Economics of Buying an EA Game

So, Electronic Arts (EA) has taken a lot of heat in the past weeks for its decision to go all in on Loot Boxes and Microtransactions.  For those not aware, the major controversy in the video game industry right now is the fact than an already (comparatively) expensive hobby like video games where you are expected to pay $60.00 upfront for the product (compare with a movie that is anywhere from 7.99-19.99, a novel that is 9.99-24.99, a season of TV 9.99-39.99, or a streaming subscription, 9.99-14.99, etc.) and then buy “additional” Loot Boxes for the chance of substantially improving your character (or “grinding” for a long time by playing the game in a monotonous way in order to earn the same chance improving one’s character).

Basically, EA is changing the nature of the game (pardon the pun), from playing the game to continually paying for the game (“games as a service”).  Unfortunately, not only doesn’t the gaming public like this, EA doesn’t realize this isn’t a sustainable model.

The Economics of Buying a Game

I’m not boycotting EA games, but there tactics make it clear that I can’t support their economics any more–especially after releasing a game that clearly needed more development time: Mass Effect Andromeda.

How so?

So, I’m rarely into multiplayer–yes, I’ll sometimes dive into the multiplayer component of a game, but outside of select titles (Burnout Paradise, CoD: Modern Warfare, Destiny, and a select few others, I don’t really dive into the multiplayer components of games for any real length of time.  So you can subtract $20.00 from the game value right there.  So, a game that EA charges 59.99 for, is really only worth 39.99 to me as I don’t really delve into the multiplayer.

Okay, so now we’re down to 39.99, right?  Well, you can subtract another 10.00 for the “grinding” in this “new” system.  I buy games for fun and for diversion, not to endlessly “grind” in order to complete the game.  So, you’re new system that you put into to make you more money in addition has actually wasted you 10.00 because I want to be engaged, not bored–so now that I know I’m going to be “grinding” and bored, I knock off 10.00 with what I’m willing to pay.  Now we’re down to 29.99.

Add to the fact that I have a backlog of games to play and there are more coming out from other publishers that have lessened versions of or no Loot Boxes/Microtransactions altogether and as such, seem like they’re going to be more fun than the current crop of EA games, so now I subtract 10.00 more for the game (I still need to finish incredible games like Metal Gear Solid 5, Horizon Zero Dawn, Final Fantasy XV, etc.).  Now we’re down to 19.99.

Give us Good Games and We’ll Give You Money

The equation is simple–the publishing (book) industry relies on a stable of good to great authors pumping out books on a consistent basis.  You don’t get “gimmicks” such a Loot Crates with Stephen King’s latest novel.  You know his books are going to meet a certain level of quality and entertainment value.  This is what EA has lost and must get back if they really want to connect with gamers.  Otherwise, they are going to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs and then where will there shareholders (and their dividends) be?

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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.”

Mass Effect Andromeda, Glitches

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Image Source: Gamesradar

So, remember when I said that Mass Effect Andromeda has some odd design choices–well, it also has glitches.  I’ve seen the effects of rushed games before Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was particularly bad (the patches for Assassin’s Creed Unity, however, made the game quite stable and glitch free, but Syndicate was just as buggy and crash-prone as Mass Effect Andromeda.  Here are two fairly egregious examples:

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This glitch came about when I was on the ice world of Voeld (?) and I happened across to “Resistance” fighters who had been “fused” together into one animation rig (take a close look at the aliens head, arms, and legs).  They “phased” in and out of each other but had two heads and you could clearly see that their bodies overlapped one another to create a “Double-headed” character.  Again, with more time in development this would have probably been caught by the Q.A. testers and put on what’s called a “glitch” list to be patched out either before the game shipped, in a day-one patch, or in a successive patch released down the line.

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The second glitch I want to highlight came about on the desert world of Kadara where a “raider” was supposed to be running at me firing her weapon.  However, this was kind of hard for her to do as neither of her arms worked correctly and were twisted out to her sides.  Her running animation also did not trigger, so she just “hovered” around the surface of the planet as if she had invisible skates.  It was both pretty funny and pretty painful considering that I spent the full asking price for the game.  Again, this is something, with enough time, that could have been seen and fixed before release.

EA, Anthem (another BioWare Game) and Quality Control

So what happened?  EA, the publisher of ME:A had another game by Bioware the company that made ME:A under development (Anthem).  Anthem is one that they are positioning to be a competitor to Destiny, a rival game from rival publisher.  This is where much of the focus went.  This new game was developed by a different “division” of Bioware, has a huge focus in terms of resources and talent, and more importantly was working towards a fixed schedule in terms of release date–2018.  EA also has another big game, Star Wars Battlefront II, in which they’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and marketing in coming out Fall of 2017.  So for EA to have done the right thing by consumers by delaying ME:A would have affected the publishing schedule of these two other games in the pipeline.  So they chose to release a game that was “not fully baked” because they didn’t want to impact the sales of these other two games.  So, in essence, EA sacrificed the fans of the Mass Effect brand in order to satisfy the fans of the Star Wars brand and to “win” (or at least make in-roads) against the fans of their rival in business (i.e., Activision and their game Destiny) having built up this fan-base all through the Playstation 3/X-Box 360 era of gaming.

