Battlefield’s Pre-Sales Crater: My Take.

 


OH COME ON! I go away for some me time, thinking I’ll get a break from the corporate douche-canoes that have been driving me crazy as a blogger for the last six years and on smaller blogs before that, and then I come back and who’s causing all the big crazy headlines but our good old friend EA.

Uuuurgh…

So let me get to the nub of this; Battlefield V’s pre-sales, i.e. the idiots who hand over their money before EA has even so much as delivered identifiable gameplay footage, is down 85% on Call of Duty. In very simple terms, no-one wants Battlefield V right now it would seem, and as this game is launching in October – the same month as a bunch of hotly awaited games like Red Dead Redemption 2 – pre-sales were the big gauge for EA here, to get people to splurge before the RockStar meteorite hits and everyone is screaming about how awesome it is.

And EA and DiCE have an explanation for this; muh patriarchy? Yes, apparently it’s those evil sexist gamers who aren’t buying a game because it has WIMMINZ INNIT!

Reminder: Call of Duty survived this. You’re… welcome?

I may have to do a rant on this another time, but let’s get one thing clear; yes, there are sexist jerks in every walk of life and that includes gamers. But the volume of sexists in any given collective is, like “nazis”, somewhat overestimated. I’m not denying they exist nor am I suggesting that some people do, in fact, walk into these kinds of jerks and have an ideological bust-up. But you’d honestly think we’d NEVER buy a game with women in it at this rate and I hate to be the one to break it to the world but… uh… we kinda do? And no, these games are not “Call of Duty” massive but most movies aren’t “Transformers” massive either, and they’re perfectly okay being that and NOT BEING TERRIBLE.

This argument is a shield and even feminists should be repulsed that a World War 2 game that will always be geared towards a male audience (because shock horror, war games ARE geared towards a predominantly male audience) is trying to cower behind “feminism” to explain why it appears that Battlefield V is going to get a swift commercial kick in the testicles.

Because it’s not sexism, EA, that’s doing this. It’s anger and resentment for your abysmal 2017 performance.

Or rather, the opposite. For all the terrible PR, Star Wars: Battlefront II sold seven million units in the space of a couple of months; yes, EA and Disney had expected twelve million but considering the majority of games last year, few rivalled EA’s sales power. And that’s taking into consideration that last year, the industry had a sales boom of sorts thanks to Nintendo. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has sold more than ten million units, which for the series now makes it the best selling Zelda title ever. EA had some company value drop thanks to the PR; but this again doesn’t mean that their games were flops. They weren’t. Most companies would dream of those figures being a “flop”.

Thing is, the industry and its consumers have a bad habit of remembering when it’s been screwed over. It’s why Nintendo is only now, after the Switch has proven it’s going nowhere, getting more robust support. Nintendo of the mid-to-late 90’s was a difficult and volatile company, and that legacy has continued to be felt through two decades of change. It’s been hard to shake off that baggage.

That’s a side example; there are far better ones. Resident Evil 6 sold more than six million units in a few months; it was massive, in spite of the backlash. Aliens: Colonial Marines was equally massive, despite all the complaints and all of its problems it sold more than five million in its opening few months. The problems came later; for Capcom, it impacted sales of future games, like Street Fighter 5 (which wasn’t terrible, just lacking in content) and Resident Evil 7. Neither of these titles managed to shift more than two million units in their first year. As for Gearbox Software, well, they’ve become a non-entity. Borderlands used to be inescapable; now it’s a footnote, reviled for what some perceive as fiscal impropriety, and not even handing that over to TellTale Games could register much of a pulse in the series again.

It also sadly impacted on sales of Alien: Isolation, a very good horror game that deserved more success than it got.

EA didn’t “hurt” that much in 2017; people bought these products in their droves. But those millions of people have been burned, and the lingering taint of the Star Crate fiasco coupled with a reluctance to fix basic mechanical exploits and bugs in many of these games with anything resembling expediency has given off an air that EA, frankly, doesn’t care. It felt it was invulnerable; one of the biggest publishers acting as though we were there to serve their own ends, rather than working to earn our respect and hard-earned cash. But no company is too big, too powerful that it cannot succumb to its own toxic ego and hubris.

Simply put – why would ANYONE give EA money for a pre-sale of a game that we haven’t really seen solid gameplay footage of yet? Or, well, give EA any money at all until they’ve demonstrated that the game they’re buying works and isn’t an exploitative money-pit? This is why Battlefield V pre-sales have cratered. Simple karmic re-balancing. Only now have people realised; hey, it might not be a good idea to just give EA money like I’m some kind of serf paying a tax.

I don’t think it’ll get better either.

Battlefield V is arriving in October; in a very contested month for video games. You have Forza Horizon 4, Call of Duty, Red Dead Redemption 2, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Call of Cthulu and Starlink: Battle for Atlas and that’s the known quantities right now, Nintendo hasn’t even had its Fall Headlines Direct yet. If you wanted to ignore EA, October is shaping up to be a very good month to ignore EA. And as hope springs eternal, perhaps this really will be the first proper commercial bomb for EA in many years (even Mass Effect: Andromeda sold more than 2 million units!).

It’s a lesson that the industry doesn’t like to learn but it’s no less important; there’s screwing up, and then there’s REALLY screwing up. And then for some of us, there’s what EA did last year – screwing up in ways that defied logic and reason. You don’t get to brush off that kind of disaster – you don’t bring down political interference, get loot crates banned in multiple countries, end up with everyone mocking gamers for putting up with this stuff on late-night talk shows and even get the Legacy Media condemning the industry.

And here’s the thing; EA was by no means the absolute scummiest last year. WB Interactive and Activision had way worse loot crate systems. But EA was the one who shoehorned them into a massive, worldwide franchise like Star Wars. It was caught with its hand in the cookie jar and in doing so, brought the wrath of decades of resentment at the rise of video games down on us all. EA succeeded in getting everyone – gamers and non-gamers alike – to beg for governmental regulation, a feat not even Jack Thompson could achieve and that is a realisation that should make you want to go and shower in chlorox or something.

But that’s the thing. Such a calamitous year is going to have repercussions. If EA thought it was just going to carry on as if nothing had happened, then EA is even stupider than I give them credit for. And I’ve written at length at how EA is really stupid. There’s no Machiavellian plot here, no great political railing, nothing even remotely that organised or tangible. Battlefield V is the victim of lingering anger and resentment that EA still hasn’t really properly addressed in full. It dances around the issue, but stops short of a total apology. It seems many are finally giving up on EA. And it’s EA’s job to, yet again, try and earn back some trust and reputation. And EA have done it before.

… and maybe that’s my beef here. EA went through this in the late-80’s. In the mid-90’s. And in the mid-to-late 2000’s. And here we are again. You know what we call doing the same things over and over again expecting a different result?

I may never get tired of this joke.

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