As we come to the close of another console generation, the industry couldn’t be more in flux. While we started with worries that consoles were no longer viable, we end things with a landscape where developers have to ponder gaming on a multitude of devices and services. Steam’s stranglehold on PCs is crumbling, Microsoft releases games on Switch, and Intellivision threatens to re-enter the market. Some companies will inevitably struggle to navigate these choppy waters, but no company has struggled more than Electronic Arts to get back on its feet. How did the publisher behind Mass Effect, Dead Space and Dragon Age falter so much in just a few years?
Prepare for EA’s fall lineup
Starting with the premiere of the Xbox One and PS4 in 2013 and ending in the present day, only a few bright spots exist across the publisher’s entire run. Many involve Respawn Entertainment, a new company eager to prove itself. Its run of Titanfall, Apex Legends, and the recent Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order stand as shining lights compared to the rest of the catalog.
Dead Space 3 and Battlefield 4 are other notable entries in said catalog but each comes with an asterisk. While not terrible games, neither stacked up to their predecessors and the former prematurely ended the franchise and eventually led to Visceral Games being shuttered. They both suffered from new features that franchise fans hated and that trend would continue as the years rolled on.
One problem that’s easy to see looking at EA’s output this generation is its insistence on being in the right. Even when fans make it clear that a release was everything they don’t want, the publisher presses forward and push it all the same. Big gala presentations for Battlefield: Hardline drew crickets from shooter fans who couldn’t care less about the game’s cop show presentation. The Need for Speed franchise, once one of EA’s biggest, has released nothing but repetitive sequels built on unpopular open-world mechanics. RTS fans found brief excitement and endless disappointment as Command and Conquer became another Clash Royale also-ran. EA was pushing itself away from its community in a time when many other companies were bringing them closer.
EA and the plight of #Skate4
No other EA happening exemplifies this more than the viral rise and fall of Skate 4. To this day, every post on EA’s Instagram page features nothing but calls for an unmade sequel to the forgotten skateboarding franchise. After Skate 3 became so popular via YouTube glitch videos, EA started reprinting the game and fan demand for a new sequel was everywhere. This has toned down in recent years, mostly due to EA’s official response consisting of a single tweet followed swiftly by CEO Andrew Wilson outright denying the game’s development during an investor’s meeting. No Skate-centric in-game events, no playful banter on the E3 stage, nothing. Just EA ignoring a slam dunk PR move because it wasn’t what the publisher initially planned for.
Of course, not every fan-friendly move was an immediate success. The long-anticipated Mirror’s Edge Catalyst failed to move the needle with open-world gameplay that was frustrating and uninspired. EA brought back Dungeon Keeper to mobile and Peggle to Xbox One, both featuring modern touches that fans of the franchises didn’t appreciate in the slightest. Then, there’s the return of Star Wars Battlefront, a move initially met with massive excitement that turned into varying degrees of backlash. Even beyond the diaster of microtransactions that consumed the news cycle amidst Battlefront 2‘s launch, the games were a far cry from what Pandemic put together a decade prior.
Not the Battlefront you’re looking for
In fact, maybe Star Wars is the big answer we’re looking for. EA paid top dollar to acquire the exclusive rights to the Star Wars franchise from Disney, similar to the move it made with the NFL years before. Unlike that deal, Star Wars has seemingly been an albatross around the publisher’s neck. After the ink hit the paper in 2013, every developer under the EA banner reportedly went to work on pitches for the galaxy far, far away. The end result of all this activity is false starts, dead studios, and wasted resources. It’s arguable that the first good game to come out of the deal just released this month, a full six years into the contract.
It’s been a problem industry-wide, but EA just isn’t releasing the volume of games that it did during previous generations. When it does have smaller releases, it feels like EA doesn’t put as much as it should behind these games that are obviously a ploy to win over gamers. The EA Originals lineup, EA’s stab at supporting the indie scene, barely get any attention outside of EA Play. They debut on a smaller stage because they’re not at E3, and PC players have to load up the EA-specific client to find them. Even this year’s Need for Speed and Garden Warfare games felt like afterthoughts developed out of habit instead of any sense of passion.
Double Platinum EA Origin Access Elite members only
The way EA also releases games in the current era seems tailor-made to drain hype from its remaining fanbase. Between special editions, reviewers, and Origin Access demos, new releases have upwards of five separate release dates. Everyone starts playing at different points so no one talks to each other, and the game fails to take off among the evangelists that will propel your game to the rest of the world. The recent Jedi Fallen Order failed to fall into this trap, seemingly because EA knew that it had to hit big. Which just poses the question of why some games don’t need to hit big. Every game can’t be a blockbuster, but it seems like most of EA’s lineup aren’t reaching their full potential audience and this staggered release (combined with everything else) is partially to blame.
All of recent history shows EA wanting to be a big player deserving of its own show, platform, AND spotlight. All that served to do is remove itself from the conversation entirely, making EA an afterthought to everyone outside of the EA Sports ecosystem. There are signs of life in the publisher, including Burnout Paradise‘s 4K rebirth, finally returning to Steam, and everything coming out about the Command and Conquer remaster. And with the way that Jedi is selling, we even have the slimmest chance of Titanfall 3 becoming a reality. The Battlefront 2 loot box fiasco has slowly turned to fade away as the game gets more and more updates and content, even if will be forever tainted by its launch.
EA Games | Defending The Millionaire’s Club
It will take a massive internal shift at Electronic Arts to right the ship and their reputation. Despite what you might think, it’s not impossible. EA used to put out all sorts of bold AAA experiments. Dante’s Inferno was an interesting take of God of War, and the Army of Two trilogy was a fun co-op romp with the right friend by your side. Even the failed Medal of Honor reimagining had some redeeming factors if you’re willing to wade through some mid-2010s grayscale. This was the EA that produced Dead Space, Mass Effect, and yes, even Skate. EA can be this EA again, and it might have to be if it wants to stand out for generations to come.