Fiction Over Fact: Why EA Is Destined To Lose When It Doesn't Deserve It
Posted on Wednesday, September 19 2012 @ 12:36:47 Eastern
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A sort of disclaimer before I begin. It is not every day that I normally throw myself out there with the purpose of starting a conversation to discuss discourse of the general gaming audience, but with the calm before the holiday storm ebbing away and with little news to really report at the moment, now is as a good as time as any to really sink my teeth into something that has been troubling me for a while now.
I admit as a pseudo-journalist, I tend to over-value truth and integrity to the point where I am sometimes gobsmacked at the reactions of the “uninformed” around me, and fight with every fibre of my being to stem the tide of misinformation. Not because I am some sort of journalistic elite entitled to his opinion due to my stature, but because it is more of the right thing to do to actually foster a more positive outlook on the industry as a whole. Take today’s example, for instance, as we go down the road of discussing the merits of Electronic Arts.
Yes, good old EA, the “cancer that is killing gaming” depending on which slack-jawed attention-seeker you currently believe. Not because they are right, mind you, but because they believe they are right, a universal truth based on a perpetual myth of things. As is such a case, it is quite easy to stack the house of cards against the corporate entity and erode its foundation with spewed hatred ad-nausea. It’s like it’s hip to be a hater of a game company on the internet, and because of that perception, EA will always be fighting a losing battle.
What do I mean by this? Well, wind the clock back a week, and you see what I mean. It was reported that EA was under fire for promoting the idea that single-player games were no longer going to be developed under their label. At least, that is what the spin doctors of sensationalist titles took from the comments by EA Games President Frank Gibeau. For example, Destructoid’s own Jim Sterling ran with the quotation and used it to call doom and gloom for the company based on the singular soundbyte, which is as follows below:
"We are very proud of the way EA evolved with consumers," he said. "I have not green lit one game to be developed as a singleplayer experience. Today, all of our games include online applications and digital services that make them live 24/7/365. “
Sterling of course penned the article titled “EA Boss Proudly Refuses to Publish Single-Player Games.” on Destructoid, and in an instant, EA loses. Just like that, they no longer have credibility or clout to counteract any dissenting voice on the internet.
Of course, upon closer examination of the quote and the context it was said, things are not as dark as Mr. Sterling, and other journalists among the gaming-sphere, would have you to believe. For starters, the quotation were remarks taken from promotional materials for a cloud-gaming conference, a place where the talks would likely reflect the discussion of online applications and digital services, as described in the quotation. It also doesn’t distinguish what digital services are considered “non-singleplayer.” Not that my opinion matters so much in this case, but non-single player can have several meanings, from online leader boards found in score games like Rock Band, to applications tracking single and multiplayer progress like Halo 3. Of course, multiplayer and co-op modes have also made appearances as well, some correctly implemented and some not. But does this truly lead to the death of all single-player games?
To be fair to Gibeau, this is not an earth-shaking stance from him, as he has spoken in similar terms since 2010, discussing how social interactions and connectivity are the way to go. In fact, EA as a company has been fairly vocal about this idea of social interaction; COO Peter Moore has stated his opinion on the future of gaming as it transitions into the more lucrative free-to-play model for everything out there. See, the trick is to differentiate the multiplayer aspects, something that looks to be in the forefront of Gibeau’s mind when he replied to the criticism made by his comments on Kotaku.
"Let me clarify," Gibeau began. "What I said was [about not greenlighting] anything that [doesn't have] an online service. You can have a very deep single-player game but it has to have an ongoing content plan for keeping customers engaged beyond what's on the initial disc. I'm not saying deathmatch must come to Mirror's Edge."
Gibeau chuckled at his own example and continued to explain what the shape of EA's game-making approach will be moving forward. "What I'm saying is if you're going do it, do it with an open-world game that's a connected experience where you can actually see other players, you can co-operate, you can compete and it can be social. Everything that we do, we see the telemetry coming in telling us that's the best way to build our business and that's the best way to build these experiences and be differentiated from others. Yeah, I'm not suggesting deathmatch must be in Bejeweled. It's just… You need to have a connected social experience where you're part of a large community."
It should also be noted that Gibeau’s stance on social interaction is nothing new in the industry, since several high-profile leaders in the industry have described similar ideals in different ways. Essentially, Gibeau is discussing gaming as a service over a commodity, echoing the stance of giants such as Satoru Iwata, who recently discussed how the New Nintendo Wii U will have a critical social component that is mandatory for the future of gaming. Valve’s CEO Gabe Newell also is a proponent of this ideal; speaking at the Sony conference at the 2010 E3 that “the needs of gamers and developers are evolving. Specifically, it‘s not just about chips rendering pixels or calculating nav meshes, it‘s about giving gamers a complete, social connected experience."
No wonder EA wanted to buy Valve—they think alike on this issue.
