As EA’s Value Rises With its Shareholders, EA’s Value is Plummeting With Gamers (especially me)

 

Okay, as you know, I try to have this blog reflect my diversity of interests and as video games are now were a lot of really interesting things are happening in Science Fiction and Fantasy (& one could say Horror, with the explosion of VR and non-VR Horror titles), it is safe to say that I devote quite a bit of time to video games on this blog.

However, some may have noticed that I’m not talking about some of the games that I profiled earlier in the year from EA even though two of them have been released: Need for Speed Payback Star Wars Battlefront II (2018). This is because EA has lost their focus as a company and I’m not really interest anymore in the product that they are producing.

Let’s Talk About Audience
So this is going to be about micro transactions, right? Well, yes and no.  EA has been trying to walk a fine line for a long time.  They want to publish video games and make a profit by having more people buy them than it takes to make them.  However, they’ve increasingly wanted to appeal to their shareholders with business strategies that are designed to get more money, but not through games.  They had a program called Project Ten for a while, designed to get customers to pay ten dollars more for “Deluxe/Enhanced/DLC/etc” for their games, before that it was Season Passes, and so on.  They were the publisher who partnered with Microsoft to make the original Titanfall game an X-Box One exclusive (even while the console was “going down in flames” due to its original “Always On” conception & restrictive used game policies).  In the past month, EA has cancelled a Star Wars game, shuttered a Studio, and included micro transactions in two of its flagship titles (one of which it has “temporarily” rescinded).  All of this is great news to shareholders, but horrible news for gamers–the people who actually purchase games.  Currently, EA seems to feel that they’re number one job is pleasing the shareholders and not their core audience.  Not a great move.

The “Mass Effect Andromeda” Effect
So, I realized what happened after I bought the game Mass Effect Andromeda for full price when it was first released.  I reasoned, “yes, the reviews are lackluster, but this is a seminal “brand” for them–they wouldn’t completely mess it up or they would destroy their fan base.  They would have the same care of the ME brand as Disney had for the Star Wars “brand” after they bought it from George Lucas.  We’ll, Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware).  The game was a buggy mess that was mediocre at best.  Yes, it ran, but not well–from glitches, to frame rate issues, to a storyline that started strong, but meandered and filled with quests and side quests meant to pad the length of the game–it was a huge disappointment.  I linked to it before, but below is a video of a longtime Bioware/ME fan who quit the game out of frustration for such a disappointing effort.

Why did this happen, you might ask?  The answer was simple: the game just needed 6 more months of development time.  However, six months would have put it into the window of Star Wars Battlefront 2 (which is releasing now).  They can’t push that game because of the movie (The Last Jedi) which opens in month, but also they have Anthem coming down the line, and so they chose to release something that wasn’t ready and sell it at full price.

I personally finished ME:A–my completionist nature at work–but I decided that, while I would still buy games from EA, they would now receive the lowest consideration on my part, to be bought only when I bought/played all the other games I was interested in playing.  It will be at least a year based on school and other games in the queue before I get around to purchasing an EA game–and I’m okay with that–and that’s the problem.

Unholy Alliances
Between that experience and the micro transactions, EA has proven that they care not a whit about me as a gamer and as a consumer.  They prefer their share holders over me, so I’m content to wait.  The whole goal of a company is to produce products that an audience loves and will purchase again and again–Apple, anyone?–not to try to dig extra money out of your audiences pockets through tricks and manipulative schemes, so that your numbers look all rosy at the next Investors’ Conference Call.  You can’t make “moon-calf” eyes with the angel while dancing with the devil.

As someone who has bought games from EA, back when they originated (heck, I even remember when Trip Hawkins founded the company and have some of the company’s newsletters from that time period) and they produced games like: Starflight (the “original” ME:A back in the day), Skyfox, and The Bard’s Tale II from the company’s inception, all the way into adulthood, I feel that EA is missing the point by chasing the fickle investor who will dump their stock like a ton of bricks no matter what EA does the moment EA’s dividend doesn’t meet with their expectations.  EA needs to get its priorities straight and until they do, I’ll buy games from other companies that still seem to “get it.”

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The Death of Single Player Games?

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EA shuts down Visceral Studios, Image Source: YouTube

So last week was a bad week for gaming in general and the single player game, in particular.  Two of the largest gaming companies, EA and Activision, both had stories hit the media that showed that they are not necessarily committed to the development of strong gaming experiences for their player base (especially players of single player games–like myself), but may be using the games a “vehicles” to increase their own war chests with anti-consumer practices.

