While we already discussed it on the Diecast, my column this week is a response to the story last week where EA said they were looking to improve relations with the PC market.
While I don’t actually expect the EA leadership will read my column, I wrote it as if they were going to. Which means I left out some points that – while major sticking points for many consumers – are simply beyond the scope of the sorts of changes they can make. That is to say, I left out advice that required a major shift in corporate priorities or company culture.
Obviously the brute-force monetization is a big complaint that people have with EA. There are some things that clearly shouldn’t be chopped out of the core game and sold as DLC. (Like the final boss.) There are other things that are clearly great for DLC that won’t offend anyone. (Alternate costumes for your character, original soundtrack.) But the line between these two extremes can get really blurry if you like. EA likes to mess around in that blurry area and see just how much they can get away with.
I think this is foolhardy. I think there’s more money to be made with a focus on the user experience. But this is a different mindset. Compare:
“I think we should screw and harass our customers until we find the optimal spot where their desire for the product is just high enough to overcome their disgust and frustration with the transaction itself.”
“If we release quality products and build our brand around positive experiences, we can build a rabidly loyal fanbase that will always show up to give us their $60.”
The latter is a sort of Disney / Nintendo mentality. (And maybe you can make the case this applies to Apple as well, but I’m not an Apple customer so I’m not in a position to judge.) It’s a patient, long-term approach to developing a company. Moreover, it’s not one you can pursue unless you’re an avid gamer yourself, because you need to be able to look at a game and judge for yourself if it meets your company standards for quality.
But I don’t think there’s a good way to articulate this to an EA exec. This requires not just a change in company policy, but a philosophical change in how the business works. Even if EA was interested, a transformation like that could take a decade.
I still don’t have a really good suggestion for why they’re making this move now. Maybe they don’t like how this console generation is shaking out. Maybe the PC market is growing, simply because it’s so much easier to acquire and maintain a gaming rig these days. (Because machines last longer.) Maybe they really love being able to sell games through Origin and not paying the 30% Steam / Sony / Microsoft taxI don’t actually know what the platform fees are for Playstation and Xbox. It’s just a guess.. Maybe EA is worried the bad press and consumer outrage might be a drag on their stock price.
It’s impossible to know. But I do wonder.
 I don’t actually know what the platform fees are for Playstation and Xbox. It’s just a guess.
The Best of 2014
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2014.
Mass Effect Retrospective
A novel-sized analysis of the Mass Effect series that explains where it all went wrong. Spoiler: It was long before the ending.
The Plot-Driven Door
You know how videogames sometimes do that thing where it's preposterously hard to go through a simple door? This one is really bad.
Grand Theft Railroad
Grand Theft Auto is a lousy, cheating jerk of a game.
Programming Language for Games
Game developer Jon Blow is making a programming language just for games. Why is he doing this, and what will it mean for game development?