EA Games: Destroy Everything!
The Mass Defect of EA
Electronic Arts do amaze me in some ways. They are one of the largest video game publishers in the world. EA’s 2016 net income according to their own reports was more than $1bn (feel free to use a Dr Evil voice there). However, despite being such a clear success, the company appears to be run by a bunch of rather stupid ferrets.
I’m not going to lie; this rant is largely provoked by EA and Bioware’s decision to kill off Mass Effect: Andromeda. Having created a game that leaves more than a handful of plots unresolved, to announce that no further content is coming is an insult to the players. A conscious decision was made to leave hanging plot threads. It is reasonable to expect they would be resolved eventually. I understand that ME:A received some rather harsh criticism but even EA’s own earnings reports indicate the game was still a financial success, and DLC could have provided the cherry on the cake.
It doesn’t matter how ME:A performed, though. EA has taken the decision to restructure Bioware, closing down the ME:A studio and moving people over to Anthem. Fuck Anthem. If I wanted to play Destiny, I’d play Destiny. I don’t want to play Destiny. This, however, is EA all over and is part of the reason why ME:A had a troubled development cycle. You see, EA for all its commercial success and brand power is not an innovator. EA might have been innovative once, but these days EA is an imitator, desperately trying to push out its own take on the next big thing.
No Man’s Land
EA got it into its head that No Man’s Sky would be the next big thing. It was understandable. No Man’s Sky had all the hype of the Paris Hilton sex tape. Of course, in the end, No Man’s Sky was about as interesting as the Paris Hilton sex tape. It was a big, grand idea with a failed execution. Once the grim realisation began to set in at EA, you can just imagine panicked executives wiping their sweat-laden brows with $100 bills and demanding the B-team they handed Mass Effect to change everything.
EA also forced Bioware to use the Frostbite Engine. Now, hey, I’ll acknowledge both Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect: Andromeda are gorgeous games. The first time I saw Varric Tethras in Dragon Age: Inquisition, I was taken aback by just how real he looked. Frostbite, however, is not designed for RPGs. It is designed for first-person shooters. In the type of confined, almost linear levels of the Battlefield series, Frostbite is perfect.
In large open-worlds, an RPG looks pretty, but the engine needs so much tweaking to work with RPG mechanics that it takes time to do other things. You know, stuff like sorting out tired faces, or adding variation in character appearances. Had Bioware been allowed to actually take control over the development of their fucking game, perhaps ME:A would not have had quite such a troubled development cycle? Just a thought.
The Trust Issues of an Abusive Partner
Herein lies the problem. EA’s success is built on buying up successful small developers and acting as the publisher. However, even a developer that is successful enough to catch EA’s attention receives not one iota of trust. EA didn’t trust Bioware enough to let them call the shots, instead of forcing things on them. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if EA didn’t order Bioware to leave so many unresolved plot threads.
EA is a cancer to video-game developers. They feed and destroy. Oh sure, it’s their money they pump into these releases. EA has a responsibility to shareholders to ensure that investments are wise. However, EA operates in an industry that rewards creativity and innovation. We don’t want pale imitations of other games, and we definitely don’t want our favourite developers being leashed by the paranoid collar of an executive worried he might have to spend less on his ivory buttplug collection.
Bullfrog, Westwood, Mythic, Origin (not that silly Steam-clone), Phenomic, Black Box, Pandemic, NuFX and more have been successful studios purchased by EA, had the heart and soul ripped out of the business and then shut down. It’s almost like EA exist to do nothing but collect and hoard intellectual properties. In some ways, it is amazing that Bioware has managed to last this long. Command & Conquer creators Westwood got shit-canned after five years. Bullfrog managed six. Sim City developers, Maxis got the chop in 2015 although the “brand lives on” according to EA.
Putting the EA in Reapers
I must ask the question, though; what are you trying to accomplish, EA? You either trust your people, or you do not. Clearly, EA has absolutely no trust for the people running its most successful studios and IPs. Now, I know, Bioware has seen quite the overhaul in personnel over the years. Perhaps, however, it’s time that EA realised that they are the problem. EA are the ones lacking innovation and creativity, and that so many of their beloved franchises end up in the grave should be a kick up the arse.
Leaving the Andromeda story unfinished is a disgrace. Resolving it in novels, as is likely, is also unacceptable. I don’t read a book and expect to need to watch a movie to see the ending. Likewise, I do not expect to need to read a book to complete a video game. If EA sees their customers as anything other than walking ATMs, they will announce Andromeda 2 at the earliest opportunity. And perhaps this time, they will put some faith in the people they employ to make the game.