You know, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently. A lot of consideration about the industry we’re looking at. After my plea for a greater consumer awareness at the end of the Arkham Knight article, I was looking back over it and thinking about the statement I made – that the big publishers don’t respect us.
It’s not universally true, of course. Valve has a fairly good history of treating players with dignity. Nintendo make some mistakes in my mind, but I suspect that it’s usually down to stupidity rather than nastiness. There can be good publishers, I wouldn’t say otherwise. If it wasn’t possible for a publisher to be good, I wouldn’t spend so much time lamenting the fact that so few of them are.
But these paragons are a minority. For every Valve, there’s a dozen Activisions. For every Nintendo, there’s a dozen Ubisofts. And let’s not forget the real wicked witch, the black hole of gaming: Electronic Arts. That’s EA to you and me, or more possibly just AAAGH!
God, where to start? After looking at a truly bleak history, you can see how they got the “Worst Company In America” award for two years in a row. It would be strange to see them not get such an award after the tricks they’ve gotten up to.
How about we start with their utterly awful creation, Origins? A service that will sell you downloadable EA games at the prices of physical copies, for no reason other than a blatant attempt to scrape money out of your wallet? How about the fact that they gouge more and more content out of each instalment of major franchises like The Sims, so that it can be sold additionally to you as DLC? What about the fact that they refuse to innovate and reduce all their products into bland, formulaic sludge to give everything a mass-market appeal, ironically pleasing nobody?
It’s not just their disrespect for the players that shines, they make it miserable to be part of the company too. Have you heard about when EA had to be slapped on the wrist when it was making workers put in over a hundred hours a week, even when there wasn’t a need for it? Or about their habit of buying and then destroying smaller games companies, when they demand the developers take responsibility for the failures that EA put them up to? Ask yourselves, where is Bullfrog Entertainment? Or Pandemic Studios? Or Westwood Studios, Black Box Games, Origin, PlayFish or Mythic? All dead, all gutted by the hungry entity that is EA, and that’s not even the full list.
My favourite example of all this evil was the Dungeon Keeper Mobile incident. You see, Dungeon Keeper was a respected old game from the nineties, in which you had to build and manage your own D&D-style labyrinth. And EA, seeing the potential for using nostalgia to their advantage, made a mobile game with the same premise, using a free-to-play model based completely around micropayments.
It was awful. The game was essentially unusable without these constant fees to speed up the process. Just digging out a four-by-four empty room could take the best part of a day, if you weren’t willing to cough up the green to accelerate it.
EA’s reaction was so wonderfully faceless and corporate-like, it made me laugh. When called out on this by angry fans of the original game, and by those who felt insulted by such an obvious attempt to scalp them, Frank Gibeau, the guy who ran EA Mobile, had this to say.
“I don’t think we did a particularly good job marketing it or talking to fans about their expectations for what Dungeon Keeper was going to be or ultimately should be. Brands ultimately have a certain amount of permission that you can make changes to, and I think we might have innovated too much or tried some different things that people just weren’t ready for.”
Yes, I think you did innovate too much Franky, in the same way that throwing an assault rifle into a kindergarten might be considered an innovation to the idea of kiddy’s playtime.
I mean, you see what he’s done there, right? Rather than admit that the game was a nasty attempt to take cash from you, he’s told us that it’s our fault for not keeping up with the times. Ha! Right back at you, EA. People who work their staff like slaves and can’t catch up with the quality of modern gaming shouldn’t tell us that we need to catch up with them.
EA is probably the worst offender, but it’s not the only one. Everything they’ve done has, at some point, been done by other games publishers too. It’s just a nice example of one of the more horrible corporations out there, and what they’re willing to do to you to make money. Think about it. It’s not aimed just at other people, they’d take your cash too if they could. I have a friend who flatly refuses to buy any product from EA, because he can’t bring himself to give money to such an awful cause. I can’t say I blame him.
But this leads back to that first troubling thought. Why? Why are they all so willing to rob us in this manner, to give us so little respect? This doesn’t happen at the same level when it comes to other entertainment, like music or books. Even the film industry looks almost saintly when you compare the two.
Maybe it’s the fact that the games industry is so comparatively young and has exploded so suddenly in the last few decades, to the point where it’s all exciting, untrodden ground. Maybe they have to push these boundaries until they find what the limits are, and that’s when they’ll get pushed back.
Or maybe it’s the fact that an industry based around play is always going to view its audience as childish and immature, easy prey for the good con-artist. We know that many high-ranking executives don’t know anything about games themselves, they make the jump from other industries, mainly packaged and physical goods, and find themselves in positions of power in an artistic movement they have no interest or respect for.
Or maybe it’s just the money. Gaming is now the biggest entertainment industry in the world, GTA V and its absurd success showed how much there is to be made here. Perhaps they just can’t resist, can’t drop the thought of making a little more cash and profit at the expense of this culture. After all, those indie developers can deal with the artistic side of gaming. We’ll just sit here and make box-ticking blockbusters, we’ll be the Michael Bay of gaming. Isn’t that a horrible thought?
It almost doesn’t matter what the cause is, because we know the cure. A combination of tenacity, self-discipline, and self-righteous anger. The first two suck, I know, but the third one is pretty fun. And we’re going to need all three, because we have to start telling these companies when they’ve gone too far. We have to refuse to buy products that treat us like idiots, rather than just putting up with it. If enough people dig their heels in and refuse to budge, it WILL work. If EA, Activision and Ubisoft start losing money, they’ll listen to what we have to say. They won’t have a choice.
It won’t even be that hard. If two major releases from a publisher flop badly enough, I think they’ll sit up and take notice. They’ll put an ear to the public, and the public message will be this: stop treating us like arseholes.
It’s not much to ask of them. I think it’s about time we took our dignity back.