Electronic Arts was originally known for producing or creating some great classics. I remember spending countless hours playing Archon
, Bard’s Tale
, Dr. J and Larry Bird Go One on One
, and M.U.L.E.
. They were a much beloved company and churned out some great games in its early years. So how did this company’s image become so tarnished with the gaming community?
In 1992, EA bought Origin Systems. Origin was responsible for the Ultima series and other great titles. Richard Garriot’s series is a huge influence on many other titles and also gave a large RPG audience many sleepless nights. Some of my favorites such as Questron
followed a similar formula to the early Ultimas. The marriage of EA and Origin came to an end on February 25, 2004 but Ultima Online
continues on. The closing of Origin Systems was certainly an unpopular decision amongst the community. It also didn’t help that the quality of the Ultima series declined and Ultima X: Odyssey was canceled
as well with Ultima Online 2
. To be honest, the series wouldn’t be the same without Richard Garriot in my opinion. Even so, the cancellation to focus on the fading Ultima Online
series compounded with the closing of Origin Systems left a bad taste in many mouths.
EA’s closing of popular studios continued with Westwood. In 1998, the company was picked up by Electronic Arts. Responsible for the popular Command & Conquer
series, the studio also created classics such as BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk’s Inception
and Legend of Kyrandia
series. EA downsized the company on January of 2003 by moving 100 of the Westwood employees to the Los Angeles branch of EA and closing the doors of the studio. Count for great studios closed by them is now up to two.
The momentum against EA really seemed to pickup when the story of a disgruntled spouse of an Electronic Arts developer blogged her story
. Long hours without any compensation detailed the work environment of one EA employee. The details of non-caring managers and EA’s sweatshop like environment really gave EA a black eye within the gaming community. As a developer myself, I know that working long hours can really take a toll and be counterproductive. Deadlines do have to be met and you do occasionally have to work extra hours to get the product out but EA’s lack of compassion or reward for the effort put in brought many voices against the company. It doesn’t help that EA has become a huge corporation and it looked like another example of a big company making large profits by working their employees to death and deeming them as expendable. Perhaps the long hours also contributed to the less than stellar quality of releases requiring numerous patches with some coming out even before the game hit the shelves.
An exclusive deal with the NFL and NFLPA on December 14, 2004 surely didn’t give EA a great image. Before that, Visual Concept’s NFL2K series was viewed as a great alternative and some considered it superior to EA’s Madden product. And the idea of releasing the game for only $20 really gave the game a boost in sales. The NFL2K series looked to really put a dent into the football giant in Madden and I was eagerly anticipating another year from VC to see how they would improve their game an in turn push EA to create a better quality product. Before that would happen, EA decided to sign an exclusive deal with the NFL and NFLPA so only they will be able to use the team and player names. Another wave of protest rang out in the forums blasting EA with some comments declaring that EA didn’t want to compete so they bought out the competition. Others starting comparing EA to Microsoft for their practices. The ESPN exclusive deal followed essentially kicking VC even though it was already down for the count. On the heels of this news, we were all waiting to see if licenses for the MLB, NBA, and NHL would follow suit. The only one to materialize was MLB PA but they went with Take Two instead prompting EA to call the deal "stupid money"
EA does do some acquisitions of other companies but EA’s purchase of 19.9% shares of Ubisoft on December 20, 2004
was viewed by Ubi and many others as a hostile take over attempt. Ubisoft’s big franchises such as the Tom Clancy series of games, Far Cry
and Prince of Persia
would give EA a massive collection of top quality if they did acquire the French publisher. Imagine loading up a Far Cry
game and seeing the EA logo spinning at the beginning. The thought of EA controlling another major publisher produced another wave of protest. The fight is still ongoing at this point.
Even when a subsidiary of EA does something, EA still gets a good amount of blame. With the impending release of Battlefield 2
, DICE decided to close the NY office
on June 7, 2005 that contained Trauma Studios, the guys behind the Desert Combat mode that the game is heavily influenced by. The act seemed like they took some talented people, picked their brains, have them help in creating a highly anticipated title, and then let them go. To make matters worse, a $200,000 supplement payment to Trauma will not be made even though it was agreed upon at the time of DICE’s acquisition of the company. Sure they were offered positions in Sweden but the prospect of moving to another country for a job is pretty daunting given that moving to another state can be hard enough. Was it DICE’s sole decision to close the office? Did EA pressure them to? Conspiracy theorists seem to think so. Either way, EA wasn’t going to get away clean from this decision with the timing of the closing working against them as well. As a mod maker looking to get into the industry now, would you even consider going to EA if they made you an offer?
Has any other company had such a torrid history since its inception? With EA being the largest player in the gaming industry, many people want to see them knocked down from their perch for more reasons than the ones listed above. But it’s hard to get away from the facts listed and the many opinions expressed about them in various formats. Electronic Arts will still generate billions and business will continue as usual for them. But if you told me that back in 1983 when I was trading energy with other alien races and shooting 3’s with Larry Bird that Electronic Arts will be viewed as a greedy corporate gaming company that the online gaming community hates, I would’ve called you crazy.
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