EA Are Killing Off Their Corrupt Tactics – But Maybe Not
EA are doing things. That sentence might make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, but don’t worry. So far, they’re actually mostly good things.
I know. Almost unbelievable. But it’s true. Battlefield 1 came out to the best ratings the series has earned since Bad Company 2. Now, Titanfall 2 has also earned stellar ratings, and the really bloody scary part is that both of these games have received such high praise in no small part due to their single-player campaigns. In an EA-published shooter.
If you haven’t literally evacuated your bowels out of disbelief already, just wait. Polygon said that the campaign for Battlefield 1 “doesn’t overstay its welcome or run out of ideas.” And I actually fully agree with them – a sentence I expected to write about as much as “Trump is running for president”, but apparently stranger things have happened.
If that didn’t blow your mind, this might; Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 both are completely devoid of microtransactions. There isn’t a 5 dollar gun skin in sight. Everything in the game right now is earned by playing the game. Remember that? Remember unlocking characters in fighting games by finishing it with other characters? I ‘member. Titanfall 2‘s website even has this as a selling point, which is somehow both very sad and quite uplifting at the same time, in a statement promising that all post-launch game content will be completely free to purchasing players.
Frankly, it’s incredibly refreshing, and for this to be coming from an EA-published title is quite an inspiring change in the industry these days. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve not gotten rid of all the nasty bugbears just yet – Battlefield 1 still comes with a season pass for content we know nothing about yet – but as a step in the right direction, it’s at full stretch.
So why do I feel so anxious about it?
Because it’s EA. Let’s go back in time a little bit. It’s funny how the names of publishers and developers were adapted into synonyms in the videogames industry. Ubisoft is shorthand for ‘big and beautiful world, gutted by the sparse and dull missions inside of it.’ Capcom is basically an adjective for any game that’s flawed but fun, and eventually gets ported to the PC on a budget of twenty dollars with a locked framerate and no audio.
And then there’s EA. Electronic Arts, once one of the best names you could see when you booted up your brand new sports title, responsible for an absurd amount of Playstation 1 and 2 nostalgia (it’s in the game!)
In 2012, EA became shorthand for Literally The Devil. Voted Worst Company in America in 2012 – followed up by a second ‘win’ in a row in 2013 – EA were, at best, shady, and at worst, almost comical in their impression of LexCorp. At least the gaming community gave them exactly what they deserved for their actions in terms of overwhelmingly negative feedback. Among the likes of the big gaming sites and personalities like TotalBiscuit, PC Gamer, and Jim Sterling, EA’s name was mud, and this is almost definitely the foundation of this new leaf in EA’s moral compass.
But new leaf or no, we can never forget, because one good deed does not a good man make. What’s important to note of the abuse they got is that they deserved it and they continued deserving it for years in the wake of millions of voices begging them to have a little heart, but you probably already know that. This wasn’t the old ‘entitled gamer’ trope raging against a big name in the industry for a couple of mistakes. No, this was the natural and righteous reaction of true fans of a medium that have had their passion perverted and taken advantage of by big business tactics. Let’s take a brief trip down memory lane and vomit as we remind ourselves of their sins.
The Grand Sins of EA
- EA were responsible for one of the most heinous money-grabbing plots to ever hit the industry, the online pass – also known internally at EA as Project Ten Dollar. Want to buy a game preowned, like you always have? Tough shit. Better pay EA ten bucks for the privilege of playing it online. Want to borrow a copy off a friend for like, two days? Again, pay up. Billed as a simple means of DRM – protection against piracy – the online pass, first introduced for Mass Effect 2, quickly became the filthiest phrase in gaming, and every triple-A publisher took a little piece of that pie. Thankfully, it was reasonably short-lived due to the rise of digital downloads solving the pesky problem of friends sharing their games, but if physical media had stayed prevalent, we might well still be dealing with it today.
- Not to be confused with the online pass, the Season pass was another favoured trick of EA, and to an extent, still is. EA didn’t invent this one, as it was popularised by Gearbox’s Borderlands and Rockstar’s L.A. Noire, but man, did they run with it. To this day, season passes are still a thing, a lump-sum purchase that gets you all of the ‘future content’ planned for a game, but you’re not allowed to know what that content is. Definitely no room for bad purchases there, surely? Season passes are still screwing customers today – see Batman: Arkham Knight. Every Battlefield game since the third in the main series has come with one of these parasites.
