Bonus Round: EA vs Nintendo – Tasty Press Releases and Bull****

Out, out, damned spot!

 

I take press releases with a pinch of salt.

Actually, perhaps a little more than that. So was today, when EA made it clear that it “couldn’t get Frostbite 3 to work” on the Wii-U. Which is odd, considering it does on the X-Box 360 and the notoriously difficult PlayStation 3. Like dutiful cogs in a machine, the press descended upon it with all the sound and fury that they could muster; sound and fury, like any foolish medium, that signified nothing at all.

You see, there are definite reasons to criticise the Wii-U, so let’s examine a few in bullet-point form, shall we?

  • The price of the console has dropped £130 in less than six months. Whilst depreciation is an admitted issue within the gaming world, this is frankly awful for early investors in the hardware and something that Nintendo have been slow as of yet to respond to. Not that they have always been so; when they dropped the price of the 3DS willingly, they offered a compensation package designed to at least keep those early adopters sweet. That they have not done so yet to UK early adopters is a missed opportunity.
  • There are concerns of build quality. I can vouch for this; my U-Pad screen is beginning to bubble slightly. Now, I’m not sure if this is from the heat the U-Pad generates naturally and the screen just isn’t tough enough to withstand it, or a reaction to months of being stabbed by my grubby thumbs. But considering that up until now Nintendo were infamous for their solid build quality, that Nintendo are quiet on this front concerns me deeply and I would like to know if there is a serious underlying problem.
  • Nintendo aren’t focusing enough on it. They are riding the success of the 3DS, quite rightly, but they’ve done it at the sole expense of the Wii-U. Expecting third parties to push the system is a foolish notion, especially when as a company you are famous for your own titles selling the most units of any game on the market at any given time! If Nintendo weren’t ready, then that’s a truly telling and terrifying thought that they have left their machine alone in a market looking for targets to shoot at on purpose. It’s frankly idiotic.
  • And the recent update that supposedly meant to speed up the console did so for a few days. Now I find it stutters and stalls at times, and is not as smooth as it was before the update. Firmware patches can be notoriously temperamental at the best of times but when you have such little room to manoeuvre and have picked on one tiny silly little thing to make out as a big deal, then it simply has to freaking work properly. If it doesn’t, then it’s a waste of time and a waste of perfectly good money to boot.

These are, to me, hugely important issues. And what do the press focus on? EA, and how it “no longer seems to want to work with Nintendo.” But we’ve known this since just before the Wii-U launched. EA says they couldn’t get the engine to work, but truthfully, when the CryEngine and the Unreal Engine and a bunch of others are working so well on Nintendo hardware, the question for me – in a journalistic way – is whether EA even tried, or are passing this off as an excuse now to avoid being seen as a bad company, seeking to assign blame where none exists.

EA have form on this front; not merely abandoning support for the Dreamcast (although this is again not what killed the Dreamcast, Sega did a fine job of that itself long before the Dreamcast got to the market) but in recent years withdrawing all its content from Steam. Supposedly this was down to how best to sell DLC. Using its system, Valve rightly assumed that if it’s going to use its own bandwidth and servers to deliver the content, then it should sell the DLC and take a proportional cut of it. EA wanted to sell DLC directly through the game itself, seeking to bypass Valve and its terms of service in a manner that Valve clearly wasn’t too happy with. Rather than deal with it, EA took the brave step of withdrawing all its current and future content from Steam, and instead seeking to rival the service through Origin. I think we all know how this went, so let’s not get too bogged down in it.

Of course, consoles are different but I can’t see that Nintendo would have been any different. EA wanted Nintendo to allow Origin on its hardware; a step Nintendo were – rightly – very wary of. Then it seemed EA wanted Nintendo to allow the free passage of DLC through its Miiverse structure into the games directly, subverting the eShop where others would have to sell their content. Again, it’s not unreasonable for Nintendo to say no on this front; what’s good for one must be good for another, after all, and giving special treatment to EA and not to UbiSoft and Capcom would have been seen in a terribly poor light, especially by the press who would have been suspicious of any back-room deal allowing this scenario to happen.

EA have been terribly mean-spirited about this and not open to negotiation of any kind; their way or no way. Nintendo must have thought that it’s better to not have EA games than to compromise its fledgling online service to the stench that comes with EA’s recent attempts to assert its dominance in the arena. In contrast, today’s little EA bombshell isn’t really a surprise; I didn’t think they were going to do it anyway, EA had made it quite clear for months now it had no interest in the Wii-U and its online infrastructure. But it’s terribly mean-spirited. It’s an attempt to pass off something as a reason when it isn’t at all; it’s like spreading a gossipy rumour because you fell out with someone months beforehand. It’s frankly hilarious, and obviously the biggest load of arse I’ve ever seen in a press release.