This new development philosophy may also be the reason why Half-Life 2: Episode 3 is never going to come out, since Newell once said back in 2011 that it is finished with episodic content. And we can see this “gaming as a service” model used by Valve without much penalty, Team Fortress 2’s entire Manconemy is emblematic of this change, creating a drop system, a barter system, and an online store in the blink of an eye to add to the service model, and longevity, of Team Fortress 2. It offers microtransactions and interactions with players, all of which adheres to the service model Valve has adopted. All of which is also met with pure praise by fans.
But I digress, because we are talking about why EA is destined to fail, and in the end it becomes perception above all else. What is the real difference between Valve and Electronic Arts? Well, one was voted the worst corporation in the United States in an arbitrary online poll, while the other is lauded for being a shining light in the gaming world. Critics and entertainers alike seem to universally agree on this myth, that EA is, and always will be, evil and destructive, while Valve can do no wrong and the best company in gaming today.
Opinions aside for each company (in which I personally don’t see a difference between the two since they both make quality products), it seems clear that there are other differences under the surface argument here. Of course, one can say that EA has been doing their emulations of Valve wrong, and that is somewhat true. Origin being a prime punching bag for critics is again, emblematic of that whole perception. But the shortcomings of Origin aside, why does one company get the pass while another gets the boot? Why do both follow a similar business model, but people cry foul against one of the two?
I can’t answer this. Hell, it can be argued that their models are not the same, although the goal they are attempting to achieve is within both of their sights. Of course reaching it on different terms is up for interpretation, but that is besides the point. In the end, it doesn’t matter if EA copied everything Valve did for their race to gaming as a service—they would still be seen as a blight by the near-sightedness of those around them, as “the inexorable march towards videogames becoming one indistinguishable mass of grey sludge continues," according to Jim Sterling.
But it is Sterling’s, and other journalists' chicken-little attitude regarding a narrow point of view that causes the sky to fall in this myth. Not to discredit Sterling too much here, but the fact that he is openly against gaming as a service model (if an episode of Jimquisition is to be believed), and yet, when reporting on the story about EA’s alleged buyout of Valve, Sterling made the comment, “It's really hardly surprising, given that EA likes to buy hot studios and turn them into hit factories. I hope Valve continues to resist though -- we need more companies like it in this industry, not less.”
A rather curious choice of words [Particularly since the right word is "fewer", not "less". ~Ed. Nick], considering Valve is essentially doing what he hates. Of course, the context is everything, although Mr. Sterling has yet to really give context to the line, since it can be interpreted in several ways, like I am doing right now, putting words into Mr. Sterling’s mouth. Clarification is key.
But all is fair though, because EA is evil. Right? So it doesn’t matter what Sterling or those reading really think. Of course it can be argued that there is major differences between the business models of both EA and Valve, and rightfully so there are. But that is wholly irrelevant in the end because even if they were the same, the company would be called a copycat for taking ideas from one to use on their own. Either way, Electronic Arts can’t win.
So it boils down to perception, a slanted myth that everyone has a "my side" bias based off of hypotheticals. It is one thing for a fact to reach the ears of listeners and to be used to create an opinion; it is another entirely to eliminate those facts because of such bias. Journalists, entertainers, bloggers and gamers alike each come loaded with bias, and it skews their vision when facts are present. It is a fact, that EA is going to follow a gaming as a service model, and hopes to implement a social interaction, through multiplayer, co-op, online connectivity, or social media application, and free-to-play microtransactions into their product line. It is a fact that Valve is doing the same thing, with minor or no differences, social interaction, in-game currencies and barter systems, micro-transaction models and online connectivity. It is a fact that they are not alone in this practice, as the comments by Iwata weeks ago indicate. And it is a fact that EA is receiving the brunt of this hated despite being guiltless to the practices around them.
Hell, the recent reveal of Command & Conquer: Generals 2 inclusion of a single-player mode is proof of this, despite even adding the mode and listening to the rather vocal feedback of the gaming community, the overall feeling is one of uncaring neglect. It doesn’t matter if they cater to our needs—it will still be terrible because it’s EA. So to complain about what was missing, and then getting what was missing yet dismissing it immediately is okay because we know how EA operates. I think my point is made clear here, that it doesn‘t matter what EA can do to help itself, be it damage control or just being generally responsive to their fanbase. They will always be hated, no matter what.
Hell, maybe I am just being biased myself. It is certainly possible. But it is also hard to give a pass to one group over the other when both do the same thing, only in different ways. One can say it is a false equivalent, and I won’t dismiss it, but all that remains that it becomes irrelevant to the fiction that we perceive, leaving the facts drowned out by the noise with little chance to rise above it. In the end, it may be too late for EA to ever change their image, but they should not be blamed for the evils of the industry as much as they are, because they are just doing what everyone does best—adapt and survive a changing tide.
The opinions expressed here does not necessarily reflect the views of Game Revolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. It has been submitted for our monthly $20 Vox Pop prize. ~Ed. Nick
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