Electronic Arts clearly have made some mistakes over the years. This isn’t even the first time we have addressed issues with EA, as Lords of Gaming’s own Joshua Reding has previously pointed out. Primarily, mistaking that gamers would forget and that the internet is not forever. Despite this, the company hasn’t been without providing positive games from time to time. Earlier this year EA published Apex Legends by Respawn Entertainment, which was a rather large hit. In fact, for a time it stole the top position of streaming viewership from Fortnite. Things seemed to be on the upswing after so much bad publicity of a massively failed Anthem launch. The publisher, however, has constantly been under scrutiny by gamers and it is not without just cause.
Recently, Electronic Arts reported a lower than expected fiscal 2019. The first week of July didn’t fare any better with stocks dropping despite the release of Apex Season 2. So what factors have contributed to the decline in reputation and spiraling sales of Electronic Arts and it’s developers?
Failed Anthem Launch
BioWare showed a lot of promise with a new title they were looking to be delivered. This was something drastically needed as the developer was still recovering from the critiques of Mass Effect Andromeda. Many gamers felt that Andromeda did not live up to the legend that was the original Mass Effect trilogy. This created a cause for concern for one of the most beloved developers in gaming. They are not lightweights when it comes to putting out great games. In 2014, Dragon Age: Inquisition even won several Game of the Year awards.
The problem that Anthem faced was not that Destiny 2 was reigning supreme because that game has issues of its own, nor that The Division 2 was releasing shortly after in March to provide a better entry point than it’s predecessor. The problem is that the game was developed without direction. Kotaku’s Jason Schrier provided an expose detailing many issues along the game’s development cycle. One of the best things to come from it was the realization of how rampant “crunch” is in the gaming industry.
Since launch, BioWare has provided numerous updates, but to this point, there hasn’t been anything significant that is winning back players. BioWare isn’t a stranger from turning games around as they have had this experience with Star Wars The Old Republic. What is making this more difficult is that Anthem is not Star Wars. Anthem has to compete with the likes of Destiny 2, The Division 2, Warframe and in September will have to compete with juggernaut of looter-shooters, Borderlands 3.
Updates have been very underwhelming, continuing to push back “Cataclysms” that were suggested to be the true endgame content. Loot continues to be an issue that the developer cannot figure out. The in-game store provides paltry selections that rarely offer anything appealing. Most updates offer small tinkering, but nothing massive. It is not to say that BioWare and EA do not care, but correcting the games’ course is definitely proving more difficult in the way it is being executed.
Despite the numerous issues, Anthem shows the chance of being an IP that could really take off. The flying mechanics are fantastic and something truly unique to the genre. Anthem also is not a bad looking game, visually. EA did stand behind BioWare stating that the game’s failure to launch will not have an effect with the developers’ status with the publisher. Whether or not this is just business talk has yet to be revealed. One thing is for certain, however: if Fallout 76 can make a turnaround, BioWare has enough talent still to do this as well.
Microtransactions “Surprise Mechanics”
One of the biggest debates in gaming currently is the use of microtransactions. Do they ruin games and hamper their experience? Are they acceptable when they are used purely sold as cosmetics and not “pay to win”? At what point is too far, well, too far? Overall, it seems more accepting when it’s accompanied in a free-to-play game such as Apex Legends, which doesn’t overburden with a ridiculous amount. However, other EA franchises seem to dig this mechanic deeper and more intrusively.
It is no secret that sports franchises Madden and FIFA are major culprits when it comes to microtransactions and features that push to invest more money in hopes of building super-teams to compete with others. Additionally, Star Wars: Battlefront II seemed to deck the halls with microtransactions, literally putting a price tag on everything it could. This was so much of an issue that even Disney felt the need to get involved and pressure EA to simmer down this activity. The “House of Mouse” likes money, too.
In June, the UK Parliament’s Digital Culture, Media & Sports Committee held a meeting with multiple developers notorious for including drastic amounts of microtransactions. The argument is being made that the practices are similar to that of gambling and could have lasting habitual effects over time. On June 19th, EA’s Vice President of Legal and Government Affairs, Kerry Hopkins, took to discuss the ruling with Parliament on the publishers’ stance on microtransactions. In what seemed to be an attempt at wordplay and to confuse the committee, Hopkins suggested that EA refers to them as not microtransactions, but “surprise mechanics.”
“It’s something that’s been part of toys for years, whether it’s Kinder Eggs, or Hatchimals, or LOL Surprise. We do think the way that we have implemented these kinds of mechanics … is actually quite ethical and quite fun.”
The shenanigans did not stop with “surprise mechanics” either. Hopkins was later asked if there was a concern from EA’s standpoint to track game time of players.
“It’s really not something we could look at and say, ‘well this person played too many hours and therefore it’s unhealthy. Consumers have to have [a] choice, and they have to have a right to privacy, that’s very important.”
The attitude that the company is displaying when it comes to the implementation of microtransactions shows more concern about addictive spending than about habits and quality content. The hearing shows that the company is reliant on the use of privacy than looking to correct on a market that may have some irresponsible effects in some gamers down the line.
Battlefield V Criticism & Rebound
DICE is another beloved developer of EA. Proudly producing one of the most popular franchises in Battlefield and eventually taking on the reboot of Star Wars: Battlefront in 2015. The developer has also created the Frostbite Engine that EA has been rumored to push onto its developers to cut down costs and keep the engine in house (the engine is used in current iterations of Need For Speed, Mass Effect, FIFA and Madden). Despite its flaws, it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t allow for the creation of some of the most beautiful first-person shooter maps. Even the Battlefront maps appear photorealistic at times.
