I’ve been a gamer for many years, just as EA has been a games publisher for many years. Lately, the two of us haven’t really seen eye-to-eye. By looking around the internet, I get the feeling that’s true for a lot of folks, who all complain about EA’s overbearing commitment to live service games and the pursuit of profits over anything else. Still, many of EA’s games seem to sell really well, particularly its various sports games, which all appear at least somewhat insulated from the outrage surrounding loot boxes and microtransactions in games that cost $60 up front.
I have not been shy about my disdain for triple A games publishers and their mentality when it comes to monetizing games beyond that initial purchase. Electronic Arts has been one of the worst offenders, calling loot boxes “surprise mechanics” at one point and turning nearly every recent game in its lineup into live service titles that mostly just serve as a vehicle for microtransactions.
Electronic Arts seemed destined to continue on this path of monetization on top of monetization while consumers continued to buy up its games, but then something amazing happened. EA took things a step too far with Star Wars: Battlefront 2’s aggressive loot boxes and players actually started to push back. Players got angry, and suddenly it seemed that EA didn’t like the idea of being on the wrong side of outrage regarding its contract for the very lucrative Star Wars license.
EA wound up removing loot boxes and Star Cards from Battlefront 2 entirely, promising to go back to the drawing board and changing up the game’s progression system. Microtransactions eventually returned to the game, but they weren’t quite so heavy-handed. In any case, they were a lot better than they were before, and for once, it seemed like maybe Electronic Arts didn’t consider itself wholly immune to criticism.
Fast forward to this year, and we had another surprising development for EA and the Star Wars license, with the company publishing Respawn’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Ever since EA acquired the Star Wars license in 2013, many of the games that have been released were either predominantly multiplayer or mobile titles.
Before Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order launched, I saw a few people claiming that Star Wars fans needed to vote with their wallets because EA didn’t think people care about single-player games anymore. This is actually something that needs to be cleared up – it’s easy to hate EA, but to my knowledge, the company never said that single-player games are dead or anything similar to that.
What EA actually said – during a call with investors when the topic of Visceral Games’ closure came up – was that the cancelled Star Wars title that Visceral was working on was a “much more linear game, that people don’t like as much today as they did five years ago or ten years ago.”
That much at least feels like it’s true given how gamers tend to love their open world games, but after the contents of that call were published, somehow the words “single-player” got thrown into the mix, leading people to believe that EA considered single-player games a waste of time.
Even if EA never came out and said that it considered single-player games were a non-starter, it’s clear that they aren’t a priority for the company anymore. Many of EA’s releases over the past year have been live service games that rely heavily on multiplayer – FIFA 20, Madden 20, NHL 20, Anthem, and Apex Legends are all games that come to mind. It’s rare to see a single-player game among EA’s lineup, save for the occasional indie title, pre-Anthem BioWare game, or something like The Sims (which is a franchise historically monetized to hell and back anyway).
If players felt that they needed to vote with their wallets to show EA that there’s still an interest in single-player games, whether that necessity was based off a misquote or not, that seems to be exactly what they did. Earlier this week, EA was singing the praises of Fallen Order, announcing that the game had the fastest selling digital launch for a Star Wars title over its first two weeks of availability, and that it’s now the “top-selling Star Wars title on PC in its initial launch window.”
EA didn’t share actual sales data, but what it did say is evidence enough that players are definitely receptive to the idea of a single-player Star Wars game. It’s worth pointing out that Fallen Order doesn’t have any loot boxes and microtransactions either, and that EA has said it won’t ever add them to the game.
For someone who largely stays away from triple A titles that aren’t made by Sony and Nintendo because I simply don’t have the time or the temperament for live service games that want me to either play constantly or open up my wallet to alleviate some of the grind, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order sounds like a dream. It’s clear that I’m not alone in thinking that, given the early response from consumers.
My question is whether or not EA has learned anything from this launch. Fallen Order certainly won’t make as much money as something like FIFA 20, with its Ultimate Team packs that some players spend absurd amounts of money on, but does every game EA releases need to challenge a giant like FIFA in terms of player spending? Knowing EA’s shareholders and the company’s buy-in to live service games, I’m afraid of learning the actual answer to that, but my stance is no.
Even if Fallen Order doesn’t make as much money as one of EA’s live service games, it gives the company something it desperately needs right now: player goodwill. Ubisoft, Activision, and Electronic Arts seem to trade off the title of “most hated game publisher” on a pretty regular basis, but Electronic Arts in particular has been losing its PR game for a number of years now. You would be hard pressed to find many people who say they hate Ubisoft and Activision with the same passion that they hate EA at the moment.
Hopefully, with Fallen Order showing early success, we’ll see EA ease up on the live service gas pedal a little bit in the future. Not every game needs to be monetized to the teeth; not every game needs to keep players engaged for months on end until the next title in the series is released. Obviously, EA won’t give up on live service entirely – not until it finds a better way to keep players paying up long after release date has come and gone, at least.
The cynic in me says that isn’t going to happen, but I really do hope that EA looks at the success of Fallen Order and at least realizes that there’s a decently sized market for single-player games, particularly Star Wars single-player games. Remember, some of the most popular Star Wars titles have been single-player games, whether we’re talking about the Jedi Knight series or the KOTOR games.
The ball is in EA’s court now. Will it listen to Fallen Order sales and continue to cater to the segment of the market that wants nothing to do with live service games, or will single-player games continue to be things that EA only trots out sparingly? I hope it’s the former, especially within the Star Wars franchise, but I fear it’ll wind up being the latter.