July 27, 2021

So, Thoughts on EA. It’s been a while…


Well, it’s been a long time since I had to talk about EA so… uhh… yeah.

The Star Wars Battlefront II ‘saga’ began with a post from Reddit user TheHotterPotato, noting that in the new game that you just paid $70/£60 to play not including additional costs and fees that it took on average 40 hours of in-game grinding to earn enough in-game credits to buy/use one hero or villain like Darth Vader. Which clearly was going to annoy people, then EA made it worse. Oh so much worse, hitting Reddit to try and defend the practice – earning them the most downvoted comment ever on Reddit, with 680,000 thumbs downs. Then one of the community managers made a Twitter comment – because OF COURSE it would happen on Twitter – talking about “those armchair developers”, which again hit EA hard.

And even trying to save face, cutting the credits cost of heroes by 75%, didn’t work. Because EA in its typical two-faced manner also cut the credits you earned in game by – guess how much? Go on, you’ll never guess? That’s right, 75%, meaning the “grind” is just the same as it was but now of course those numbers are just smaller. And that’s not to mention for many hours during this saga, the “refund” button in Origin that EA was forced to put in went mysteriously AWOL, meaning that people being spooked by all this negative press and PR couldn’t actually request a refund for their not-yet-officially-released purchase.

This has led to accusations that EA is “evil” and “cruising for Worst Company In America again”. But at this point, I’m well beyond seeing EA as evil. The problem with that assumption is you have to first get past a singular hurdle of “stupidity”; Hanlon’s Razor, specifically. Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

So, can the Star Wars Battlefront II issue be explained away by stupidity? Absolutely. It was stupid to think that in the midst of users realising what a tedious and soul-crushing grind the game would be, heading to Reddit and Twitter of all places to try and defend yourself was ever going to be a good idea. Sure, the whole reduction of currency on both sides was slightly malicious, but it was also incredibly stupid to think people wouldn’t notice that. Extra stupidity points for removing a refund option in the midst of a PR brown-storm – did they really think that was ever going to stop people? Once you had to put it back, surely people would still request refunds? It didn’t change anything, only throwing a canister of gasoline on an already raging dumpster-fire of PR fail.

But we can go back further. EA’s shuttering of studios to me smacks more of mismanagement than a particular sense of absolute malice; EA must know by now it has a certain reputation for doing this (good luck Respawn Entertainment, you’re going to need it), so it would handle such things better going forward. But it doesn’t – it still handles this in the worst possible way, often going for studios people like rather than the ones which people are sick to the back teeth of. If EA was the kind of Bond Villain people surmise it to be, EA would be far more careful and far more destructive in such endeavours – but very often, it does this not after a project fails to work, but in the middle of a project people might be in serious danger of giving a toss about. Which results in wasted money – doubly so for projects like Mass Effect: Andromeda, where any reasonable company keeping tabs on a project could have seen this was not a good thing to release let alone attaching it to a brand name which (a) has an already-established fan base and (b) carries with it also an incredible amount of baggage anyway.

Then you’ve got its current dismissive attitude to the Nintendo Switch. I could go on at length about this – I could point out the scramble from pretty much every developer and publisher that isn’t EA to capitalise on a new hardware trend that analysts are arguing now will best the Nintendo Wii’s lifetime sales and some even debating it has every possibility of knocking the current all-time best selling console, the PlayStation 2, off the top spot. I could point to UbiSoft’s surprise 19% of total quarterly profits coming from a single Switch game (Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle). Or that even Capcom, which a few months ago was on the fence, finally getting off said fence and realising that the Switch is going to be a massive thing in which it is going to have to take somewhat seriously. Or that Nintendo is already pushing up to a $1.06 BILLION profit this year ($1,060,000,000). The Switch is massive – and most now agree, it will be far too big in the next year or so to ever not take seriously as a games console. Hell, it’s already too big to dismiss so casually – yet EA, supposedly because FIFA 18 didn’t sell much more than a million copies on Switch reportedly, just doesn’t see “profit” in it. You know, that thing it seems everyone from Bandai-Namco to Bethesda to RockStar Games and more are currently getting from it.

And also, as an aside here, EA not being on Switch would be really, really bad for EA. No more FIFA? Konami will spark to life – here’s Pro Evo Soccer, which the Switch market will unquestionably buy because EA doesn’t do FIFA on the Switch anymore. No Battlefield? Activision’s Bobby Kotick just had to take a cold shower at the idea that Call of Duty would have no competition from EA in this space anymore. EA might have been able to bleed the Wii U to death, but Nintendo is in the position right now it can – and probably has – inflicted the same wound back on EA. Maybe not deliberately, but it seems EA is more frustrated and angry than it was when it was all smug and condescending to the Wii U.

