Many gamers consider Electronic Arts the bane of the gaming industry. With its cash-grab titles, endless in-game purchases and corporate controversies, it’s hard to imagine how one of gaming’s largest publishers is still standing on its feet.
Despite all this disagreement, EA doesn’t seem to understand the bad reputation they have. Just last week, Matt Bilbey, one of the bosses at EA, told Games Industry:
“25 years at EA and I still struggle with the external perception that we’re just a bunch of bad guys. We love making and playing games. Unfortunately, when we make mistakes on games, the world knows about it because it’s of a size and scale.”
Well EA, there are plenty of legitimate reasons why gamers have lost patience with your company, and we’ll list some of them for you. And this isn’t just a rant for ranting’s sake either. It is shocking EA could claim to not understand its public perception despite endless complaints from gamers. This is a massive company with the resources and power to influence and industry, and there is a lot more that can be done to improve things for employees and gamers alike.
Money is the name of the game
EA seems to think gamers are loyal, unthinking sheep who’ll do anything to play games. This is most clearly seen by in-game purchases and season-passes, a cunning and cynical way to milk money from gamers who have already paid the $60-or-so price of entry by buying the game. There was a time when buying a game meant owning it to its fullest potential – no “in-game” marketplace or surprise mechanics that make our wallets feel even lighter. EA’s forced us out of that history.
Take Star Wars: Battlefront for example. It’s a great-looking game with some fantastic gameplay. But EA has found a profitable system to make even more money out of its multiplayer-based titles. Want better gear and guns? Pay up or invest hours leveling up, while those who pay are given a clear advantage. They’ve brought imbalance to the playing field, where those who pay more excel way beyond those who’ve already paid the price of entry.
Then take Star Wars: Battlefront II, which demonstrates how much EA doesn’t care about its consumers. The sequel introduced even more loot boxes and incentivized micro transactions that made playing without paying a real pain. The backlash from consumers was so bad, EA had to pull all in-game transactions even before launch. Power to the players.
If there’s one reason why we keep coming back to EA titles, the company has captured so many of the franchises and licenses we hold dear to our hearts. From Star Wars, Battlefield to FIFA, these are franchises that would capture our attention regardless of publisher, and we look forward to them with a baggage of goodwill and hope.
When it comes to profitability, EA knows our loyalty to these brands will mean our expectations of these games are lowered. We just want the experience. It’s the reason we pick up FIFA games yearly on day one, and pre-order Battlefront months before its launch.
There’s only one loser here: the gamers. When was the last time FIFA got a true update that wasn’t just incremental? EA may throw in a new game mode or presentation, but so many problems that existed a few years ago still exist today.
EA would like to believe it “listened to the fans” by offering a story-driven campaign in Star Wars: Battlefront II. But let’s be real, it was a shoe-in narrative that looked every bit like the second-thought it was. And on top of that, long loading times, a lack of cooperative online multiplayer and pay-to-play issues haven’t been addressed, and it doesn’t look like EA will be moved to as long as the money keeps rolling.
Rushing developers through quick development cycles
EA’s problems don’t just lie with its consumers, but those working with and for them too.
You might remember EA laying off 350 employees at the start of this year, painting its relationship with its workers in a bad light. With many projects and subsidiaries under its belt, you’d expect a company like EA to renegotiate contracts or shift its employees to other sectors. But instead, the mass layoffs seem like a cold, calculated way to keep profits high.
The publisher also has tabs on many gaming developers we know today. These include DICE, BioWare and Frostbite; all of which have had its share of publicized controversies with EA. Most prominent is EA’s handling of BioWare projects like Mass Effect: Andromeda and this year’s highly-anticipated Anthem. Both were enormous projects under EA’s supervision. And both were rushed out to meet EA’s deadlines, resulting in dismal critical – and commercial – performances.
More painful to hear are the nightmarish development stories that had some out of the BioWare team over the months of production. Anthem’s troubled production went through several change of heads, narrative reboots and design overhauls. Changes like these need time, but its developers were still rushed through to meet EA’s deadlines, creating a mood of “depression and anxiety” within the company.
Road to redemption
EA’s problem isn’t just a case of bad games. It’s a disturbing work ethic that permeates its entire structure. It leaves a sour taste on those who power their business – the gamers – and anxiety for its own employees. All this from a company that’s one of the largest and most influential in the industry.
Now is a good time for change. The past year has seen EA’s value drop by almost 50%, coupled with badly-performing blockbuster titles. Public opinion of the publisher is at its lowest ever too, with EA voted worst U.S. company for two years in a row. This cycle of EA getting away with lazy games may just be coming to a close.