EA is seeing some shaky times these days
It seems to be pretty rough over at EA lately. Things just have not been going their way. Good for people who want to stick it to the man, not so good for people who still like many of the IPs that EA owns and operates, and even less good for people who work there. EA seems to have fallen into a perfect storm of losing on some really big gambles. I’d like to quickly explore what’s happening at one of the industry’s biggest publishers and maybe where this is going next.
The higher you climb, the higher you fall
First of all, EA took a huge, probably too huge, gamble on Star Wars: The Old Republic. While a great deal of money went into the game’s development, a large chunk also went into its marketing over the 3 year course of the game’s drawn-out announcement. Analysts estimate EA spent close to half a billion on the game total. Half of a billion dollars. And with rough patches such as the infamous Ilum exploit things just do not seem to be going well for the Bioware-fronted MMO. I actually thought the game was pretty great, but eventually got a little bored by it and canceled. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same is happening for many others. To top it all off, recent announcements about free weekends, free months for people who have stayed on and the very recent e-mail I got today asking me to come back for free for the rest of the week do not spell a ton of confidence in the product’s userbase. As TOR was deemed the potential WoW-killer, I don’t think EA execs are entirely too impressed by these developments. TOR fans will probably dry up fairly quickly. The real problem with TOR is that the investment is so high, even an expansion will be a huge undertaking, if they want to keep the standard of quality that they’ve been selling this whole time. Without a giant userbase, odds of additional content will be pretty slim.
No slice of the Call of Duty pie
A little older news, but still very relevant, is the perceived lack of success that was Battlefield 3. Graphically stunning and full of detail, the game failed to take any real share from the Call of Duty franchise, who at this point I’m pretty convinced could poop on a disk and still sell millions. Comparatively, they’re absolutely right. CoD absolutely killed Battlefield in sales. But really now, Battlefield was able to capture quite a bit itself and will easily warrant sequels for years to come. EA, as I see it though, really was hoping to get a significant cut of the CoD pie, as it were, and get a foothold for whatever their next FPS ace up their sleeve is (Respawn Entertainment anyone?). EA execs will sooner-or-later “get” that Battlefield is much more of a niche FPS, but maybe that’s for a different discussion.
Shifting back to Bioware, the recent kerfuffle over the Mass Effect 3 ending has really shaken the perception fans once had for the company. Whether you were a fan of the ending yourself or not, Bioware is now going to be releasing an “Extended Edition” of the ending for free this summer. That’s a lot of time being spent to fix something for free rather than adding more pay-for DLC, so I can only imagine how EA execs felt about the whole situation. But monetary reasons aside, its the fans who are the real loss. Many will come back in time for the next major Bioware game, but I think many will also be a little disillusioned by the short-sightedness of a DLC promo screen for an ending. If I’m to believe that there won’t be anymore Mass Effect games anytime soon, then this may all be a moot point, but I think its long been believed that Bioware’s fanbase was one of its greatest assets.
Where to next?
It was a bit of a scare to see rumors that EA might be laying some people off soon, but at this point EA has said those aren’t true, so I’m willing to take that at face value. Still, with looming financial disappointments and some possible delusions of grandeur when it comes to tackling the industry’s biggest IPs, EA may have just received a huge reality check. I’d really like to see EA foster its original IPs more, like it did so well with Mass Effect and Battlefield for years. It would just be much better to see them focus on their own niches instead of trying to dethrone others as they are with the FPS and MMO genres. If they can give me Dead Space 3 I’ll be happy, but if they can give me something I never dreamed of before, I’ll be much happier. Taking huge chances on stuff that’s been well established as successful just seems like bad business. Hopefully this wakes them up and gets them to take chances on the unexplored.