The Ultimate EA Retrospective: In-Depth on Riccitiello’s Legacy
With EA now in second place and facing down two insanely profitable franchises in World of Warcraft and Call of Duty, it set about attempting to unseat Activision and cut itself a piece of both large pies. However, even before Vivendi merged with Activision, World of Warcraft had dominated the MMO sphere, and Electronic Arts’ attempts to muscle into that market had not been very successful.
For example, in 2006, EA acquired Dark Age of Camelot developer Mythic Entertainment and put them to work on Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. But despite the fact that the game had been in development in one form or another since the early 2000s, it was released with many of its features still unfinished. Age of Reckoning garnered some early acclaim and had a robust launch, but the game never surpassed 800,000 users and currently is down to only three servers. A related Warhammer MMO called Wrath of Heroes was planned, but poor reception and low interest killed it while it was still in beta (Wrath of Heroes shuts down on March 31, 2013).
Likewise, the publisher faced numerous challenges with BioWare’s MMO entry, Star Wars: The Old Republic. The game reportedly cost Electronic Arts and BioWare $200 million, employing more than 800 staffers across four continents to develop it. Despite such lavish costs, SWTOR has been unable to topple World of Warcraft — or even significantly cut into WoW’s subscriber base.
Although SWTOR initially attracted more than 1.7 million subscribers, the number has since slumped into the hundreds of thousands. BioWare and EA cited the amount of content they created for the game, saying many players were barreling through SWTOR too quickly and eventually getting to endgame content that BioWare was still working on producing. That caused a big drop-off in subscribers, as there was little reason for players to stick around.
SWTOR was profitable, but the WoW-style subscriber model was deemed unsuccessful and the game was transitioned into free-to-play less than a year after launch. At BioWare, co-founder Dr. Greg Zeschuk, who had been heading up SWTOR studio BioWare Austin, seemingly departed from BioWare and later announced that he and fellow co-founder Dr. Ray Muzyka were retiring from games altogether.
Not long after the release of SWTOR came Funcom’s The Secret World, another MMO with EA as a publisher. It also had transitioned away from the subscriber model by the latter part of 2012, offering a subscription-free model to players who purchase the game much in the vein of SWTOR.
EA’s missteps haven’t just been MMO-related. The popularity of Activision’s Call of Duty series prompted EA to produce yearly releases of Battlefield titles and Medal of Honor, with the latter going head to head against the Call of Duty franchise by aping its narrative-driven gameplay and emphasis on tight-spaced battles in multiplayer. Battlefield iterations have met with largely positive reception, but last year’s Medal of Honor: Warfighter was a tremendous flop.
And multiplayer continued to filter down into other EA releases, even where they didn’t seem necessary or conducive to the franchise, seemingly in hopes that one might catch fire the way Call of Duty 4 had. Dead Space 2, for example, included an asymmetrical multiplayer mode that failed to take hold, and the third entry into the Mass Effect franchise — up to that point a purely single-player experience — also included a team-based multiplayer mode. In the press, EA executives continually spoke about the future of video games being in connected, social experiences, whether they were traditional multiplayer or more akin to Facebook connections. EA Labels President Frank Gibeau said in 2012 that he would not greenlight a single game without a connected component.