To be brief, EA shuttered a well known & respected gaming development studio that was making a Star Wars single player game. They moved the game over to another division in order to (paraphrasing) open it up to better reflect their players’ wants in a game.  Activision, on the other hand, had a patent discovered by players, that could be used to match players together, not based on skill, but on the purchase of extra content and could match players with “premium” content with those who had not yet purchased the content in order to create an unfair skill gap between the players and incentivize the non-purchasing player to go out and buy the “premium” content to stay on a level playing field.

So why does this matter?  Players were incensed last week with these revelations and decried the death of the single player video game.  The problem is that this situation was made BY THE PLAYERS years ago.

“Knack is Kack”
I still remember this statement made by staff member of the Official UK Playstation Magazine on their podcast when the Playstation 4 was announced at Sony’s reveal way back in 2013.  Knack was a platform game that was developed to show off the potential of the hardware.  It was a good game, not great, but it was widely and roundly criticized in the media and online as being “old game design” and “antiquated.”  Now I personally liked it so much that I earned the Platinum Trophy for the game (do all of the in-game “requirements”) which shows how much I enjoyed it.  But if I had listened to the critics and the online community, I wouldn’t have given the game a second look as they considered it a waste of development time.  This attitude continued and now (in 2017) there are a dearth of good, triple A platforming games–their all either shooters or open world games.

The Order 1886
Here is another example of the market deselecting a type of game.  The Order 1886 was an alternate history game that full of promise and hype when it was announced.  However, that hype turned to bitterness and vitriol online when it was discovered that it was a short (5-8 hour) gaming experience and that there was no multiplayer involved when it was released in 2015.  What once was a darling of the press for its unique setting became an also-ran and a dog for its short campaign in regards to its price tag.  And based on the pricing models of games in 2016/2017 that are the same length (Ratchet and Clank remake and HellBlade) which are in the 29.99 price range instead of the 59.99 price range of The Order 1886, perhaps the price of The Order was too high, but the critical reception for both of those games (as well as the online reputation) is completely different that it was for The Order and that response to The Order was noticed by game development companies and (more importantly) game publishers.

Yes, last week was a bad week for gamers who like to play offline, single player games, but we have to remember that it is our choices as gamers that ultimately drive the market.  By being so dismissive to the single player experiences in 2013 and 2015, we gamers shouldn’t be surprised that publishers no longer want to fund or make these types of games in 2017.  Much like real life, if we say that we want diversity in our experiences, we actually have to show that we value that diversity.

Star Wars The Last Jedi

 

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This is another shorter blog today–I have a feeling that this will be the case until Fall Break next week, but a couple of big trailers dropped over the past couple of days.  Today, I want to (briefly) talk about Star Wars The Last Jedi (SWTLJ) and my feelings about it.

I’m including a link to the trailer below, in case you haven’t seen it, but I’m going to be honest here.  From a flat out fan of ALL things Star Wars (even the Prequels–which I dislike), I’m not really excited by this trailer.  Now, there are elements of the trailer that are really exciting–such as the apparent fight between Finn and Captain Fasma, a look at Supreme Leader Snoke, a new (furry) alien, and space battles–lovely, lovely space battles, but on the whole, I’m not really interested in where the trailer seems to be heading: Luke tries to teach Rey, fails because of her immense power, and she joins with Kylo Ren, the most angsty teen villain I’ve seen since the Twilight movies.

Ugh.

Now, I’ll reserve judgment until I actually see the movie, but this trailer did nothing to get me truly excited to see it.  The music wasn’t epic, Rey’s journey/Finn’s journey didn’t come through, way too much Kylo Ren–I mean, he is the villain isn’t he.  Why the heck do we get to see his journey?  He isn’t the heart of the movie; that honor goes to Finn and Rey.  I could go on and on, but I just don’t have the time.

From a life-long Star Wars fan, here’s hoping that the movie is much better than the trailer.

They Call Me, Mr. Lobot

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Image Source: Star Wars

Earlier this spring, just after school was out for summer, I found myself wanting a pair of bluetooth headphones.  My wired headphones (Sony) lasted quite a while, but finally went to the great headphone round-up in the sky some time ago.  I’ve found that, for some odd reason, my engagement with my writing improves when I’m listening to music.  It improves tenfold when I can shut out everything else with headphones and just become one with the music.  My uncle was HUGELY into classical music and every afternoon and evening when I came home from school, I did my homework with music playing in the background.  I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m not a dancer and I don’t think that I can dance (I only move in time with the music; I’m not sure that on any planet where there’s human habitation could you even begin to call what I do dancing–probably not on any alien planet, either, but I digress).

