticipated games and then have the team members air their grievences in the comments of news posts, you have a major issue that needs to be dealt with immediately. If you are going to make a quality product and do so in a timely manner, these issues cannot exist.
Before I talk about my final point, I wan’t to address the lack of creativity and willingness to try new things. EA has a bigger problem with this than most in that once they have a franchise that is known to make a lot of money, such as Madden, they stick to making new versions of the same thing instead of getting creative and making new franchises. While I will admit that not every game or franchise is going to be as popular as a Halo or Half Life, you never know what might be the next big thing if you aren’t willing to at least give an idea a try. I also find it kind of pathetic that some of the most unique gaming ideas are coming from one or two people that make homebrew games as a hobby. Eventually, gaming franchises will typically become old and boring until they turn into just plain bad games, the Sonic franchise is probably the best illustration of this. If you aren’t on the look out for the next big thing, instead of growing, you will die a slow death when the franchises you have depended upon for years become stale and don’t give consumers a reason to buy them.
While I may have a couple of other issues with EA, I have one last one that I really want to focus on, and that is EA’s closing of gaming studios that it acquires. EA has a history of purchasing game studio after game studio, only to shut the studios down not long after they are acquired. While I will admit that if a gaming studio isn’t profitable, it should be restructured or shut down, shutting studios down for virtually no reason other than to move teams to another location is just stupid. The best case for this that quickly comes to mind is that of Westwood Studios, creators of the Command & Conquer series, Dune and many other games. With projects in the works, EA decided to just shut down the wonderful studio for no apparent reason. While many of the Westwood employees were moved to EALA, and a few continue to make good Command & Conquer games, this move alienated thousands of fans, crippled the Command & Conquer gaming community (it still hasn’t recovered despite the new game releases) and basically allowed the Boycott EA movement to gain momentum. I also have this issue with Microsoft over the closing of Ensemble Studios, but I will save that for another blog post. While consolidation might be a good thing, it is not a good thing when it ends up hurting gamers and results in a reduction in game quality. This really boils down to a single point, if you want people to be loyal to a franchise, don’t kill the game studio that creates them , otherwise you are breaking that bond that consumers have with the game.
Those are just some of my issues with EA and how I think it can turn itself around into a major gaming company that few can compete with. If EA takes some of these ideas to heart, they can turn around their company and change public opinion about them in as little as a year or two.