Controversial EA Online Pass Program to be Phased Out

In an effort to discourage used game sales, publishers like Activision and EA have implemented an online pass system for their most popular titles in recent years. The plan was to make $10-15 off of pre-owned customers by charging them for online game access after the one-use code included with new copies of the game had been redeemed. Obviously, fans were understandably upset about this “used game tax”. Today, EA surprised us all by announcing an end to online passes for all EA-published games.

From GamesBeat:

“Yes, we’re discontinuing Online Pass,” EA senior director of corporate communications John Reseburg confirmed to GamesBeat in an e-mail. “None of our new EA titles will include that feature.”

 

“Initially launched as an effort to package a full menu of online content and services, many players didn’t respond to the format,” Reseburg said. “We’ve listened to the feedback and decided to do away with it moving forward.”

Additionally, EA plans to focus more on post-release content, which should have been their goal all around. When trying to sell to a customer, your product should be all about “yes, and” and not “no, but.” Gating content, or offering more? What’s more of a motivator for purchases? Clearly, the fans have spoken. Hopefully Activision will follow suit soon and help bring back the age of the game as a product, not as a service.

EA Secures Star Wars Game Rights

Last month, Disney shut down LucasArts, leaving the Star Wars license in limbo. Last week, we were hit with another round of EA layoffs, with EA seemingly looking to put more stock into mobile gaming and dial back on core titles. Yesterday, those two pieces of news collided as EA announced exclusive rights to develop and publish new core Star Wars games in a multi-year contract.

The news comes from Gamasutra, who reveals that Visceral Games (Dead Space), DICE (Battlefield) and BioWare (Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic) will all be developing core games in the Star Wars universe.

From Gamasutra:

“The new experiences we create may borrow from films, but the games will be entirely original with all new stories and gameplay,” said EA Games label president Frank Gibeau.

While Disney will retain rights to publish games on mobile, social, and online platforms, and EA hasn’t announced which studios will be working on what types of games, we can definitely guess based on track records. I would guess that BioWare will be working on a KotOR-style game, DICE is probably working on a Battlefront followup, and Visceral is… well, I don’t like the idea of dismembering wookies, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Electronic Arts Lays Off More Employees

Gamesbeat revealed today that EA has completed another round of layoffs as part of its organizational restructuring. From EA.com:

In recent weeks, EA has aligned all elements of its organizational structure behind priorities in new technologies and mobile.  This has led to some difficult decisions to reduce the workforce in some locations.  We are extremely grateful for the contributions made by each of our employees – those that are leaving EA will be missed by their colleagues and friends.

These are hard but essential changes as we focus on delivering great games and showing players around the world why to spend their time with us.

What those new technologies could be is anyone’s guess. Playstation 4 development? Whatever Microsoft is cooking up? Some unique use of the WiiU hardware? A change to Madden that actually matters? And what about their new mobile focus? Is this related to more app tie-ins for their console and PC releases, or new content that isn’t just a $14.99 port of an existing game?

While it’s always depressing to hear about layoffs in the industry, this restructure might actually put the company in a good place to remain competitive as the marketplace sets to change when the new console generation releases within the next year.

Peter Moore of EA: “We Can Do Better”

I’ve always liked Peter Moore. He has this certain charisma about him, even when he’s showing off tattooed logos of games he’s working on, that makes you want to sit down and have a beer with him. So when the man himself decides to address Electronic Arts’ place in the vox populi, it’s generally worth listening to him.

And listen I did, as he rattled off a list of perceived issues with EA’s position as “Worst Company in America”  last week on EA’s official site. Here’s a snip:

Are we really the “Worst Company in America?”  I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve made plenty of mistakes. These include server shut downs too early, games that didn’t meet expectations, missteps on new pricing models and most recently, severely fumbling the launch of SimCity.  We owe gamers better performance than this.

Some of these complaints are 100 percent legitimate – like all large companies we are not perfect. But others just don’t hold water:

  • Many continue to claim the Always-On function in SimCity is a DRM scheme.  It’s not.  People still want to argue about it.  We can’t be any clearer – it’s not. Period.
  • Some claim there’s no room for Origin as a competitor to Steam.  45 million registered users are proving that wrong.
  • Some people think that free-to-play games and micro-transactions are a pox on gaming.  Tens of millions more are playing and loving those games.
  • We’ve seen mailing lists that direct people to vote for EA because they disagree with the choice of the cover athlete on Madden NFL. Yes, really…
  • In the past year, we have received thousands of emails and postcards protesting against EA for allowing players to create LGBT characters in our games.  This week, we’re seeing posts on conservative web sites urging people to protest our LGBT policy by voting EA the Worst Company in America.