Then you’ve got those franchises that EA destroyed. Not because EA is evil, but because EA is moronic. What it did to Dungeon Keeper and Command & Conquer defies rational explanation. It cancelled Star Wars 1313, and then for Battlefront I decided to list all the features they’d cancelled. I mean, I’m not entirely sure what purpose that served other than to remind people that they were getting a watered down version of what probably would have been a much better game. And of course, The Old Republic. Oh my word, what a cock-up. Cancel an MMORPG that was still very much successful and profitable and then turn it over to EA and BioWare, who made a game that directly conflicts with established Knights of the Old Republic lore and mythos – to the point that Disney ended up cancelling the ‘expanded universe’ that had already been built to avoid such scrutiny. That wasn’t done because EA wanted it that way – it was the invariable consequence of cocking something up so spectacularly that the license holder effectively had little other option but to wipe the slate clean. And as for Syndicate… no, sorry, that wound is still too raw for me.

Or the fact it doesn’t learn from others mistakes, maybe? Origin launched with so many problems and issues it was almost like Steam had never happened. SimCity happened a year after Blizzard had the exact same issues with a game called Diablo 3. A good evil villain would shrug and think, “Well, it blew up in their face…”. EA does the whole Definition of Insanity thing – “Well, it blew up in their face but we’re EA so…”

Perhaps that’s the crux of the issue; it’s EA. EA has an ego and attitude that it can do whatever the hell it wants, however the hell it wants to do it and damned be the consequences – be that to franchises, to the industry, to people who lose their jobs in the chaos or to their bottom line. After all, EA overspent taking down Tim Langdell’s “Edge” trademark. Yes, EA accidentally did the industry a favour there, but it was also true EA had no hope of recouping those costs. I wondered years ago if this was more about being cross about the idea of paying someone to use a trademark – you know, ego and hubris and all that.

If EA was evil, and I mean genuinely evil – surely it would have some kind of long-term plan going on, a sense of a goal it was working towards. All these mistakes, missteps and blunders alongside worthy henchmen being shot in the back of the head and buried in the back yard of EA isn’t evil – it’s incompetence of a staggering degree. To be truly evil, EA would be inescapable – and for many, that’s not the case. EA is easily avoided by not buying these mediocre games with exploitative Gatcha Systems and microtransactions. Hell, I’d buy into the idea Nintendo is more evil – because the Switch is inescapable right now. With two of the highest-rated games, selling games in volumes that tell the industry that there is money to be made in this new hybrid-hardware future of theirs, countless articles and award nominations… I know that sounds stupid, but I’d buy the argument that Nintendo Is Evil decades before I ever bought into the idea that EA Is Evil.

Evil suggests a thought, intelligence, the capacity for rational and reasoned detailing of a plan that aims to dominate something. Even if it is quantifiably evil by any real standard you’d apply, it’s just incapable of executing any decent plan with any real efficiency. And then you come to the real crux; can something that is clearly so incompetent, so ineffectual, so easily avoided and so ultimately stupid and lacking in solid reasoned intelligence really be called “evil”? It’s like EA, as a whole, doesn’t seem to understand. It’s almost like it doesn’t even have a grasp on the fundamentals of Good and Evil as concepts.

I don’t say this to defend EA – by the tendrils of The Great Cthulu no, I can’t stand them as much as the next gamer. But to suggest EA is evil is, for me, to fundamentally apply order and reason to what any rational and sensible outsider would see as abject chaos. EA is a nebulous entity; one that does have the capacity to create, because it does create. But one that ultimately also seems to be incapable of doing anything with a good idea – perhaps worse, taking in good ideas and spitting out mediocrity. Almost like it doesn’t understand the concept of quality.

If Ermac from Mortal Kombat is comprised of thousands of souls all singularly commanded to fight for their “master”, EA is ‘Derpmac’; an entity comprised of thousands of studios and games and franchises. It walks around, it talks and it sort of seems sentient enough maybe. But it’s… it’s just too stupid to really hate. You almost feel sorry for it, that somehow someone at some point somewhere created this thing – it almost makes sense in that context, take the souls and the talent of thousands of studios and developers and industry names and use sorcerous magic to bind them into a singular being. But instead of getting a ruthless killing machine like Ermac, single-mindedly picking off the competition one by one, ‘Derpmac’ just waddles up to you with a dark, unspeakable creation in its hands and says… “I make pretty game from bones of Mass Effect, you like?”

I can’t sit here and defend their actions, or their work, or their practices. But evil?

“I made pretty game from bones of Dungeon Keeper. You touch screen, then turn off until tomorrow. You like?”

Come with me Derpmac, I need to show you something behind the sheds here…


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