As an adult, I’ve found that I use music sporadically–sometimes I put it on and the projects seem to go much better, smoother, and easier.  Sometimes, either I feel I don’t need it, I’m not in the mood, or (like previously) I don’t have the right equipment (i.e., no headphones) and I’m not nearly as effective as I once was in writing (& then I wonder why nothing comes/or I can’t get to come out the way I see it in my mind–go figure).  I really wanted a pair of Apple Airpods, but they were too expensive at the time and were going to take six weeks to ship, so I looked on Amazon and found a pair that I really liked and that were fairly cheap as I plan to get Airpods later in the year.

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Image Source: Apple

So I bought a pair of Senso Active Bluetooth Headphones (pictured below).  However, I didn’t realize that the bluetooth earphones were as big as they were.  When I put them in and then looked at myself in the mirror (with my bald head), I discovered a distressing fact: I looked like Lobot from Star Wars: Episode 5 – The Empire Strikes Back.  For this reason, I’ve not really worn them for any length of time until today.  Today I discovered just how much that I’ve missed the music and how much music plays a role in my writing/creativity.  All those years of listening to classical music during the school year and doing my homework and all those years of jumping around to WJTT Power 94 in the summer has really “wired” (or perhaps “re-wired” my brain) as I seem to enjoy a boost to creativity to my writing when I’m listening to music and it is a palpable increase.  Even as I write these words, looking for all the world like Lobot, music is coursing through my ears into my brain and the words are flying out of my mind and on to the computer screen.  My bloody fingers can’t even keep up; if it wasn’t for auto-correct, then this post would be filled with typos.

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Image Source: Amazon.com

The point I’m trying to make is that even though I look foolish, the boost in creativity (& hopefully productivity) is well worth it.  So call me, Mr. Lobot.

E3 New & Notable Games (Day 2): Star Wars Battlefront 2

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Star Wars Battlefront 2

The second of EA’s games to make an impression on me was Star Wars Battlefront 2 (SW:B2).  I’m a massive Star Wars fan and I bought the first game.  However, because there was no story campaign and I was trying to apply for PhD programs when it released, I didn’t get to play it as much as I would have liked.  I dipped into a couple of modes and played a few multiplayer matches, but nothing like what I probably should have for a game of that length and scope.

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Even though they mostly showed extended multiplayer footage of the game, I still think that the single player campaign will be good and that this will be a good game and the story (at least from the trailers) looks interesting. Below are links to various elements of the game and this is one I’m looking forward to when it releases later this year.

Story/Campaign Trailer

Assault at Theed Multiplayer Demonstration

Well, that’s it for EA–I’ll move on to Ubisoft games that were interesting in the next post.

Star Wars: Rogue One Mini-Review (No Spoilers!)

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Source: Starwars.com

A STAR WARS STORY

Star Wars: Rogue One (SW:RO) is a stand-alone story set in the Star Wars Universe.  It takes the exposition from the “story crawl” for Episode IV: A New Hope about stealing the plans for the Death Star and expands upon it.  While not flawless in its execution, the story is well told and is an enjoyable Star Wars experience.

CHARACTERS

This is an ensemble film and I really like the characters that are presented.  You can understand their motivations as they try to complete their mission.  Some characters get more screen time than others, but the Droid and the “Force-Believing” character are standouts.

TONE

For all that it is a Star Wars film, the tone is actually quite dark. Without spoilers, it is hard to clarify why this is so, but be assured this one is probably as dark as Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, maybe more so.  It does have the trademark humor, but most of it comes from one character in particular, so when that character isn’t on-screen, many of the scenes are fairly gritty.

3RD ACT

Where Rogue One comes into its own is its 3rd Act.  The characterization and Special Effects in that Act really emphasize the desperate nature of the characters’ struggle.  They are fighting for something that matters, both to them and to the plot.  The 3rd Act is truly where the film is elevated from merely good to great.

RATING/GRADE

So, on a A-F scale, I would rate this as an A-.  It is excellent with a few small flaws that keep it from being a perfect film.  The earlier action, while necessary to both plot and characterization, sometimes feels as if it is just going through the motions to get to the stupendous final act.  Also, some characters are given more time than others and we lose out on characterization of some of the more minor characters, but that is just the nature of ensemble films.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MY OWN WRITING

Having stakes that matter to both the plot and the character is a technique that I need to work on as a writer.  I often have things that matter in terms of the plot–if “character x” doesn’t do this something (usually bad) will happen.  However, I’m learning that I need to motivate the characters with some internal conflicts as well.  In Rogue One, Jyn Erso is motivated by a desire to find her father and later by her faith in her father’s words.  These are both internal to the character and intrinsic to the character.  Yes, the Death Star is bad, but that’s not why looking for the plans (can’t go any deeper without spoilers).  Her motivation comes not just from all the bad stuff the Death Star can do, but also how her father spoke about it and her relationship to him.  I need to do a better job of finding internal motivations for my characters.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Star Wars: The Key to the Force is Belief