That last one is particularly telling.  If that’s what makes us the worst company, bring it on.  Because we’re not caving on that.

It’s true that a lot of the complaints against EA are valid, but there are equally as many outrageous quibbles that the public has with EA that just aren’t valid. “The tallest tree catches the most wind” may sound like a brag, but the man has a point. I do take issue with putting a spotlight on the outrageous demands people have to take heat off of the real complaints, but admitting that you’ve done wrong by your customers is still a big step forward.

Having worked for EA myself, I can tell you that there are a great many things wrong with the company. However, not everyone who works for EA is some sort of evil space villain, and you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water every time. The company has the potential to do some good, especially with an upcoming change in leadership. Let’s wait and see what the tallest tree does after a bit of trimming and pruning.

 

EA CEO John Riccitiello Sets SimCity Ablaze, Walks Away as it Burns

john_riccitiello

Kotaku:

John Riccitiello, CEO of game publisher Electronic Arts, is stepping down from his position. […] EA’s financials took a dive during the recession in 2008 and have not come close to recovering since. The past six months have been particularly rocky for the publisher behind games like Battlefield and Madden.

If you’re looking for some harder numbers, take a stroll on over to this Fortune article, then give yourself a moment to digest how hard they actually are. A 25% drop in video game paraphernalia sales within the span of a year? Declining profits for the fifteenth straight month in a row? Financial success is fleeting and unstable in this medium, a lesson EA has been subjected to repeatedly since 2008.

Gamers are a population with a sophisticated understanding of the Internet and a compulsion to pick apart attempts to appease them; the fanbase, thus, is simultaneously difficult to please and extremely vocal about their dissatisfaction. Any venue can become a platform for airing out grievances. EA bore the brunt of this after ascending to fiscal supremacy in 2007, cultivating a reputation as a soulless giant bleeding dry whatever developers they could get their hands on. Efforts to further commodify gaming (the increasing prevalence of microtransactions) or compete with popular innovations like Steam (the development of the widely criticized Origin) furthered their unpopular reputation among disappointed consumers. The very public struggles of The Old Republic and SimCity are among EA’s most recent debacles, the latter of which seems to have incited Riccitiello’s resignation.

As Kotaku indicates, EA brought some intriguing (if not always successful) IPs to the forefront under Riccitiello’s watch, but this is a climate of AAA 200+ million dollar blockbusters and mounting distrust of Big Gaming. The likes of Mirror’s Edge and Brutal Legend simply aren’t enough to balance out a company’s release-day debacles and DRM politics. Is this the beginning of a new era in content-provider accountability, or simply another portent of a quickly monetized medium devouring itself?

Drew Byrd-Smith – drewbyrd.blogspot.com

Cliff Bleszinski on microtransactions

Clifford Unchained – Nickels, dimes, and quarters.

If you don’t like EA, don’t buy their games. If you don’t like their microtransactions, don’t spend money on them. It’s that simple. EA has many smart people working for them (Hi, Frank, JR, and Patrick!) and they wouldn’t attempt these things if they didn’t work. Turns out, they do. I assure you there are teams of analysts studying the numbers behind consumer behavior over there that are studying how you, the gamer, spends his hard earned cash.

If you’re currently raging about this on GAF, or on the IGN forums, or on Gamespot, guess what? You’re the vocal minority. Your average guy that buys just Madden and GTA every year doesn’t know, nor does he care. He has no problem throwing a few bucks more at a game because, hey, why not?

I’ve been making this very argument in support of free-to-play games and microtransactions from the very beginning. The proliferation of free-to-play games, post-release DLC and microtransactions across a wide swath of genres and franchises isn’t just a coincidence. This proliferation occurred because the model works.

Free-to-play games aren’t free-to-make. If gamers want  more quality free-to-play titles like League of Legends and Team Fortress 2, some gamers will have to ultimately dole out cash to ensure that happens.