On the heels of the Advertising Standards Authority's ruling concerning Electronic Arts' "misleading" advertising for their mobile game Dungeon Keeper, EA executive Peter Moore has come out with some bad news for gamers who are put off by the company's usage of the "freemium" model. Speaking with GamesIndustry, Moore said, "I don't think anybody has to like it. I think that's where it goes. It's like me: I get grumpy about some things, but if the river of progress is flowing and I'm trying to paddle my canoe in the opposite direction, then eventually I'm just going to lose out."
As you can tell, Moore has slammed the door on the faces of the gaming community. Surely, he has a good reason for EA's blatant forays into the pay-to-play system, though? Oh, wait:
I think the challenge sometimes is that the growth of gaming... there's a core that doesn't quite feel comfortable with that," Moore said. "Your readers, the industry in particular. I don't get frustrated, but I scratch my head at times and say, 'Look. These are different times.' There is a core--controversial statement coming from me, sadly--that just doesn't like that, because it's different. It's disruptive. It's not the way it used to be. I used to put my disc in the tray or my cartridge in the top, and I'd sit there and play. And all of these young people coming in, or God forbid, these old people coming into gaming!
Essentially, Moore is saying that micro-transaction-based games are inevitable and that it's the fault of gamers that there is so much resistance to them. He's calling the gaming community curmudgeonly. As a result, he's completely side-stepping the fact that EA churns out repetitive games loaded with expensive DLC and easy-to-buy shortcuts. It's not the fault of developers who are putting out falsely-advertised or incomplete games that slowly bleed you dry. Nope, definitely not their fault. This is inevitable, everyone! Why are you morons standing in EA's path to your wallet? Don't you see that this is just the natural flow of the world?
Moore went on to liken the struggle to the music industry, saying, "We as an industry have to embrace change," he explained. "We can't be music. We cannot be music."
Hollywood would serve as a better analogy, where bloated movie budgets sink studios and create larger and larger commercial expectations for big-money films like Transformers. Steven Soderbergh delivered a scathing assessment of the film industry last year while speaking at the San Francisco International Film Festival. During his speech, he noted how marketing and advertising make the costs of any film prohibitively expensive. They've become so pricey that studios are now looking for bigger-budget films, which are more likely to garner massive opening numbers and yield financial returns from the start.
Similarly, AAA gaming has become overweight in terms of both finances and staff, producing games that are backed by $100M budgets. EA CCO Rich Hilleman has already admitted that EA dev teams average 300 people. And for what? To produce a Madden game that looks the same as every other Madden gamer ever released? To put out a Battlefield game whose problems still have yet to be resolved?
But these gripes speak more to the quality-control issues pervading EA. And while the company is making some genuinely terrible games, it still ignores the larger issue at hand: too much money is trading hands. Peter Moore made nearly $3M from EA last year, $1.7M of which was tied to stock awards. As a result, Moore and his leadership have clearly shifted EA's focus toward their bottom-line and their stock market performance. A recent Q&A between Nintendo and their investors clued us in to the sorts of motivations that investors have with video games companies. Thankfully, Nintendo has integrity, and isn't willing to bend to money-hungry traders who want to charge you for double-jumps. EA, on the other hand, will gladly do so as they shove their middle finger into the bridge of your nose. This is where Soderbergh's criticism of Hollywood becomes relevant: Moore and EA seem to be under the impression that bigger-budget games will yield larger returns for the company. Anything that isn't recouped by their largest franchises can simply be earned back via DLC and other incremental fees.
Thankfully, Nintendo has integrity, and isn't willing to bend to money-hungry traders who want to charge you for double-jumps. EA, on the other hand, will gladly do so as they shove their middle finger into the bridge of your nose.
Hilleman has hinted in the past that gaming is currently undergoing the same problems as Hollywood, particularly when he noted that EA spends about two or three times more on marketing and advertising for game than it does on actual development. Essentially, the cost of making a big video game is becoming cannibalistic. It's an industry that feeds itself to the point of creating a large, bloated bubble. Eventually, this bubble will have to burst. A company can't just pour more money into something and expect more and more consumers to react accordingly. The market has to reach some sort of equilibrium.
If we're looking for sea changes, expect indie gaming and the continual diversification of the gaming market to play a large role in either deflating or popping the industry's expanding financial growth. For example, consider No Man's Sky or Shovel Knight. These are two games with small developments teams (relative to EA, anyway) that have put out or will be putting out games that are higher in quality and ambition than anything EA has released in the past year. Indie games like these (especially in the case of Shovel Knight, which was funded by a Kickstarter) have the potential to completely reshape the business model, and to take gaming away from its increasingly inflated instincts.
The people pushing the buttons on the growth of the video game industry are people like Moore and his stockholders; they're the people who are only in it for more dollars, higher salaries, and increasing dividends. They want to see more money poured into gaming, and not because more money corresponds to higher quality games (it doesn't) but because they seek to personally gain from it. It's a point that bears repeating.
Here's the way you can personally put a stop to this insanity: Quit buying EA's awful video games. Make them responsible for something that doesn't involve dollars and cents. Stop shelling out cash for their mindless DLC and pre-order "bonuses". EA is looking for ten different ways to get inside your bank account. Thankfully, we have the choice to refuse them access. It's time to start exercising that right.