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Fixing EA

Oh, Electronic Arts, you're in a bit of a pickle, aren't you?

To say that EA is having a bit of a problem with public perception would be a massive understatement. In the past year they have come under fire for predatory micro transaction practices, cancelled a highly anticipated Star Wars game, stated that single player games are a dying breed, and shuttered yet another well-regarded development team. Their lackluster E3 presentation didn’t do much to help matters. Sure, EA is doing gangbusters as far as sales and revenue, but they have burned up so much good will with their customers that it’s easy to see a scenario where they find themselves in a tough position, relying on their yearly Madden and FIFA games to keep them afloat. As someone who has a complicated relationship with their brand, I have some ideas on how EA can win players over, and move strongly into the upcoming next generation.


If you follow video game history at all, you are likely aware that the genesis of EA was to highlight the artists that designed their games. While Electronic Arts is still the name of the company, it is rare to see it in print, and we are a long way from the days when EA focused on their creative leaders.

I would bring the name back, as a special brand imprint within the company. The new Electronic Arts initiative would focus on smaller projects with various teams that are working on more modest titles. These could be unique indie titles of course, but this is also a great playground to try to bring back classic EA franchises that don’t warrant a full “triple A” treatment. Think of things like Road Rash, Desert Strike, or even long-forgotten titles such as General Chaos.

These games needn’t break the bank, and with a focus on smaller budgets and a modest marketing budget (show the game through their YouTube channel and let influencers spread the word), these games could turn a decent profit. More than that, though, it would go a long way towards generating good will with players. We’re a nostalgic bunch, after all, and it’s usually exciting to see beloved titles come back.


While we’re on the subject of bringing back classic EA franchises, I think it’s high time for a return to the EA Big label. For those who may not remember, EA Big was a sports label within the company that focused on more arcade style games, far more accessible than their faithful sports simulations. Popular titles included NBA Street, the SSX snowboarding series, and Def Jam Vendetta, which was a wrestling game featuring rappers from the Def Jam label. It was way cooler than it sounds. No, really.

I hear people asking for a new NBA Street regularly, but I’d bring the entire label back, and get even crazier with it. The EA Big games had a largely cohesive art style, with brightly colored, exaggerated character models, and I think current technology could play with this well. Again, I could see these games being done for a much smaller budget than the powerhouse sports games like Madden, and as such could bring a good return, as long as expectations were managed.

Which brings me to the next part:


This is a problem with a lot of companies (looking at you, Square Enix), but EA is particularly guilty of this. It was only last year that they closed Visceral, the studio that brought us Dead Space. While the first game was a success with over a million units sold, somehow EA saw the next mega franchise in that game, and continued to inflate game budgets and sales expectations to the point that Dead Space 3 needed to sell over 5 million copies to turn a profit. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. Of course, it didn’t help that the powers that be kept shoving things into the series it really didn’t need, such as a Left 4 Dead style multiplayer mode in Dead Space 2 and a focus on co-op multiplayer in Dead Space 3.

The thing is, Dead Space 3 could have been a profitable game, had the company been shooting for another million seller and budgeted accordingly. Instead, EA tried to make it the next Mass Effect, even though horror games don’t have as wide an appeal. Obviously I’m no business man, but even a layperson can see that you shouldn’t expect a series that’s sold 1-2 million units to do five times that number for a sequel.


It’s ironic that, in the year that EA declared the death of single player experiences, we had some of the most successful single player games of the generation. From The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to Nier: Automata to Horizon: Zero Dawn, 2017 was a year of blockbuster releases. These games were not only well received critically but sold exceptionally well. Even the aforementioned Nier, a decidedly niche title, has sold over three million copies, and those numbers will only grow when the game comes to the Xbox One this year.

This success has continued into this year, with reports of Monster Hunter World becoming the fastest selling game in Capcom’s history, and the new God of War selling a staggering 8 million copies so far. They are the leaders in a packed release year that is also expecting new editions in the Tomb Raider and Dragon Quest franchises, and the highly anticipated Spider-Man game from Insomniac Games. The data is clear: single player games aren’t going anywhere, and are, in fact, doing better than ever.

Sure, there is no denying the success of multiplayer games like Overwatch, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, and the juggernaut that is Fortnite. But there are only so many players to go around in that space, and at some point, anyone trying to syphon off some of those players is going to end up with little to show for their efforts. We’ve seen it with the massively multiplayer role-playing game space, and we’re currently seeing it in the MOBA arena. There are plenty of players that will play a great single player game alongside their multiplayer game of choice, but there is also a vast pool of players that don’t touch multiplayer titles. To abandon single player game development is sheer folly, especially for a company as large as EA that can afford to take more risks on new IP. Again, it’s all about managing expectations. Not every new title can become the next Assassin’s Creed, but that shouldn’t suggest that there is not room to be extremely successful with single player experiences.


Last generation, I was impressed with a lot of the moves that EA made. From taking chances on the first Dead Space to publishing the wayward Brutal Legend, they seemed to be striving to once again be more than just the sports company. One of the great things they did was to reward players for playing their games with little in-game treasures. Did you play Dragon Age: Origins? Well, here’s a set of Blood Dragon armor to wear in Mass Effect 2. Did you play Mass Effect 2? Here’s some cool armor for Dragon Age 2. How about playing the demo for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning? Well, have a cool weapon in both BioWare games, as well as getting Blood Dragon armor in Amalur should you choose to buy it.

These are silly little things, but as we have seen with the rise of cosmetic loot boxes, players love these silly little things. Instead of doubling down on this practice for this generation, it has been abandoned completely, and I can’t fathom why. Blizzard understands how much players hunger for this type of brand crossover; just crack open any of their collector’s editions and you’ll find digital items for all their major properties. I barely played Overwatch, but I sure do enjoy equipping Mercy’s wings on my Diablo III characters, for example.


These ideas aren’t going to make EA a truckload of money. I do believe they will make EA a modest amount of money if properly handled, but there is a hidden and more valuable benefit to these suggestions. This is all about building good will with consumers, and mending the bridge that has been burned from years of poor practices. Sure, an argument could be made that the hardcore gaming set comprises a small percentage of the video games industry, but when even people who haven’t touched a controller in years are asking about why people hate the new Star Wars game so much, you have a big, big problem.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of EA games over the years, and they are such a big company with such a storied history that I would like to continue to enjoy their games. But if they truly believe that the correct path forward is in multiplayer only games that need to sell ten million copies just to turn a profit, well, I’m not sure if there will be many EA games around to enjoy in the future.



Oh, and how about you give us that Mass Effect Trilogy remaster already?






06/14/2018 at 02:43 PM

EA isn't really fixable. They've been pushing games as a service for years, and they were doing heavy duty DRM before Microsoft did back in the 80s and 90s. Honestly I wish they'd be broken up and and their properties sold off to other companies, preferably not Activision Blizzard, because they are awful. They turn everythingthey touch to shit sooner or later. When you can't even keep a studio like Maxis alive, your management is shit.

Unfortunately, they also have a monopoly on both American and association football, so as long as they have a guaranteed stream of Madden dollars and FIFA euros there will never be an incentive for them to change.

Nick DiMola Director

06/20/2018 at 09:45 AM

I love these ideas and I really do think they'd pay dividends for EA in becoming a more desirable company to buy products from. I understand they're still making boatloads of money, but they make it hard to want to give them money.

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