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This week I find myself ruminating about the power of Belief.  I received my first rejection back for my story “Silence Will Fall.”  The story came out as well as I hoped.  It differed from my dream slightly (the ending), but matched the tone that I wanted.  I decided to submit it to a larger publication for SF, but alas, as always it seems, it came back fairly quickly.  Like, an earlier post this year, “The Well is Dry,” I find myself wondering what’s the use?  Publishing a story every 2-3 years is NOT the way to build a writing career.  Unlike that post, however, I find that I’m trying to take the lesson that Luke learns in the trilogy and apply it so as NOT to write another post like “The Well is Dry.”

STAR WARS

Luke, in Episode IV, gets a bum rap.  He gets tagged with the character traits of “whiny,” and “callous” and “annoying” in popular culture than he really should based on the movie.  The character is a product of his time and a teenager to boot, so it should come as no surprise that Luke acts like a (surprise!) a teenager from the 1970’s (yes, I know in the fiction, Luke comes from “A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Away,” but Lucas’ model was the 1970’s–the fuzzy dice hanging from the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon is a dead giveaway.)  Yet, Luke’s journey with the Force is the KEY to the character.  Luke goes from being able to sense the Force during his practice against the remote to actively using it in the battle against the Death Star.  They pivotal scene for me is when Luke switches off his targeting computer.  The power of Faith/Belief in something larger than yourself is on full display with this scene.  When Ben’s voice implores him to “use the Force,” his switching off the computer is an act that signifies that he can’t trust the information of the physical world to help him, but that in order to be successful, he MUST believe in the Force and use it to help guide him to the perfect time to fire in order to destroy the death star.  The movie even shows the result of blindly relying on technology when the first X-Wing’s trench run results in the “bomb’s just impacting on the surface.”   The Force is NECESSARY for the success of the mission–without it there can be no victory.

EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

“I don’t believe it.” (Luke)

“That is why you failed.” (Yoda)

This sums up the entire movie–the lack of faith.  Even though Luke is following his dream and learning more about the Force, he is living too much in the physical world.  He doesn’t have the same Faith in the Force.  Like any student, he must question his teacher and ask the why of things.  Now that he is learning about the Force at a deeper level, the need to know seems to override his instinctive reliance on the Force and listen to its rhythms.  Yoda, for instance, tells him that he will not need his weapons in the cave of the Dark Side, but Luke doesn’t listen.  The look on his face is actually one of incredulity and defiance.  What do you mean I won’t need my weapons; this place is dangerous, the look seems to say in one quick glance at Yoda.  What Yoda knows and Luke later discovers is that the cave is an illusion and is meant to show him what the Dark Side holds for Luke should Vader and the Emperor manage to turn him to the Dark Side.  Another instance where Luke doesn’t believe in the Force’s powers is when he rushes to save his friends before finishing his training.  Both Yoda and the spirit of Ben counsel Luke to stay and finish his training, but Luke ignores the  counsel of both of them who are far greater in tune with the Force than he is.

THE RETURN OF THE JEDI

If The Empire Strikes Back is a repudiation of the Force, then Return of the Jedi is a calm acceptance of the Force.  Han doubts Luke’s abilities (“you’re going to die here, you know,” as he tells Luke when the are on Jabba’s barge on the way to the Sarlacc pit.  Luke calmly tells Vader “that my father is truly dead,” when Vader prepares to bring him before the Emperor.  Even at the end, when the Emperor goads Luke to take up the Lightsaber and he has to fight Vader, he is able to stop himself before he becomes like Vader.  Even the resolution of the story rests, not on a massive fight scene to the death, but a son’s belief that there is still a good man wrapped in the evil shell that is Vader.  Luke’s agency in that scene is that he trusts in his intuition and insight into his father’s character.  Without that trust, without having faith and accepting the Force, even when it seems contrary to what is happening in the physical world, Luke would not have succeeded.

IMPLICATIONS FROM MY WRITING

This is something that I need to remember for my own writing.  The rejection letter came from the first market on Wed. (10/19).  Add to the fact that I was sick with a sinus infection or something, and it really seemed like hopeless.  After reflecting on the movie, I just have try and believe–even when it seems hopeless.  I just sent the story to a 2nd market today and I have a 3rd market ready to go should it also quickly come back this week.

I really believe that Silence Will Fall is one of my best stories and that eventually it will find a home.  I just have to my part and keep sending it out until it does.

May the Force Be With You, Always.