Electronic Arts continued to demonstrate some awe-inspiring stupidity during its latest Q4 2019 financial results conference call. Seemingly determined to learn absolute nothing, zilch, from the commercial failures of Anthem, Battlefield V, Star Wars Battlefront 2, and whatever else you care to name, EA CEO Andrew Wilson said the publisher is doubling down on live-service games, claiming the old way of doing games is now dead.
"The reality is, it's not just an EA challenge, it's an industry-wide challenge," CEO Andrew Wilson said during a conference call to investors, referring to the scope and difficulty of ongoing development for games such as Anthem. "You're moving from what was initially a BioWare game which would be somewhere between 40 and 80 hours of offline play to 40 to 80 hours of offline play plus 100 or 200, 300 hours of elder game that happens with millions of other players at scale, online."
Don’t do it then! No one wants a 300-hour BioWare game, they want the tight, well-crafted, 40-hour RPGs that BioWare built its once-legendary name on. Still, EA knows best, and they’ll be doubling down on these endless live-service experiences as that’s where it believes it can bleed the most cash from, in the here and now. It’s obviously working out well for EA, its share value has dropped to almost half what it was 10 months ago. Good job EA, and good job Wilson, one of the 100 most overpaid CEOs in the United States.
Things get even better deeper into the earnings report, where Wilson begins to talk about how Electronic Arts will change the way it releases its games. "As games have gotten bigger that system isn't working as well as it has done in years gone by. So what you should expect from us is that it's not just about changing the development processes in the game, it's not just about changing the QA process in the game—although both of those things are being changed dramatically inside our organization right now—but it also comes down to changing how we launch games," Wilson said.
Yep, you know exactly where this one is heading. "You should expect that we'll start to test things like soft launches—the same things that you see in the mobile space right now,” explains Wilson. “And it also comes down to changing how we communicate with players. Our entire marketing organization now is moving out of presentation mode and into conversation mode, and changing how we interact with players over time."
Problem: EA service game launches are often buggy and content-starved.
Solution: Bung them into an Early Access program to excuse all of the bugs and lack of content, presumably while still attaching a $60 price tag and a heap load of in-game purchases.
Result: Player expectations are lower. As Wilson said, this will help players to "understand exactly what it is that they're going to be playing, and how they're going to be playing both on the day of launch and over time."
It’s one of the most tone-deaf takes on the industry we’ve seen in a while, to be honest. There’s a fascinating amount of brand damage that EA is committed to doing to itself. Death by a thousand of its own cuts. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order increasingly sounds like the exception rather than the norm for EA’s future products, with the majority of its studios shifting to service games whether they like it or not. After Mass Effect Andromeda and Anthem, for example, BioWare has been stitched up royally by its parent company. There’s no way BioWare, as we know them, would’ve released these games when they did, in the state they did, if it weren’t for EA trying to make a quick buck. At this point, we’re just waiting for EA to take BioWare out back and put the RPG maestros out of their misery.
So, we've got it all to look forward to from EA then. We can expect the publisher to forge ahead with Games-as-a-service across all fronts, this time aided by 'soft launches' with lower expectations and, we suspect, no pesky reviews to get in the way of their success.
What do you think of EA's stance then? Is EA on the path to untold fortunes or is chasing service games going to prove a bust? Share your thoughts below!