Electronic Arts’ Fall From Grace – A Short History Lesson On What Was Once A Great Company

Electronic Arts Inc. was founded and incorporated by Trip Hawkins on May 28, 1982, and is the second largest gaming company in America and Europe by revenue and market strategy. EA is now publishing under household label names which includes but not limited to Madden NFL, FIFA, and EA Sports. In the beginning, they started with a vision to support distinguished smaller studios responsible for its games. Promote programmers and designers and develop in-house gaming as early as the 1990s. EA grew to be one of the juggernauts of the gaming industry by the acquisition of several successful publishers. A dream comes true for these promising studios that may change gaming history. But the truth of the matter is, EA just shows these potentials that they may have the cake but can’t eat it too.

Going back to my younger gaming self, I got simply blown away by The Sims. That was really the game that lured me into this gaming world. That was the first game I knew under EA that was developed by Maxis and I was a fan ever since. It was so new at that time that I thought EA as a developer was a genius and has been watching out for their game releases ever since. A few years have passed by and I learned that they are also the company behind Activision’s Call of Duty, Need for Speed Series and Visceral GamesDead Space. Aside from these remarkable titles there lies the facade. Video games that placed them on the map were becoming their undoing.

EA’s aggregated reviews over the past years have shown a consistent downtrend with the majority of the critiques pointed out the lack of innovation, quality and basically are doing a ‘rinse-and-repeat’ kind of job. Nothing new was coming out from their ‘new games’ after that. They sell these at a full market retail price and only features new team members, minimal game mechanic changes, and graphics. CEO then John Riccitiello acknowledged this fact and have announced that they will be geared towards creating new games. Years passed and they were able to save ratings with much help from Pandemic Studios and BioWare.

Image from: Kotaku

The backlash didn’t end there. On April 2012, EA was crowned as The Worst American Companies out there – TWICE, a first ever in their awarding history beating regulars: Wal-Mart, AT&T, Bank of America and Comcast. What contributed to this streak not only heavily relies on the controversies that sparked on the video games that were released at that time but how they treat their employees. The company received numerous criticisms on their labor force working extraordinarily long hours of up to 100 hours a week just to meet major deadlines especially during a release of a new product. They are required to work thirteen hours a day, from 9AM-10PM and an occasional Saturday night off if you get lucky. Lawsuits were thrown where EA had to make settlements and had to quickly take steps to promote work and life balance but recent buzz out there is that they are falling back to the old pattern and have begun hearing horror stories again.

Another prominent pattern that EA has been very known for is acquiring awesome stable studios and their pending demise. It is definitely a gravestone out there and this aggravated fans even more as they buy these smaller studios for their intellectual property asset and then ruining their much-acclaimed series. A recent example was BioWare’s Mass Effect: Andromeda released this year was met with controversy and ridicule because of inconsistencies that were previously announced during the game’s development. They falsely advertised the complete control over the game’s final outcome. Players also despised the terrible facial animations, numerous bugs, and weak storyline and ultimately EA had to stop the production and shut down BioWare Montreal Studio who was the genius behind Andromeda. Ultimately they created a new name for themselves and that is the Evil Empire, although John Carmack of id Software (developer of Wolfenstein, Quake and Doom series) said otherwise in an interview. One cannot help it but feel sorry for the studios that they have acquired and future studios that they will be acquiring.

Remember Pandemic Studios who helped their ratings and who is also the genius behind the earlier Star Wars Battlefront franchise was shut down on 2009, a very prominent developer Visceral Games that released the Dead Space series saw the end of the light on October year, Westwood Studios who developed Dune II and Command and Conquer was also shut down in 2003. Dreamworks who worked on Medal of Honor was shut down on 2014 and Mythic Entertainment who was known for the creative MMORPG Dark Age of Camelot sld themselves to EA to get the funding for Warhammer Online, shortly years after the game was released co-founders left and the studio turned the lights off in 2014.

Going back to my young story that started this journey, Maxis Studio with EA made a huge gamble and created an interactive dollhouse called The Sims. Little did they know that this video game would grow tremendously making it as one of the best-selling PC Gaming of all time next to Diablo III, World of Warcraft and Minecraft. But nothing new, EA shut Maxis down in 2015. They have become this huge Anaconda that eats these trivial studios to gain the ‘nourishment’ it needs but someday will be digested, the byproducts (franchise) will still be there but not the same anymore; a mere shadow of what they were. These game studios that have disappeared will never be forgotten but I think there always be this pang of irony of what they could’ve become.

During EA’s E3 2017 briefing, a new trailer and a 40-player live gameplay were demonstrated for Star Wars Battlefront II. The game promised not only to have a single-player campaign but a strong story plot, exciting playable characters, more fights and basically a packaged ‘you are in for a ride’ excitement. When the release came in November of this year, it was received with tons of controversies over their microtransactions. EA created this loot box system that should give players a substantial benefit who would pay cash which however caused a major outcry in the gaming community.  Things took a whole 360 turn when the rights holder, The Disney Company, called for its removal. Either that convinced them or finally, EA is listening to the gaming community after receiving so much raucous. Whatever happened, this is both good news to players and futures video games development. If microtransactions would have been tolerated and becoming mainstream, it would have been a major downfall from there for western games.

EA is like this Dark Magician that whenever it touches a game, although it has potential we always have to expect the worse. They always work their magic on these once glorious games. Yet they keep on releasing games and I am not certain if they are learning from their experiences and if only they supported fully the Einstein of these smaller studios, albeit gaming experience would’ve been different but what are your thoughts?