How EA can rebuild its reputation

Osmond Chia - Jul 20, 2019, 5:03 am CDT
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How EA can rebuild its reputation

They might not want to admit it, but it’s no secret EA desperately have a reputation to rebuild. The video game publisher has been repeatedly caught in controversies that have infuriated gamers and employees alike. From complaints about its excessive pay-to-play mechanics, mass layoffs and rushed deadlines that have led to poorly developed games, there is plenty to fix at EA.

As the cliché goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity. But EA haven’t had much tact in handling its bad press. Gamers unhappy about Battlefield 5 were told: “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.” One of their heads, Matt Bilbey, also told Games Industry: “I still struggle with the external perception that we’re just a bunch of bad guys.”

Not a tactful way to deal with the flak the publisher has consistently been bombarded with, instead driving people away from its brand. We previously mentioned now is a good time for change. EA’s value has dropped by 50% in the past year; their blockbuster titles like Anthem and Mass Effect: Andromeda performed badly; and their reputation in the pits. Here is where things look hopeful for EA.

Give games time to develop

If there’s anything EA can learn from the troubled development of Anthem and Mass Effect: Andromeda, it is that games shouldn’t be rushed. Overseeing the BioWare project, Anthem was affected by changes in directors and leadership. BioWare’s team of veteran developers who had worked there for decades had also left the team in the past few years.

The new team – as inexperienced as they were – were also burdened by the EA’s Frostbite game engine, which was incredibly difficult to work with. Andromeda developers criticized Frostbite for taking “two days to do something I can do in two hours in a competent engine. Beautiful looking engine that is dog**** to use.”

The team left were working on highly ambitious projects with a stubborn game engine under extremely tight deadlines set by overseers EA. Unsurprisingly, it affected company morale and worsened stress levels. A developer told Kotaku: “It’s hard enough to make a game. It’s really hard to make a game where you have to fight your own tool set all the time.”

Clearly, the team were in no state to helm a project so grand. EA and its directors really should’ve taken their time to deliver a good game that didn’t exhaust its employees.

Handle EA Originals well

Dubbed EA Originals, the publisher’s latest venture to offer a platform for indie games to be released is a true saving grace for EA’s public image. They’ve played their PR cards right so far, to work with small game developers, “to make sure those games get discovered and into the hands of players.” All profits made from EA Originals games even go back into the pockets of indie studios, to keep them innovating and getting what’s due.

So far, so good. EA must know how precious an opportunity this is to so many small developers and shouldn’t let the lure of profitability get in the way of their games. That means allowing indie studios to use the engines and in-game mechanics they want and allowing them ample time to make the best game they possibly can. No “surprise mechanics,” or pay-to-play tricks here.

And when they do find success, knowing when to let the training wheels off and letting these studios find their way. EA can be seen as a real hero here. It just needs to know when to have its hands off.

Invest in stories

Sony is a clear example of the value of good story telling. When we think of Sony, we recall heartfelt narratives from Kratos’ fears of fatherhood in God of War, a thrilling Spider-Man adventure, and a grieving father seeking to protect a young girl in a post-apocalyptic wasteland in The Last of Us.

Stories stay in our hearts. They create powerful associations with the storytellers too – the publishers, which would explain the success Sony and Rockstar have enjoyed over the years. These developers patiently invest in intimate character-driven journeys that immerse gamers. The experiences stay in their minds for years to come, and they’ll have the publishers to thank for that.

Make multiplayer great again

And of course, EA couldn’t possibly redeem itself without fixing the damage done to its multiplayer games. Pay-to-win and “surprise mechanics” have plagued games like Battlefield and Star Wars: Battlefront, giving players who pay extra an unfair advantage.

We aren’t condemning pay-to-play completely, but it certainly leaves gamers with a sense of bitterness knowing they’ve already paid the full $60-or-so price of entry. There was a time when buying a game meant gaining access to everything. EA can be the hero that brings us back to those green pastures.


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