One of the best moves that DICE made was moving the Battlefield franchise from the modern shooter to a front seldom seen in gaming, World War 1. 2016’s Battlefield 1 was a smashing success and even provided enough content over the following year to give the team time to take the franchise back to World War 2 in last year’s Battlefield V. The problem for Battlefield V started with decisions that DICE implemented to include female characters and their place in the war. Much scrutiny led to responses from the developer followed by the cancellation of pre-orders. Regardless of the side you believe in, making statements against individuals in the gaming community in an aggressive manner proved to be the first misstep. This lead to many canceled pre-orders; Battlefield V lagged behind Call of Duty Black Ops 4 by nearly 85%.
Luckily, this is a beloved franchise and a beloved developer that knows how to rebound. With Battlefield 4, bug issues required many updates until it was corrected. So for Battlefield V, it would seem to be much easier to rebound without those same issues. The release of Firestorm, the game’s battle royale mode, was introduced to the game to give a fresh breath of life. Touting the largest Battlefield map to date, and the fact that the franchise literally has been built on some existing battle royale mechanics, it was received well.
Battlefront Deals With Fumbles
For what it’s worth, the Battlefront franchise is undoubtedly a beautiful staple in DICE’s portfolio. Unfortunately, it can also be sometimes seen as just a Star Wars variant of the Battlefield formula. This is both a good and bad thing, as they are gorgeous and capture the ambiance of the Star Wars universe. However, does that also mean that the Star Wars skin removes the originality?
The 2015 release of Battlefront was met with much criticism. Lacking a true campaign definitely hurt the game’s perception as it was being released as a multiplayer focused game. On top of this, it also lacked two important features that the games developed Pandemic Studios included way back on the original Xbox and PS2: space battles and gigantic land battles similar to that of Dynasty Warriors. One was remedied in DLC in small changes and the included in the follow-up sequel.
Upon its release, Battlefront II promised to correct issues from the original by including space battles and a campaign. The campaign is also considered by Disney to be canon to the greater Star Wars franchise. This helped bolster some curiosity as the franchise puts you in the role as a member of the Imperial Army’s special forces caught in decision making after the destruction of the second Death Star and the fallout of the death of the Emperor. It also showed how great the Frostbite engine could be utilized when time and effort is put into the development cycle with a focus.
Despite all the positives, even Battlefront II and Star Wars could not get away with over implementation of microtransactions “surprise mechanics.”
Bonus Generosity, Respawn Entertainment & Indies
In September 2013, Andrew Wilson was appointed as the new CEO to Electronic Arts, a role he still holds within the company. Wilson had been with EA since 2000 working with the European & Asian markets before taking roles in the sports division. One of his most recent contribution to the company as CEO was to forgo monetary bonuses, along with other EA executives. Due to lower performances during the 2019 fiscal year, the executive team decided instead that bonuses normally received by executive management would be instead dispersed among the company’s employees. The rough estimate totals $4.8 million.
One of the bright spots within EA is Respawn Entertainment. The studio was founded by Vince Zampella and Jason West, who previously helped found the competing development studio Infinity Ward (of Call of Duty fame). At this studio, it is clear that the developers care about what they are creating, and also are able to maintain control over their destiny. While Apex Legends seems like it would be a forced project, Respawn Entertainment was very vocal that this was a studio decision that even needed to convince the EA board.
“Not to be throwing EA under the bus, but this wasn’t the game they were expecting. I had to go to executives and show it to them and explain it and…not convince but more “Hey, trust us! This is the thing you want out of us.” – EA Executive Producer Drew McCoy
Respawn isn’t done yet, either. Later this year, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is scheduled to launch providing a long overdue single-player campaign game without a focus on multiplayer. Apex Legends just released it’s second season on July 2 to provide more content to the game that surprised everyone, EA included. Surely it is only a matter of time before their juggernaut franchise, Titanfall, is announced with a much-anticipated follow-up title.
See More: EA Access Finally Comes To PS4
Another good thing EA is bringing to the development cycle is additional support for independent developers and smaller titles. In recent years games such as Unravel, A Way Out and this year’s Sea of Solitude have been released providing not only excitement but also a mystery as to what Electronic Arts is up to. A developer that is not known for support on smaller titles, providing a platform for indie developers to release games and receive a good profit for their work? Blasphemy! Only it’s not. The games have been well received critically and commercially and the developers working with EA have not reported any oddities from the publisher that one would anticipate. Can this streak continue with EA?
From the outside, it’s easy to be hard on Electronic Arts and the developers when mistakes happen. It is easy to put them under a microscope and criticize every move made. What is not easy is to regain trust and perception. This is clearly a struggle that the collective has experienced, but continue to fight for.
As a gamer, we have the ability to help determine the way EA decides to re-establish themselves. Though it is also the responsibility of EA to listen and understand when criticism is given. When gamers say they do not want a mobile Command & Conquer game but a classic style game, they should listen. When gamers say they want Bad Company 3, there’s only one thing you can do to ensure your consumers are happy.
Electronic Arts can get there. They may have to change their ways in some aspects. EA may have to recognize what “surprise mechanics” really are. They can get there.