Actually, EA’s Multiplayer-only Policy Could Be a Good Thing

Okay, bear with me here. I know you just read that headline and you’ve probably already commented that I’m on the Electronic Arts payroll. But let me explain — EA’s policy of greenlighting only games with multiplayer is a good thing, because it will hopefully encourage developers to go elsewhere.

Earlier this week, President of EA Labels Frank Gibeau said he wouldn’t be greenlighting any solely single-player games anymore. That’s right: all of EA’s games, even the ones built to be single-player ones, will have some kind of online social or multiplayer component.

“We are very proud of the way EA evolved with consumers,” he said. “I have not green lit one game to be developed as a singleplayer experience. Today, all of our games include online applications and digital services that make them live 24/7/365.

“One of our biggest growth opportunities is Play4Free titles that allow customers to play at no cost and make purchases via microtransactions. We see this as a huge opportunity, and one that’s powered by our hybrid cloud model.”

Of course, this has a lot of people annoyed. Already, EA has a pretty rough reputation of buying studios and “ruining” them. A lot of people are upset about the way Mass Effect 3 turned out blame EA for that situation, pointing at things such as the additional multiplayer component as eating up development time that should have been spent on story. Dead Space 3′s cooperative campaign has been a source of contention, and Dead Space 2 had a tacked-on-feeling multiplayer that, apparently, no one liked or played (although I liked and played it.)

So Gibeau’s comments, that EA will only push games that have some kind of online plan (he further clarified that this does not mean every franchise should include a deathmatch multiplayer mode) kinda…sucks. For those of us who like our experiences deep and singular, and feel that unwarranted multiplayer often dilutes an otherwise good game by sapping its resources for something no one wants, this sounds like a slap. We won’t be getting the kinds of games we hoped for from EA. EA is ruining gaming.

Except…no it isn’t. This is good.

The Great Video Game Experiment

Let’s look back at the recent history of video games. The Internet has been a real force in the mainstream video game industry for, what, around 15 years. For about 10 of those years, we’ve had online console multiplayer, which means that we’ve had multiplayer for the masses — everyone who’s a gamer is now living in a world in which multiplayer is a big part of the gaming experience. This was not the case during the heyday of single-player games, with titles like Final Fantasy VII or Metal Gear Solid. The world is different.

What’s more, every game made today — every single one, from every single publisher — is an experiment. Because despite a decade of online gaming, everyone is still confused as to how to make any goddamn money with it, at least reliably.

So: in a world where online multiplayer is a thing, most games cancel each other out. No single game has a big enough community to out-compete any other single game, on the whole. There’s this whole big Internet out there, offering to make games viable for years instead of just a few months, and publishers see money in it. You can look to examples like Diablo 3 for clues; that game’s real money auction house is an attempt for Blizzard to make money long-term off the game. If Diablo 3 takes off like Diablo 2 did, Blizzard wants to make sure it won’t be seeing 12 years of success and no money to show for it. Blizzard wants you playing with your friends for years, spending money while you do it. Economically, it’s much better for Blizzard.

And then there are the outliers. World of Warcraft. Call of Duty. Games that have made incredible amounts of money from online multiplayer. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 sold $775 million worth of copies globally in its first five days. World of Warcraft still has 10.2 million people paying $15 a month to play it. There’s a reason every MMO feels like WoW and every shooter feels like Call of Duty — Activision has lightning in two bottles. And everyone else is hoping to be the next one to catch it.

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8 Comments on Actually, EA’s Multiplayer-only Policy Could Be a Good Thing

R-man

On September 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm

You know what, Mr. Hornshaw? I actually really like this article. At the end of the first page, I was angry, and I wasn’t sure where (or if) you were gonna make a comeback in the article to make me feel not so angry, and actually give me hope like your title made me believe I’d have… but I read on, and I think you do have a point… I hope it does work that way, I truly do. I just wish BioWare could’ve avoided the multiplayer specialist, EA.
I’m not sure I enjoy living in the experimental age of gaming, but I look forward to seeing what the effect is. And I will just enjoy the few games that come out that are really truly worth my time and money.

Adam

On September 7, 2012 at 1:22 pm

EA is so full of crap. What a narrow minded company. Like a game needs multi to be good, they can eff off for all I care.

LTenhet

On September 7, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Not every game needs multiplayer, if you create a good, compelling experience then people will play your games a long time, and even come back to them many times later on. And you can still get money from DLC. Of course, its funny how a few years ago people were saying “No multiplayer no buy!” DO YOU SEE WHAT YOU’VE DONE PEOPLE?! DO YOU!?

R.J.

On September 7, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Perhaps this will be a good thing, if a developer knows that if wants to stay away from a company with this policy they are going to be less willing to sign on, and perhaps EA will stay away from SP focused studios, but it’s sad to hear this knowing the developers that are already under EA’s boot. So, while they might not be acquiring single player oriented developers, it also means there is less and less hope that the ones they do own, like Bioware, can stage a comeback. And if EA decided it really, really wants a certain developer, flashing enough money will get most of them to jump on with EA. But, one undisputed good thing in this is that I now know that anything with EA’s label will have some sort of MP shoehorned into it and I’ll know that I should be wary of the quality due to a lack of focus when it comes to a project’s resources.

Though I do hope that one day EA realizes it will never have a COD on its hands. If you constantly chase the leader, what sets you apart? What makes the customer notice you?

arcade47

On September 7, 2012 at 2:02 pm

well a game having multiplayer acts as an incentive for buyers to purchase the legal version of the game so that they could enjoy it later after completeing the campaign part with their friends

Kevin

On September 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm

While I agree, I also disagree on one point. COD and World of Warcraft aren’t “flukes.”

In the case of WoW, Blizzard was the golden boy for years before WoW came out, and they cultivated their rabid fan base with some pretty smart marketing, in addition to really seeing where the MMO market was succeeding, where it was failing, and how to capitalize on that.

It is tough to replicate what they did because it is tough to have that level of dedication and that kind of staff. Hell, the current Blizzard hasn’t had that kind of crew running the ship for years. (Just think of how much of the original crew of WoW’s launch is still there.)

Same with Call of Duty. There was a time when PC gaming was the only place for multiplayer. Activision saw an opening and exploited it, and added some innovations to the multiplayer market. And, most importantly, they knew their audience and pandered to them ruthlessely.

Everyone may hate their current iterations of products, but there was a time when these were sharp companies. EA, as is their thing, seldom originates or wants to invest the time into what these companies did with their properties. They just hope that if they play follow the leader enough, they’ll get a trickle down effect. I’d say the real lesson is to actually get a better understanding of the current market, not “if we change it enough, we can appeal to this market.”

Gamer41

On September 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm

One word EA……Skyrim.

Wesker1984

On September 9, 2012 at 10:33 pm

”Of course, this has a lot of people annoyed. Already, EA has a pretty rough reputation of buying studios and “ruining” them. A lot of people are upset about the way Mass Effect 3 turned out blame EA for that situation, pointing at things such as the additional multiplayer component as eating up development time that should have been spent on story.”

Sooo true! Even if the Mass Effect 3 we got is a good game the final product got butchered just for the sake of a useless multiplayer mode! What we needed is no Catalyst, Harbinger being the one TRUE big bad guy, no colored endings, a final boss, having the chance to have blue babies(or 3-fingered little quarians for me) and having an ending with our survived Shepard being taking the place of the new human councilor. Soldier, N7, Spectre, lawless, Hero, councilor, LIVING LEGEND!