Behind EA’s Headline…

On the surface, EA looks to be trying to court the indie scene. But is this a case of something looking, and sounding, too good to be true? Let’s don our rubber gloves and wellies and take a good long look at the murkier side of this snappy PR Stunt…

I decided not to dignify EA with reprinting their snappy headline.

So here’s the gist of it; EA is waiving Origin distribution fees for any game funded via a crowd-sourcing sites like Kickstarter. The offer will run for 90 days following a games launch and is open to any fully-funded, complete and ready-to-publish title.

Okay, whew. Essentially, EA are offering a free 90-days to indie devs on Origin. Awesome, right?

Well, maybe. And maybe not.

You see, as punchy as this is and as nice as it is to see, I can’t shake the feeling that this is one of those “too good to be true” moments, like getting a letter about a free TV but realising when you get there you have to buy time shares. Ugh.

EA are a big publisher and developer. They could, of course, offer this deal with absolutely no strings attached. And if you believe that, then I’d advise you not go out on your date tomorrow with Mr Unicorn and Mr Teddy Bear to see My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic The Movie.

Fact is that smaller devs will have to sign a contract for this sort of thing, and it will be legally binding. As it is a new announcement, we know nothing yet of what terms and conditions would apply – but I would not be surprised if in the following months the following offending items are made public;

  • Origin Exclusivity, or timed-exclusivity for that 90-day period.
  • Cannot appear on Steam, Gamefly or OnLive.
  • EA will own certain rights for future releases/updates.
  • EA will charge a lump-sum fee after the 90 days to cover costs.

In this world, there’s rarely such a thing as a free meal. And as Kickstarter threatens the business models that EA and their ilk like Activision and UbiSoft have relied on to make huge profits, they have to find an angle to exploit this curious new upstart.

For Kickstarter offers a glimpse into a world where studios are not constrained by the limitations or diktats of middle-management. A world where many players will pay, quite willingly, for a games entire development. This is money – free money that we’re happy in some cases to hand over, and in large quantities too. It means free games for their service – and, if they’re clever enough, new IP to exploit in the future.

And it means a world where the likes of EA are not so much irrelevant, but one where the power they wield over developers and studios is vastly diminished, where release cycles are not fixed, where timeframes can be more relaxed, where more care can be taken. In short, it kind of ruins the current trend of annual updates and milking DLC for all it is worth. That must scare the bejeezus out of EA. And Activision. And UbiSoft.

For all this, I genuinely hope this is a bit of charitable olive-branching from EA designed to try and foster good relations with the Indie crowd – because this is the internet age, and like it or not any and all problems with this lovely conceptual idea will be exposed.

People struggle to trust EA now – they won the worst American company award, after all. EA need good publicity now like you wouldn’t believe.

But always be careful making a deal with the devil. Because sure, you might get to keep some cash. But you may lose the independent control of your game in the process.

If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. So devs, read those contracts. Read them carefully. And be very careful what you’re signing up for…

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