Gaming My Way

16 Apr

Is EA Still Evil?

Electronic Arts has recently won the dubious honor of The Consumerist’s Worst Company in America award for the second year in a row. While in the past EA has certainly deserved the dubious honor of worst video game company, it really is patently absurd to think they won out over super-heavyweights Exxon Mobil and Goldman Sachs. EA costs us some video game series and companies we love. Exxon Mobil destroys the environment, and Goldman Sachs the economy. And these days, while EA has certainly had some blunders (SimCity always online anyone?), they have also done much to move in the right direction.

Let’s actually start with SimCity. They got off to a bad start with this. It never should have been an online only game. We all know this, though EA does not, or at least won’t own it. And as all online only single player games do, this one had tons of trouble at launch, and many people demanded refunds. At first, someone told them they could risk being banned from Origin and lose access to all their games. Then EA came out and said, actually, no, they won’t ban people for requesting refunds and chargebacks. While one would hope they would honor refunds for this mess from the beginning, they at least started to take a modicum of responsibility for the game here by not preventing people from retrieving their hard earned money paid for a product that didn’t work as advertised. This is different from EA 2011, where they banned people for forum snark without thinking twice about it. Less trigger happy is good. Claiming SimCity online only isn’t a mistake, less good. But slow progress.

Better progress is Bioware’s release of Star Wars: The Old Republic as a free to play MMORPG. The game has some serious polish, with combat and a story that makes an MMO worth playing. Although there are particular features that are locked away that I take issue with (ability to use Artifacts and access certain content), the F2P offering really is robust, and unlocking enough to really enjoy the game as more than an awesome free trial is under $20, so can’t really complain about that. You’ll still be hit with things that only subscribers get occasionally, but it’s a pretty fair system.

While we’re still talking about Bioware, let’s talk Mass Effect 3. I have not played this game, as I was boycotting EA at the time. However, I’ve heard all sorts of stories about how terrible the ending was. Well, I’ve heard these stories online anyway. When talking to friends who have played the game, they thought the original ending was great, and that there was some artistry behind it. I’ve never been a big fan of altering games (the game itself, I’m never against removing dumb DRM systems) just because fans want something changed, and was a little disappointed to see EA and Bioware cave on this, though I admittedly had no vested interest at all in this. I would have liked to see them stand by their product in an instance like this, but the changes they made were in order to meet customer and fan requests for improvement.

EA also claims to have dropped DRM beyond a CD check in 2009. Not entirely true, as most games they publish are sold through Origin, and SimCity has an always online system. But Origin truly isn’t much different from Steam, aside from a lack of good support, and once players can be confident they won’t be banned for stupid things (again, I noted EA has eased off on this since 2011), I don’t see much problem there, though it is still a light form of DRM. As far as SimCity always online, this was a terrible decision, completely unnecessary, and EA and Maxis should make the game available to play offline for those who don’t care about the social features.

So on balance, we have game’s like Star Wars: The Old Republic which comes very close to doing free to play exactly as it should be done, pitted against games like SimCity which is still showing the out of touch restrictions of the past EA very badly needs to sever ties with. My solution for now? I’ve stopped boycotting EA in its entirety, and will instead throw money at games that don’t utilize stupid restrictions. I’ve already spent a little bit on SWTOR. If EA deigns to release a copy of SimCity that can be played offline, I may decide to purchase that as well since I used to love the really old original SimCity.

So is EA still evil? Yeah, a little bit. But they’ve made great improvements over time, and if they can get over some humps with understanding what we really want from them, they stand to be able to continue to make those improvements. With time, they could squarely escape out of the realm of out-of-touch game maker to a true heavyweight in the industry. Will they actually do this? Only time will tell there.


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