“A publisher is a business. If you’re making money they’ll be in business with you, and if you’re not important to their bottom line, they will cut you loose and let you die.”
Tim Schafer, head of Double Fine Studios and creative mastermind behind Psychonauts, Brutal Legend and The Cave, said this during a December 2012 interview with Polygon. He went on to say that this is how a business should operate, without pesky emotional attachments to employees and their creative minds getting in the way of black ink.
Never has it been so clear that Electronic Arts, master of all things sporty and shooty in gaming, is out for money and nothing else. Their E3 conference was an infomercial full of cocaine and cars. Their vice-like grip on their properties and insistence on yearly entries is boring even the most stalwart fans of series like Madden. To truly drive the point home, however, requires COO Peter Moore reminding us in his own words that if a game does not fit their mold, it has no place with EA’s name on it.
For Peter Moore to say that every game should ship with online features is neither surprising nor in need of a blogger attacking them and taking a stance against their gargantuan corporate shadow. One of the biggest publishers in the world whose products get advertised nightly on cable and satellite channels should expect their games to include a constant connection to the same world of brominated vegetable oil and colored chips that is on display 24 hours a day on ESPN.
It is, however, disheartening to learn that the same company who once funded the original SSX, The Sims and, of course, Dead Space has turned a cold shoulder on an industry struggling with a severe identity crisis. In the world of Electronic Arts, you are either with them or against them. Independent gaming has no place in their business plan; anyone who scours the requirements for their Origin service will wonder why they strayed from Steam in the first place.
This is, after all, the same company who once helped a lot of projects off the ground. Huge hits like Crysis and Rock Band had help from the publishing titan to find their way into the homes of millions. Hell, even Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda51 got in bed with EA for Shadows of the Damned, the most mechanically similar game to anything that may have come out of such a games firm.
Times change, though.
Shadows of the Damned sold about 25,000 copies thanks to a complete lack of any help on the part of EA. If not knowing how to promote a quirky, sex-charged punk rock fantasy from the mind of Suda51 was their only problem, we could look past the closed-minded sales goals. Just days ago, however, someone I know who relegates their game-playing to mostly using their mobile phone while on the toilet complained about Plants vs. Zombies 2. The sequel to the wildly popular undead tower defense game eliminated the purchase price in favor of in-app transactions for the items that would actually allow you to complete the game without bludgeoning your iPhone with a ball-peen hammer.
Developer Popcap is now owned by – who else – EA. I have a slight hunch that the makers of the game, who went out of their way to include a plethora of horror film and other popular culture references in the first PvZ, thought up the change in business model. This was undoubtedly another cash grab and falls right in line with Battlefield 3 and its premium horseshit.
How exactly did we come to accept this in video games? Can you imagine if Hollywood began adopting similar mentalities when it came to films? Imagine sitting in a theater, nuclear butter-flavored popcorn in hand and after the first ten minutes of Superman and Ben Affleck have shown, you are required to dip your credit or debit card in the kiosk in front of you, lest you be kicked out of the cinema. It is not that radical of an idea.
As for console games, it is fuck or walk. We all know about Tomb Raider being deemed a failure by Square Enix despite selling nearly 4 million copies. Consider this, then: Dead Space 3 sold 605,000 copies in February after being threatened with cancellation if it didn’t hit 5 million. Now, EA Labels president Frank Gibeau says that the company “still has faith” in the Dead Space series and that it has not been taken out of the rotation of EA productions. They simply do not currently have the human resources for it.
Let’s look at this scenario.
You have Visceral Games, a studio who created Dead Space from the ground up and crafted one of the scariest and most horrifying experiences in this entire generation of hardware. As Electronic Arts sunk their hands deeper and deeper into the series, it became more about firing bullets and less about a cerebral nightmare, ending in the brofest of Isaac Clarke and…I still can’t say the other guy’s name without getting douche chills. This last entry fell miles short of its goal and Visceral has now been relegated to something involving Star Wars.
Imagine, if you will, that Electronic Arts decides to revisit Dead Space, with or without Isaac making us whole again. Will it even be a horror game, firing plasma cutter rounds at Necromorphs from an over-the-shoulder perspective? Will we instead get a free-to-play mobile game where we are pestered with reminders about upcoming EA games and asked every thirty seconds if, rather than earning it, we want to buy the pulse rifle for $1.99?
Ubisoft takes a lot of shit from people, and when they demand a new Assassin’s Creed every year, I get it. However, for every yearly incarnation of a cash cow, we then get something like Rayman Legends, a reminder that sometimes, the big guys are not 100% evil. Having completely shut down the EA Partners program and shoving every conceivable product placement inside Madden 25, I’m having one hell of a time finding any grey area inside Electronic Arts.