- Microtransactions! Remember the awesome Plants vs Zombies? EA made a sequel! They killed it. Unless you like grinding the same level over and over again, better bust out that wallet and pay for access to the next area. The Sims? Loaded with the things. The worst offender of all, though, might well be Dungeon Keeper. The summation of everything bad about mobile games, with gameplay as support for the moneymaking. Unless you enjoy watching absurdly lengthy timers go down, you’d better keep your credit card on standby. Dungeon Keeper, coincidentally, leads us nicely onto my next point…
- Broken hearts and broken games. This is possibly the most grievous sin committed by EA. The most unforgiveable, the most damaging in the long-run. It’s also something of a knock-on effect of all of the above, and two of the most egregious examples were those of Dungeon Keeper and SimCity. Dungeon Keeper got the finger in 2013, turned into a naff mobile title, breaking the hearts of millions who’ve been holding out hope for a true sequel. Similiarly (get it?), SimCity was the arbitrarily-named next installment in the Sim City series and I was hyped. A lot of people were. It looked gorgeous, had some great ideas, and most importantly, it was just more Sim City to play, after the riotous success of Sim City 4.10 years later, the game we’d waited for for a decade… was dead. It was essentially broken. They had jammed multi-player element into the heart game, ostensibly as a way of forcing people to play their traditionally single-player city builder online. If you weren’t online, you couldn’t play it. And in the first few weeks, no one was online, because the servers weren’t online, as EA had somehow underestimated the server load, despite knowing exactly how many people were going to be playing it because of pre-orders. We paid £65 for our deluxe editions (another EA standby) and then we couldn’t play the game we’d bought. When we could, we found ourselves playing a game that just wasn’t as good as the last one, with maps a quarter of the size and considerably less content than Sim City 4. EA did eventually allow for offline play, possibly one of the first good steps they’d taken in the awful year of 2013, but it was too late. SimCity was DoA.
And here we are. America’s worst company two years in a row is now pruning the corruption it once tended out of the games it’s making. EA is being rewarded with high review scores and fairly grand online praise. People aren’t even saying Origin is shit anymore. In fact, if you wander into a Steam vs Origin discussion, you might find people railing against Valve the same way they used to with EA. Their surprisingly generous On The House system of free games made me very happy with Red Alert, and fairly regular sales and a much better client mean it’s a different beast than on it’s godawful launch, EA have transformed Origin into an acceptable little piece of software.
And yet. It’s all still so very wrong, isn’t it? Maybe I’m a cynic, but something is off.
Maybe it’s because EA have just closed Origin in Myanmar. They’re claiming it’s because of sanctions, but there’s no legal basis for it. They’ve also not offered any compensation to the people who had games on Origin they can no longer play. EA claim this is a temporary measure, but we will see.
Maybe still it’s just part of their business plan.
Gunning For Good Boy Points
One game in particular stands out as the poster child for development done with the consumer in mind. That game is The Witcher 3. Tech Times stated that one year on, The Witcher 3 ‘is a game that did everything right’ and that’s as accurate as a subjective statement can get. Developer CD Projekt Red were open and communicative with fans, took feedback on board, fixed a money-making exploit with fantastic good humour, and released swathes of great free content post-launch. When DLC was offered, it was at a fair price point for insanely high-quality gameplay, adding hours upon hours to an already gargantuan game.
What’s important to note is that The Witcher 3 went on to sell well over 10 million copies. Regardless of whether or not you believe the average consumer is moral or rich enough to reward a developer with a purchase purely off of the back of some healthy respect for the customer, you can’t argue with the fantastic press that CD Projekt Red managed to get from what is essentially just good practice. Be nice to your customers in an environment full of big corporations milking the cow so hard it starts to bruise, and you’ll be rewarded, is the lesson that they’ve sent out to the industry. I can’t help but feel EA have noticed and are doing this not because they actually respect the customer, but because they want your money and they’ll do whatever they have to.
But that’s fine, right? At the end of the day, as long as they are respectful to customers in their practices (for whatever reason) then everyone wins.
Something about Battlefield 1 sends a chill down my spine, though. Like I said, there are no microtransactions, and that’s great. There is, however, a ‘Store’ page on the games main menu. At the moment all you can do there is exchange scrap (an in-game currency) for chests containing cosmetic rewards. But the wording concerns me. ‘Store,’ to me, smacks of microtransactions. Chances are that once upon a time during development, Battlefield 1 did have microtransactions for cosmetic items, and this is where they sat before they were pulled for the full launch. Maybe the wording is just a legacy from that.
Sadly, I have a suspicion, and I won’t be hugely surprised if it’s accurate. My feeling is that EA is going to put microtransactions in post-launch.
That might not seem like pure evil to everyone else, but think about it. They have the store page for it, they already have the items in-game… and most importantly, perhaps, they’ve already gotten the good press for not having them in right off the bat. So, they get the press for the launch, everyone gives them a big pat on the pack… and then, 3 months later, they stealth-patch their microtransactions in. People will complain about it, but it’s too late – those praising articles are already out there.
Maybe I’m just too cynical. Maybe this is a new leaf.
But doesn’t that just sound so… EA?