Now I am a Star Wars fan, still a Mass Effect fan, (& based on the trailer) I will probably be an Anthem fan, but I’m no longer a fan of EA.  Doesn’t mean that I won’t buy EA games, but it does mean that I will be both more selective in the EA titles that I buy and I will be sure to wait both on reviews and patches on EA products.  I will probably no longer buy EA games immediately simply because I cannot trust EA as company to have my best interests as their customer at heart–ME:A proves that EA is more committed to sticking to their production schedule and releasing a game that isn’t fully polished just so they won’t risk cannibalizing sales of upcoming products–ME:A needed 6 more months of polishing, but that would have put it in and interfered with their plans for Star Wars Battlefront II and that is NOT the way a company should treat its customers.

Think I’m the only one who feels this way?  I’m at least committed to finishing the game.  Check out YouTuber gamermd83 take on why she “left” ME:A and why the game was such a disappointment to her.

Need for Speed – Payback

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Image Source: Wikipedia

Since this E3 week, I’d thought I’d use this week to highlight some of the more interesting games that I’ve seen and I’m excited about that have been announced during the week.  I won’t talk extensively about them, but just to give a little explanation about it and why I’m interested in it.  So far, this E3 has been light on games that have interested me.  EA had two games (well, they had 3, but they botched one by not premiering on their own stage, but giving only a teaser while giving an “extended” premiere to Microsoft, while Bethesda had nothing that interested me particularly this year, so today and tomorrow, I’ll briefly cover the two games from EA that were interesting.

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Image Source: Digital Trends

Need for Speed – Payback

I know few readers of the blog will be interested in video games, and fewer still will probably be interested in a racing game, but this one is doing something different.  It is trying to tell a “story” using racing gameplay as the driving force (no pun intended) to move the player through from one story element to another.  It is very much inspired by the Fast & Furious (F&F) film franchise, but imagine that instead of just watching exciting car chases on film, you could actually take control of the cars and do all those crazy “set pieces” yourself.  That seems to be what NfS:P is going for.

Now, EA has tried this once before in a Need for Speed game, Need for Speed The Run (NfS:TR).  The Run tried to tell a cinematic story, but it didn’t work out very well.  I finished The Run, but felt no desire to go back to it once the story was done.  The story, which had you trying to get the main character into 1st place by the time you reached the other coast line was too restrictive and didn’t work as well as they planned.  However, several F&F films have been released since then and I feel fairly confident that they have figured out how to integrate the narrative with the gameplay this time around.

Here is the trailer for Need for Speed Payback Gameplay Trailer and here is the trailer for The Fate of the Furious (Furious 8) for comparison.  You’ll notice a similar “vibe” between the two, I think.

This one looks like it could be a lot of fun.  I am cautiously optimistic for it and will check the reviews when it releases later in the year.

 

Black Panther, E3 and Me

 

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Image Source: YouTube.com

So, this blog was going to be about E3 (the video game and computer game conference happening on the West Coast this weekend), but Marvel released a teaser trailer for the Black Panther movie coming in 2018.  You can find the teaser trailer here: Black Panther Teaser Trailer.

I’m very interested in this movie as I was introduced to the Black Panther via a Marvel Comic that talked about the various gadgets and costumes of Marvel heroes in the early to mid 80s (it was the same comic that described the Mandarin’s rings and Falcon’s  wings/jet propulsion system) and mini-series done about the character when I was in High School in the late 80s/early 90s.  However, I discovered that the movie will debut next close to my birthday, so I feel that it will be a great movie to see as a present to myself, so I’m already “sticking a pin in it” as the expression goes.  I hope it turns out as well for Marvel and the creators as well as Wonder Woman has turned out for DC this year.  I will keep it on my radar.

E3

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This weekend marks the kickoff to the E3 Conference.  I am a very big fan of video games and video game narratives, and this is where the newest games and technologies are mostly announced for the upcoming year.  E3 used to be about selling games and software for Christmas, and while it still has some of that element, mostly its about things that will be coming out in the next year and building anticipation for things even further out (a year and a half to two years).  Electronic Arts’s Press Conference kicks things off later today, and then tomorrow will be Bethesda.  Ubisoft and Sony will round out Monday’s coverage and then the show will begin in earnest with games out on the show floor.  EA’s press conference (or EA Play Event as they technically aren’t doing “Press Conferences per se since last year) is scheduled to kick off at 1pm Eastern time (9am Pacific Time) and I plan on watching that before digging into some yard work that I’ve put off for too long.  If there’s anything fun and relevant to the blog, I’ll probably talk about the things that were announced that I find most interesting (games are doing some pretty neat and novel things in the narrative space these days).  In between the conferences, I hope to get some writing done over this weekend as well.

Have a great weekend!