EA CEO Defends The Publisher's Recent Slate Of Games

Battlefront II
Battlefront II

From an outside perspective, the past half-decade has looked rocky for Electronic Arts. A string of flops and PR disasters like Star Wars Battlefront II and Mass Effect: Andromeda, combined with moves like the shutdown of Visceral Games, has led to a lot of outrage toward the mega-publisher. EA’s perspective, however, is a little different.

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Yesterday on EA’s quarterly earnings call, CEO Andrew Wilson gave a passionate, fascinating defense of the company’s portfolio that’s worth reading, if only to get a better understanding of how EA’s top executive thinks. This came just minutes after EA confirmed that Anthem is delayed (even though it’s “not a delay”!) and acknowledged that it had sold one million fewer copies of Star Wars Battlefront II than anticipated.

Alongside a question about FIFA’s success, an analyst asked the following:

“The last couple years you’ve talked a lot about diversifying away from non-sports titles, and unfortunately a lot of the non-sports titles have performed below expectations. As a postmortem, can you give us some examples of areas you see for opportunity to improve your ability to execute and consistently deliver the titles and really drive non-sports franchises through the company?”

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In response, EA finance chief Blake Jorgensen made some comments about FIFA, and then Andrew Wilson chimed in with a speech that’s worth reading:

“As I look back on the last few years and we think about The Sims which has continued to perform year after year; Battlefield 1 which I think was certainly the biggest Battlefield and maybe the biggest shooter of that year; Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare, which is a new IP that has done well across two iterations; Dragon Age Inquisition, which in that year [2014] was Game of the Year. Even, you look at Mass Effect and while there was some polarizing sentiment in that franchise, it’s actually performed really well, and player engagement is really strong. And then of course across mobile, SimCity BuildIt, The Sims Free Play, and Star Wars Galaxy Heroes are all highly successful in their own markets.

“So as I take a 50,000-foot view and look at the breadth and depth of our portfolio across all of the games we make—and if you look at 2017 in aggregate we were the highest-reviewed publisher across our entire portfolio—so there’s a lot of real goodness there.

“With all that said, that doesn’t mean we are perfect, and there are always learning opportunities for us, and we are a learning company. And as you look through our history over the last three or four years, there have been times we didn’t get it right. We have put our player-first commitment at the forefront of everything we do, and we have worked tirelessly to ensure that we are able to support and sustain them with the kind of experiences they expect from us.

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“So that has meant we have changed some beta processes, we have changed some testing processes, we have changed some of the ways we’ve designed, we have changed some of the ways we go to market. And as a company we will always be learning, and always evolving, and always making the right changes in service of our players. But on balance, I think we’ve had a really, really strong run on sports and non-sports.”

There is, of course, an image that supports Wilson’s comments:

Via Google
Via Google
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Yet it’s hard to find many enthusiast gamers who would count EA among the developers of their favorite games, and in fact, it’s very easy to find people trashing the publisher for proliferating microtransactions, loot boxes, and other practices that often feel like crass methods to eke every last dime from players. When it comes to public opinion, things haven’t changed much since 2012 and 2013, when EA was twice declared “Worst Company In America” in a widespread poll following controversies involving Mass Effect 3, Dead Space, and the online-only SimCity reboot.

So Wilson’s comments are illustrative. EA might have stepped back from Battlefront II’s loot boxes, and (from what I hear) the publisher (and many of its contemporaries) are reviewing all of their microtransaction practices in the wake of last year’s fury. But the company is happy with how things are going. For better or worse.

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DISCUSSION

tillmandesign
Randy Randerson

But to be fair, has there ever been a time in the past 20+ years where you could say you were passionate or excited about EA’s work? Even as a kid who loved the classic Need for Speed games, I implicitly understood that EA’s work had a much more corporate feel than Nintendo, Squaresoft, etc. The marketing research was much more apparent, and in a decade where games were exceptionally weird, they always played it straight.

Looking over their list of games (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Electronic_Arts_games), there are plenty of great games, and even fun games, but games that inspire fandoms? Games that fans love? And even when you do find a gem on the list, EA was often the publisher, not the developer. They acquired, but rarely created (and many of their acquisitions have only hurt their popularity). Out of their entire list (excluding the countless sports, shooters, Need for Speed, and licensed games), these are what I’d consider their strongest and most interesting games, and each game that they published but did not develop is marked with an asterisk*.

Bard’s Tale*
Black & White*
Burnout*
Command & Conquer*
Dead Space*
Latter-day Bioware (Dragon Age, Mass Effect, etc)*
Mirror’s Edge (by DICE, considered a subsidiary)
Plants vs Zombies*
Rock Band*
Sims / Sim City*
Skate (by EA Black Box)

Don’t get me wrong, Mirror’s Edge and Skate are classics, both very interesting and with fans of their own. But as a high bar of their creative output? Every other developer can beat that. Ubisoft, who also get lots of shit from fans, actually create a lot of really interesting and exciting work - Mario & Rabbids is insane in concept and a joy to play, the recent Rayman games are exquisite, and their dedication to smaller experiments like Child of Light is fantastic. Even Far Cry, one of their most formulaic and steady franchises these days, had the balls to release Far Cry 2, a morally ambiguous game where your gun jams regularly and you have to inject yourself with malaria medication on a regular basis.

TL;DR - I’ve never seen EA as a game developer, more just a publisher with a wide range of acquisitions. Hard to love something so corporate.