Friday, 30 November 2012

Electronic Arts or Electronic Farts?

In the long and jumbled history of video games, has there ever been another company like Electronic Arts? They're now among the very richest and most successful developers/publishers of all time but if you asked the average hardcore or retro gamer for their opinion of EA, most would probably have a venomous retort already scripted and ready to vent. I am firmly entrenched among them I have to say (as long-time readers here will already know), but it wasn't always that way.

Although founded waay back in 1982 by Trip Hawkins, I was only vaguely aware of them during my Speccy and Master System gaming years. It wasn't until the era of the MegaDrive had arrived that I really started to have sufficient information to form an opinion on the company, and that opinion was... actually a very positive one! That's right, back then EA were a splendid company whose name was held in high regard worldwide, even by me. They became a prolific supporter of Sega's 16-bit monster, pretty much from the off, and new releases were always eagerly anticipated. How could they not be when they had the quality of Battle Squadron, Starflight, The Immortal, Rolo to the Rescue, F-22 Interceptor, Desert Strike, and the James Pond series? Their releases weren't all 'Mean Machines Mega Games' of course, but the quality and, vitally, the originality and creativity were of a consistently high enough standard for EA to be regarded as one of the best and most reliable game companies around.

So where did it all go wrong? Well, I think the start can be traced back to the very days I'm reminiscing about and the release of John Madden Football. At the time it was a fantastic game, even if you didn't like the real sport, but little did we know what was coming. First there was John Madden '92, the NHL Hockey, then PGA Tour Golf, then John Madden '93, then NHL '93, then PGA Tour II... Then came the big one - FIFA International Soccer in 1993.

The very first FIFA - not bad but look what it started!
And so it came to pass: following EA's success with their first few sports titles, their focus had shifted. Yearly updates of every sport they covered would be shoved down the throats of gamers the world over. Other sports were soon added to their repertoire such as basketball and boxing - they had even created a new sub-label known, appropriately enough, as EA Sports - and before long store shelves, and very soon after that store bargain-bins, would be awash with nearly infinite copies of their sports titles. The worst part? People kept buying them! Even today, gamers await each new release of their favourite sport with feverish anticipation, excitedly counting down the days and generally babbling away on their social network of choice, and then queueing up outside stores on the launch day. This is all despite the fact that the only differences between their quarry and the previous year's version are usually just updated team rosters and a slight cosmetic polish. Does this warrant spending £40 every year on a game that most people wouldn't be able to tell apart from the previous incarnation?

I suppose I should opine that if that's what they want to spend their hard-earned (hopefully) money on, who am I to argue, but surely EA are rich enough now that they don't need to make each 'update' a full release? I suppose I could understand it to begin with - you can hardly release a data-disk for a MegaDrive game (although yearly releases are still hardly essential), but these days there's absolutely no excuse for not releasing new team stats, rosters, even competitions, by way of download for a lower price. All current systems have this service available and many games offer extra/updated content via download, sometimes even for free.

Maybe every few years it would be worth releasing a whole new game, but only when enough has changed as to make it worth it. Some might say that EA's greed and resultant wealth is only a direct consequence of people buying the games they want, year in, year out, but I'm sure even the biggest sports fans wouldn't complain if they could just download new bits and pieces for their existing games. All EA's current stance does (aside from making them richer with minimal effort) is... well, pictures speak louder than words:

Take my recent visit to a local game shop as an example. Although I still have little interest in playing actual games on my PS3, I thought I'd have a quick browse of the titles available, but what greeted me? Row upon row of EA Sports games! To illustrate my point, I went to the trouble of lining up five successive FIFA games to show their prices (the shelf shown was filled only with dozens of copies of FIFA 12 before, with the others similarly occupying numerous entire shelves). Although it's difficult to see at this size, from right-to-left they are: FIFA 13 - £40, FIFA 12 - £6, FIFA 11 - £1.50, FIFA 10 - £1, FIFA 09 - £0.50. Even the game that's only just been replaced is over six times cheaper than the new release! How much better should a 'sequel' be to cost over six times more? Maybe I'm a cynic but I'd say it should feature more than just 'slightly improved goalkeeper AI'.