What’s even more hilarious is that the gaming world – the community and the press – who but a few scant weeks ago were condemning EA and it’s subversive and nasty press tactics are now eating this up as a starter, main course and dessert. They’ve swallowed it wholesale, and now seek to blame Nintendo for something which, if anyone has been paying the slightest bit of attention, doesn’t seem to be that unreasonable at all. It’s the same rules for everyone, and if you don’t like it, get lost.

Now, of course fifteen games is a lot to miss out on; but really, if the gaming community is so anti-EA as it likes to make out, in what sense is this a loss to Nintendo? It doesn’t get a bunch of overly-hyped, technically dodgy titles. Not yet at least, because I’m of the opinion in a year or two when sales pick up not just for the Wii-U but the Durango and the PS4, EA may have to swallow its pride and accept Nintendo’s stoic stance on online selling and datamining. I can’t see Sony or Microsoft, with new online infrastructures, allowing EA to push Origin on its users. Sony in particular, with its serious social networking stance and predictive marketing concepts, seems ill-suited to EA’s drive for online supremacy. There would be too much data there to be acceptable to mine, potentially compromising the platform. I can’t see the PS4 allowing EA anything like the freedoms and powers it has been demanding, and if it falters there, then EA really are up a creek sans paddle.

And even if it doesn’t happen; Nintendo will be absolved of the technical headaches that have become a staple of many new EA releases. Issues that simply shouldn’t be a problem but hey, this is EA and they find a way to make a mountain out of a molehill.

I find myself not angry at EA for doing this though. It’s what they do, they poop on the carpet and you go “oh, for heavens sake!”. Nor am I angry at Nintendo. I understand their position, even in a sense admire their tenacity when many would have bent over backwards to accommodate EA. I’m angry that we, the gaming media and community, don’t stand up and call them out on this bullshit. And it is bullshit. I am going to be blunt here; it’s bollocks. Utter tripe. Easily, fairly, soundly dismissed as a bunch of press-release arse candy of the most heinous kind. But people not only reported it; people believed it, and rather than criticise EA and its handling of online services and attempt to dominate its own sales and DLC at the expense of any platforms integrity, people are instead openly shooting Nintendo over it! As if, somehow, Nintendo are at fault.

Again, if it’s the engine and EA can’t get it to work, where others have been able to; does this not signify their engine and engineers might be… umm… not suited for the task? And if it’s the platform dominance issue, then we should be applauding Nintendo for taking a firm stance. If Sony and Microsoft do so as well, EA will be back on the Wii-U in a year or two; it will have no choice, because it will have been forced into submission on the issue. EA is counting on Sony and Microsoft being more lenient; I suspect on at least one of those fronts, if not both, EA are going to be disappointed.

None of this is hard to wade through. But at the expense of a bit of free ammunition to throw at Nintendo, people have given EA arguably free reign to wheel out this rubbish again down the road. And that makes me… not angry. But incredibly upset. I am so sad my peers and friends are buying into this crap. It’s so cheap it’s laughable, easily punctured and so paper-thin you can see the mess beneath it. But no-one cares. Everyone is more happy to take this to throw at Nintendo as a general grenade. What we need to be doing – with both EA and Nintendo – is targeted snipes. We need to take aim and hit something vital in each area that needs to be dealt with, otherwise we’re never taking this sucker down and will never get the awesome loot that comes with it.

Both EA and Nintendo are deeply flawed companies, I am under no illusions of that. Both need to deal with very real, pressing issues and to stop dancing about the little things as though they were something important. But underneath the din, nothing gets heard. Under the anger, no-one sees anything important. What worries me is that rather than really orchestrate something that gets to the fundamental root of these problems, we’re actually more than happy flinging shit around like a bunch of chimps, perhaps even e-peen fencing like the Bonobos. We look scary as a mob, we sound scary as a mob. But ultimately, by never really making any sense and following whatever press release is pushed out as some kind of factual statement, no-one will ever take us seriously. We’re not threatening. They throw a bone and we gang up to savage any scraps from it, throwing it back or at whatever it tells us to. We still buy the games – will still buy the games. Mark my words, we will. And the two will make a lot of money from being seen to rectify their mistakes.

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Scene V Act V.

It’s amazing that still holds up. But then, Shakespeare was nothing if not telling it like it was, and is, and forever will be. We have learned nothing, and are easily manipulated. We make a noise, but it signifies nothing. We’re full of fury, but rarely does it end up doing anything. I watch people descend on this press release with the sort of glee and satisfaction that usually accompanies a new game release. People are enjoying it. How can you fix something if people love indulging in it?

Perhaps another MacBeth quote is in order;  “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” We don’t know the distinction. If we cannot learn, then we’re kind of going to repeat this cycle endlessly.

And all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten the stench that follows.

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