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In Defense of Electronic Arts
Despite successful sales numbers and a promising roster of upcoming games, Electronic Arts has not been winning any popularity contests in 2012.
The trouble all started for the publisher early in April, when Consumer Reports subsidiary The Consumerist named EA the “worst company in America”, above AT&T and Wal Mart.
Their reasoning? The Consumerist claims that EA tosses consumers a middle finger when they “deliberately hold back game content with the sole intent of charging a fee for it at a later date”, also accusing EA of putting out an inferior product with a “we’ll just patch it later and charge them for it” mentality.
They deliver another blow with their comment that EA looks to squash competition by gobbling up smaller developers in the indie market, citing that they hope the market becomes more friendly to these developers so they won’t have to partner with a big name like EA to make their games successful.
But the scathing top honors wasn’t all that was thrown at the California-based company. EA again found themselves under fire this week when they announced a their sale of an “Indie Bundle” on PC gaming marketplace Steam. Combining some of the most popular EA-published games, EA’s Indie Bundle contained DeathSpank, DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue, Shank, Shank 2, Gatling Gears, and Warp.
Many developers were critical of the sale, citing how ironic it was for “the man” to be pushing independently developed games.
One such developer was Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson, who fired back via Twitter when he said “EA releases an ‘indie bundle?’ That’s not how it works, EA,” also telling the company to “stop attempting to ruin everything,” and that they were “methodically destroying” gaming.
Of course, the reactions between developers regarding the bundle were mixed, some lining up with Notch and others seeing the move as justified.
So, I ask: Why the hate?
Now, I know The Consumerist title doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, and a spokesperson for the publishing giant even made light of the dubious title, noting they were glad they made the top of the list over oil executives and bank presidents. But I do have to wonder; how much did these voters on The Consumerist really know about gaming? While gaming has taken great strides since our humble 8-bit beginnings, video games are still very much misunderstood in the public eye, often perceived to be an immature past time shared by twelve-year-olds and men in their parent’s basements. Do they understand the concept of downloadable content? Do they realize that the gaming industry is a completely different animal from its film and music counterparts in entertainment?
The position of DLC in the industry and whether it is a legitimate add-on to content or a permission slip to release less-than-satisfactory games is a complete debate in and of itself. But in our current state in the gaming industry, used game sales are public enemy #1 to publishers and developers, since not a penny of the profit on used games goes to the actual people that created and marketed the product.
Therefore, it could be argued that EA’s release of DLC is not a method of “nickel and diming” consumers to death. In reality, it’s a necessary part of game development now that prolongs the life of a game and keeps it in the hands of a consumer and money out of the pockets of brick and mortar used game stores.
And while I completely respect the man and what he’s done for gaming, I have to disagree with Notch and take issue with him here. It’s really easy to look at EA’s Indie Bundle at a glance and accuse it of being a money-grabbing opportunist riding on the backs of innovative and creative developers, and unfortunately, this seems to be the loud consensus amongst the community.
But here’s the hard truth; while a handful of developers (such as Minecraft) have been able to successfully fund and market their own games, making successful games is an incredibly expensive endeavor, and as a small developer, the market can be very difficult to break into and actually stand out in.
Those games contained within the EA bundle are not published by EA per se-they’re published by EA Partners, a label of EA that publishes third-party games made by these “Indie” developers. Essentially, they are what Fox Searchlight of 2oth Century Fox is to Independent filmmakers. EA Partners gives these small developers the money and backing they need to successfully develop and market the game to make it successful and prevent it from getting lost in a deep sea of independent titles. Therefore, EA is actually doing something good by pushing games that are innovative and bring something new and fresh to the downloadable market.
Now, I’m not completely excusing everything EA’s ever done. Of course, there are things the company is guilty of that I don’t necessarily agree with. However, I certainly don’t think it deserves the heat it’s gotten over things that other big publishers have done as well.
And maybe it’s the capitalist in me, but I see a very easy solution to this problem. Companies are out to make money. That is their sole purpose in life. And, in our free market system, the power is placed in the hands of the consumer to decide whether or not a company makes said money.
So instead of griping about “the man” and throwing around accusations, vote with your wallet. If you don’t like something EA (or any company, really) stands for, don’t buy their product.
It’s as simple as that.