Regardless, FIFA 13 will top all the sales charts for months, sell millions of copies, and make EA even richer. Then, in less than a year it will be available for a fraction of its price and the cycle will start once again as the same gamers fall over themselves to buy FIFA 14. It's true that you could say similar things about many other products and companies but I've personally never seen such a ridiculously blatant example as the one set by Electronic bloody Arts. Come on EA, do the right thing and admit that your 'sequels' are barely even 'updates' and distribute them accordingly. That way, the next time I go to a game store, I might actually find something other than EA Sports games littering the shelves. And counter. And bargain bins. And floor. And skip at the back of the store. And being used to build houses. And...


  1. Excellent post, my friend.
    The only reason I don't crucify EA completely is because of old times sake and Need for Speed Underground (the first one).

    And soccer games?
    Unless it's one of those fun Taito cheesy oldies I'm not in, they bore me to death. I'd rather play some Virtua Tennis or Super Volleyball on the MD.

  2. Many thanks Mr Mario and Edward! :) I almost mentioned the Need For Speed series actually. And The Sims. But I thought I'd stick to the sports games in the end. I don't personally like football games either but even if I did, there's no way in the world I'd spend £40 every year (for each sport) for little more than updated player rosters! Grrr! And I didn't even get anywhere near other annoying things about EA either...

  3. Early EA stuff (80s and early 90s) was decent :) can't stand anything EA from post 2000 much though.

  4. Yeah, that timeline is about right for me too - their decision not to support my beloved Dreamcast didn't really endear them to me (>.<)

  5. 5 awesome (!) Games will always be connected for me with the Name "Electronic Arts". And, yeah, I love `em SO much: Archon 1+2 - and "The Bard`s Tale" Trilogy.
    Those were the best of times where the company had somehow raised a Flag for creativity in Computergames.

    I guess nowadays everybody`s feeling the same way like you do over here. It`s too much. It FEELS like it`s all about the money. At least I haven`t met a Gamer till now, who knows EA from the early days and who`s defending their way of releasing the very same Game year after year.

    And...yeah,nothing will change. Still we got a lot of independend developers who are the complete opposite of it.

    nice blog as always,simon. read ya

  6. Many thanks, Sarah! :) I remember the Bard's Tale games now, I think I had one of them on my Speccy. Those were the days, huh? EA's games are only half the story though, they messed up entire studios as well. Bah!

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    1. Here in Italy, EA sports titles go very well, especially for Soccer games.
      A lot people I know, have buyed a PS3 only for FIFA series, just the time to play it, that they return the game to the shop for buy the new one, without ask themselves if the new title is better or differente than the last one.
      In my point of view, they are always the same game every time with minor changes, and they continue to release "new" titles, only for continue to hold the monopoly on "FIFA" label, imo.
      Same thing for other franchise like need for speed, the same thing at every release..
      EA knows that many players nowadays, would buy anything just for the cover and that would be satisfied even silly games with no substance, so their market continues to yield ...

    2. Pix3: Yes, tragically some ppl do get a console just to play sports titles. These ppl do not like video games, they like sport. Video games are simply another medium through which their sport is communicated.
      RKS: EA's takeover and subsequent desecration of Westwood Studios shall not be forgotten. On the other hand, they occasionally release another good iteration of one of their many franchises such as Burn Out or NFS. So all said & done, I value their contribution to our rich heritage. BTW, great pic of shelf titles :) I'll take EAs logo off my doormat....

  8. Pix3l - yes, I can easily imagine that some people buy consoles just for the sports games. As Luke says, they're not really video game fans at all, but they've clearly got more money than sense! EA aren't quite as bad with the Need For Speed series - at least some games are different. Various incarnations have covered serious circuit racing, street racing with modded cars, normal arcade tomfoolery, and more or less everything in between. Still too many of them though!

    Luke - very good point and I agree, sport fandom and video game fandom are rarely found in the same person! I remember your anger over Westwood Studios and I share it regarding Criterion, the studio responsible for the Burnout series which they also ruined soon after taking the company over :(