I’m sorry to say that if you’re a long time reader of this site, then my column this week is just a shorter, more focused version of a rant you probably read two years ago. Still, this is sadly an evergreen topic and revisiting it every couple of years is probably not overkill.
I’d love it if gaming culture would focus more on EA’s flagrant mistakes and less on the catch-all term “greed”, because greed is such an easily dismissed term. If you’re an aging executive, then an outcry regarding greed falls perfectly into the horrible stereotypes about Millennials that are popular among Baby Boomers. Meanwhile, the criticism of, “This obviously bad decision destroyed IP that was worth hundreds of millions of dollars” is a lot more damning outside of gaming culture.
Based on the feedback at the Escapist, this argument seems to have fallen of deaf ears. I think a big reason for this is that we don’t all complain about game companies for the same reason. For a lot of people, calling EA out regarding greed is an act of catharsis and they don’t particularly care if their argument is persuasive. They’re just venting frustration. For me, critical analysis is an attempt to explain a mistake so that people will stop making it. If an executive or a shareholder ever read my work, I’d want them to find it instructive and illuminating. “Ah! So it’s not that gamers are entitled babies, it’s that EA is releasing products that hurt sales and damage their brand!”
Having said that, it’s likely that we’re both just shouting into the hurricane. Some people complain about greed and I complain about lost revenue potential, but the odds against a shareholder or an executive reading what any of us have to say is astronomicalParticularly since they seem so disconnected from gaming culture..
I think there’s also the problem that the definition of greed seems to be drifting. When I was youngThis could also be regional. It’s not like I had a broad understanding of the Anglosphere when I was 12., greed was just a synonym for avarice. It generally meant “Acquiring more for the sake of having more, beyond what you need or is useful to you.” Eating so much food that you get sick is greedy. Trying to alter your Halloween costume during trick-or-treat so you can double-dip at the best houses is greedy. Working crazy hours to get more money when you’re already financially secure is greedy. It was the pursuit of more for the sake of more, with a dash of selfishness thrown in.
These days I’ve seen quite a few people using greed to mean “Trying to acquire wealth in ways that are stupid, clumsy, or counter-productive.” Under this definition, charging restaurant patrons for napkins would count as “greedy”. Self-destruction seems to be a component of this new definition.
I’m not really arguing with the new definition. Maybe people are re-purposing the word because we needed a concise term for avarice that is explicitly self-destructive, clumsy, or idiotic. After all, we still have the word “avarice” to refer to the more general concept of “always wanting more”.
Having said that, I’d still avoid using the word greed if you’re hoping to persuade others. The shareholders and executives of the world tend to be old folks, and “greed” isn’t going to upset them the way that charges of incompetence, malfeasance, and shortsightedness will.
The common argument in defense of EA is that I’m just a dumb programmer turned internet crank. I don’t have an MBA, I don’t have all the facts like sales numbers and development costs, and I’ve never run a major corporation. Maybe if I knew all the facts, I’d see the wisdom in the decisions of EA executives.
That’s a reasonable enough argument. It’s true that I don’t have the financial details that the EA leadership is using to make their decisions and it’s always possible that there’s a good explanation for the behavior we’re seeing.
The thing is, this excuse has been stretched to implausibility over the years. This theory asks us to believe that EA is making moves that, in secret, are actually sound business decisions that only coincidentally look incompetent to outside observers. If Dead Space had transformed into a successful co-op shooter then we could conclude that EA made the right financial move, even if fans of the original two games didn’t like it. But EA pushed for changes, and now the Dead Space franchise is dead. If SimCity was still selling DLC and raking in the microtransaction dollars we could believe that EA was simply taking advantage of a business opportunity when they made it always-online. But SimCity launched to disaster, Maxis was closed, and the brand is now dead.
Anthem? Mass Effect Andromeda? Battlefront? Those terrible ads that infantilize the hobby? Bullfrog? Westwood? Pandemic? Playfish? EA Spouse? The most downvoted comment on all of Reddit? Where’s the payoff for all of these things that, to us fools in the audience, look like self-destruction and waste? When are we going to see EA call checkmate in this game of 4 dimensional chess they’re supposedly playing?
Or maybe everyone is just biased against EA? Maybe they’re doing fine, but the dumb masses are just focusing on the negatives?
Except, Apex Legends just came out, and everyone readily admits the game is pretty good. If we’re all blinded by our EA hate, then why aren’t we pretending Apex Legends is trash? More importantly, why do so few EA games get the praise that Apex Legends is getting?
I can’t prove that the EA leadership is 100% incompetent, but it really is the most likely reading of events. Every other interpretation requires us to believe in massively improbable and unobservable things.
 Particularly since they seem so disconnected from gaming culture.
 This could also be regional. It’s not like I had a broad understanding of the Anglosphere when I was 12.
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