Regardless of how you may feel about these sci-fi video games – or Electronic Arts – excusing their mistakes is becoming increasingly difficult.
Electronic Arts has rapidly become the veritable “F-word” of the gaming community, and for good reason. The company is like King Midas, except instead of turning everything it touches into gold, it turns it into the rawest of sewage. The only real “gold” that’s present is the money they make suckering everyday gamers with hype and pre-orders, only to crush our hopes and dreams by taking over some classic sci-fi franchises which – honestly – should have been a slam dunk.
Examples like Command & Conquer, Battlefront, The Old Republic – how do you honestly mess these up? It’s like wrecking Mac & Cheese or Pillsbury chocolate chip cookies; all the ingredients are there.
To be fair, every major gaming company has dropped the ball at one point or another, but EA Games seem to be gaining a reputation as products of a meat grinder whose sole purpose is to assimilate titles and rehash them with little regard for their source material.
So why does EA have such a terrible record with its sci-fi vide game adaptations and reboots? The answer isn’t simple; in fact, it’s arguably a culmination of factors that, when combined, create the perfect (or dare we say “imperfect”) storm of corporate greed and artistic limitation.
EA Problem #1 – Tight Deadlines
One reason Electronic Arts has been known to ruin sci-fi franchises is its responsibility to stakeholders. By definition, EA is a mega-corporation, so there’s a lot riding on being able to release its titles on time for gamers and investors alike. But this is where a major problem lies.
In the words of one employee review: “Crunch time can be a nightmare and requires long hours for several months on end if you’re trying to ship a product.” Nobody likes an overly demanding boss.
Video games are like fine wine; the longer you leave it, the better it gets – at least in a perfect world, anyway. Some games are just genuinely terrible, but as a general rule, letting developers take their time allows them to iron out the kinks and increase their chances of creating a better title. In short, if a game seems rushed and incomplete, it probably is.
Case in point, take a look at classics like Star Wars: Battlefront and Battlefront II. These titles were initially designed and published by other companies, with EA taking over as the publisher long after the games’ creation. Many of these organizations – most notably Lucasarts – had a pretty decent track record with their games.
Fast forward to 2015, when the series’ remake, Battlefront was designed by EA Digital Illusions (a.k.a. EA DICE) and published by Electronic Arts. Despite its clever marketing, significant pre-orders, and intense hype, the game was a shell of its former self. Maps were limited, gameplay was shallow and there was no single-player campaign. Adding insult to injury, EA decided to beef up its content through paid DLC, rather than address the glaring issues that made it so poorly received.
Of course, Battlefront is just the product of a deeper problem. It doesn’t take much effort to find employee reviews citing 12 hour days and intense pressure as a game’s release date looms. It sucks the enjoyment out of the job, despite EA’s reputation for great salary and benefits.
EA Problem # 2 – Failure to Listen
EA’s tendency to ruin sci-fi video games also stems from a lack of communication, specifically with its fan base. While some game designers and publishers listen to their players and add/remove features accordingly, Electronic Arts is set in its ways. They show a lack of attention to gamers that’s nothing short of contempt. Their main goal is to profit from a game’s stronger past and brand recognition, changing or excluding things as they see fit.
A classic instance would be EA’s handling of the Command & Conquer franchise. While C&C 3 was a decent title, the fourth and (sadly) final installment, Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight was a crushing blow to the series.
First, Electronic Arts demolished the tried and true game mechanic of building and resource gathering, replacing it with walking bases in an impossible, short, unsatisfying single-player campaign. In terms of gameplay, Tiberium was virtually out of the equation, which is funny, considering the substance’s central role in the C&C narrative since 1996.
Although EA did have a hand in Red Alert 2 and Tiberian Sun, the series’ creator, Westwood Studios, was mostly behind those titles. Compare them to Red Alert 3 – well, save yourself the pain and avoid that title.
By comparison, when the C&C 4 beta versions came out, the backlash was immediate. Blogs, review sites, and forums were ablaze with devoted fans voicing their disapproval. What did EA do in response? Nothing. Zip. They released the game as-is and rode its coattails, waiting for sales to come in so they could take the money and run. It’s honestly like a snake oil salesman in the 1800s who suckers people into buying his hair growth elixirs and skips town before the people can come at him with their pitchforks.
EA Problem # 3 – The Wrong Direction
For a company as profit-driven as Electronic Arts, it’s no surprise that they’d want to milk a franchise for everything it’s worth. In this case, there’s no better example than Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Ever since KOTOR 2, fans were yearning for an epic conclusion to what they thought would be a trilogy. Instead, EA and BioWare decided to take a sharp left into the over-saturated MMO genre. Perhaps in the early days of MMOs, this move might have been a smart one, since BioWare and EA did a decent job of giving us a great story with plenty of branches and choices; however, after years of online games, a narrative wasn’t enough to make the game stand out.
EA and BioWare both failed to see that; while the graphics were nice and the lore was great, it suffered from the same stale gameplay of older MMOs, like World of Warcraft. This effectively killed any novelty that SWTOR could have brought to the table. The bottom line is that the most important factor in a game is the way it’s played, not the way it’s presented.
The second failure was timing. MMOs weren’t as in vogue, but neither were subscription fees. By the looks of things, people simply didn’t have the money to drop $15 a month on a game that was underwhelming. This may have flown back in the Golden Age when titles like Everquest II and WoW were new, but by 2012, people were sick of it. Today, most MMOs follow the free-to-play model, with SWTOR eventually sort of following suit.
It wasn’t long until EA and BioWare felt the pinch, resulting in large layoffs as the game’s paid subscriber base dwindled, a drawback from the volatility of subscription-based MMOs.
For the first time, a new generation of gamers and a new generation of viewers collided with Star Wars in an unprecedented way, with many games bleeding into the expanded universe of books and comics (until it was greatly cut off at the knees in The Force Awakens, but let’s leave that for another time).
Although the classic Star Wars game legacy attempts to live on in today’s era of DLC and lifelike graphics
Regardless of how you may feel about the above sci-fi video games – or Electronic Arts in general – it’s becoming increasingly difficult to excuse these mistakes. In a way, EA is a paradox; EA’s profits are disproportionate to their quality, like a lemonade stand successfully selling watered-down Kool-Aid for $50 a glass.
Accountability is essentially dead, so our only hope now is to “vote with our wallets”, so to speak. If we want Electronic Arts to listen, the only recourse is to fight back with our Benjamins – and at the rate game prices are rising, we’ll need a whole army of those guys.