Electronic Arts Embraces the Dark Side

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EA is back! And no, that’s not a good thing at all!

Years ago, I used to watch a person on YouTube and former video streaming site Blip.TV named Noah Antwiler. Known by his fans as “The Spoony One,” he did a long running retrospective on the Ultima series. What started off as a very informative and nostalgia filled look at a once great series (Ultima IV still holds a close place in my heart,) it eventually shown how far the series fell from grace. When starting his multi-part review of Ultima 9: Ascension, he talked about all the games leading up to then, and how one thing in particular was the catalyst.

In his own words,

He’s not lying either. Electronic Arts bought out Origin systems and in moving all of their staff over to develop Ultima Online, a game that I still have disdain over for personal reasons, production of Ultima 9 was, let’s just say it, a complete mess and pretty much ruined the series, resulting in the death of Origin Systems and Lord British himself, Richard Garriott, leaving the company.

EA’s devouring of Origin hit me as well, as a huge fan of the Wing Commander series, which after a decent game in WC: Prophecy and the first step in DLC (free DLC in fact) via WC: Secret Ops, all we got from EA was a simplistic arcade shooter called Wing Commander Arena on Xbox 360, and that was it.

As for Origin now? You guessed it, a digital distribution service like Steam, only not as accepted by the PC community as the latter.

Remember Westwood Studios? They didn’t really do much, aside from making the real-time strategy game genre a huge hit. Starting with Dune 2, they eventually created a little series called Command and Conquer and its spin-off franchises. They initially started off great, and continued that with the release of Command and Conquer 3: Tiberian Wars, but then C&C 4: Tiberian Twilight happened. Changing the way the series had played since its inception was already a bad start, but it was the concept of an always online requirement that made the game more detestable.

While we’re on the subject of “always online,” how about their treatment of SimCity? EA acquired Maxis in 1997, but it wasn’t until the 2013 reboot of SimCity that just shown EA’s dominance. By making the game require an “always online” connection while playing, no one was able to get on and play. Reports of server outages, lost save files, and inabilities to access the game made it unplayable. Eventually an offline mode was added but by then the damage was done and players moved on to the far more successful Cities: Skylines by Paradox Interactive.

Maxis is still around, as they recently released a console version of The Sims 4, but one has to wonder how they will end up.

And most recently, we have Visceral Games, best known for the Dead Space series, which itself was a victim of EA’s greed, namely adding microtransactions in Dead Space 3. Eventually after working on Battlefield: Hardline, they were pulled away from their project, Ragtag, to work on Star Wars Battlefront II. Believe me I will get to that real soon. But as Visceral tried to make Battlefront II more single player oriented, EA saw otherwise, and pulled Visceral away from development. In the end, they were closed by EA.

And now we get to Star Wars Battlefront II. Before I go deeper into this I know I will get a lot of flack over my opinion in this series. Put simply, I HATED the first game. I hated the fact the game was grossly limited in terms of single player content, I hated the fact that they made the game very barebones and players had to spend a lot of money to get all the extra content. I hated how EA falsely advertised the game as a PlayStation 4 exclusive, despite it being available on both PC and Xbox. But most of all, I hated this style of gameplay which centered on higher level players being able to overpower their way to victory.

But despite my disgust of the first game, I still looked at giving Battlefront II a try. After all, I had an EA Access subscription. I will say that EA Access, as well as its PC counterpart Origin Access, is one of the few things that EA did right. It helped me save a lot of money on games, being able to try out full games for 10 hours (with a few limitations, such as only playing Episode One of Battlefield Hardline) and unlocking a huge Vault full of free EA games. Needless to say, EA Access also helped me decide on which games I would buy and not buy (i.e. Need For Speed: Payback.)

So, despite EA’s continuous false advertising about it being a (fake) PS4 exclusive, I downloaded Star Wars Battlefront II for the 10-hour trial, just to see how the single player campaign would work out. I will not lie about how it looks on the Xbox One X, the game is gorgeous, running at near 4K at 60 frames per second. It’s one of the best-looking games I saw in my short time with the X so far. But that’s where the positives mostly end.

When moving on to the multiplayer, the game is an unrecoverable mess, and it all centered on one thing, one element that has been covered to death: microtransactions. Yes, I know, I wrote about microtransactions before when both Forza Motorsport 7 and Middle Earth: Shadow of War were attacked for them. But if you remember in that article, I said if these microtransactions are bought with in-game currency (a la Forza) or you are able to finish the game without spending one real world dime on microtransactions (a la Shadow of War,) I am ok with them.

Then there is this moment, one that I feared would become a reality: a trend towards pay-to-win. Purchases of Star Crystals, which are used to buy Star Cards, seem to be the only real way to unlock all the good equipment, most notably hero characters like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. Sure, they can be earned by grinding, but be prepared to do a LOT of grinding, or give away the deed to your house!

It was found to unlock everything in the game, you would have to play for over 4,000 hours or you would have to pay nearly $2,100! Suddenly the cost of Battlefront 1 does not seem that bad at all (and yes, I’m being sarcastic, so please put the pitchforks away.)

For just one of the above-mentioned heroes, it was found that upwards of 40 hours of grinding would be required, pending you don’t buy anything else. Of course, EA being EA, they responded to a Reddit post saying that all this grinding would result in a sense of “pride and accomplishment.” Yeah, EA, you’re the ones guilty of pride with that comment, and as for “accomplishment,” I guess that being the most downloaded comment ever on Reddit qualifies as that.

Eventually the microtransactions were removed from the game, and there are those who are claiming that what happened here is a huge victory for gamers everywhere. I don’t think we should all celebrate yet. This is EA we are dealing with after all. Even if there are claims that pressure from Disney threatening to pull EA’s exclusivity rights as a result, I have the strangest feeling that when everything dies down, EA will find some way to rip money away from gamers, even if it means bringing back loot boxes.

However, if some governments get their way and it expands elsewhere, that might change. Now normally I am not one for government intervention in games, but that was when we dealt with matters of censorship. But I am going to contradict myself this one time. Recently Belgium’s government, namely their Gaming Commission, declared loot boxes in Battlefront II, and even Overwatch, as a form of gambling. The Dutch Gaming Authority also stated the same thing, and even a Hawaiian Democrat joined in, claiming in a very tongue in cheek manner, “it’s a trap.”

I really hope that this does go through, because technically, it is gambling, and if it’s not looked into more seriously, it will affect everyone who plays. And EA will bring loot boxes back, no matter what it takes. It’s days like this that I wish The Consumerist was still running. They used to do a “Worst Company In America” poll during March Madness, and take a guess who won it in 2012 and 2013?
That’s right, Electronic Arts.

I’ll gladly bring back the WCIA poll, just to see it win for a third time. They really deserve it after this debacle!

Currently Playing: Assassin’s Creed Origins

Waiting For: The Consumerist to be picked up by someone else, and for them to bring back the Worst Company In America brackets so we can have EA win it for a third time.

Publishers:

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