The Ultimate EA Retrospective: In-Depth on Riccitiello’s Legacy
Player Backlash and EA Hate
By 2012, EA’s relationship with its players had already become somewhat volatile. Many gamers were soured by the company’s practices that seemed to punish fans and paying customers for invisible enemies such as piracy. But it was around the time of a series of controversies surrounding BioWare’s Mass Effect 3 that things seemed to turn truly bitter.
Released in March 2012, Mass Effect 3 received critical acclaim — at first. Even pre-release, the game was the center of controversy, however. It included a multiplayer mode, a first for the series, and an oddity for a story-based single-player experience; its inclusion suggested EA meddling with its developers in an effort to push multiplayer in every title, hoping for a hit. The move to include multiplayer also traditionally suggests to players and press that production resources, including talent, time and capital, are being diverted from the core development of the game to the multiplayer mode no one wants. In EA’s defense, Gibeau insisted in 2012 that EA doesn’t meddle with developers.
Mass Effect 3 also included a controversial Day One DLC addition: In fact, the DLC added a character to the game, along with accompanying dialogue and a story mission. The selling of character Javik for $10 at the release of the game was a textbook example of why players hated Day One DLC — it seemed, especially in playing the Javik content, that the story would have been richer with him in it, and that the game as a whole had been created with that character’s inclusion in mind. It felt like BioWare and EA cut Javik in order to sneak a few extra dollars from players’ wallets.
And then there was the ending. By the time players were able to finish Mass Effect, the community surrounding the game had erupted into backlash and debate over the game’s ending. Many felt that the ending failed to live up to many statements issued before release by the game’s executive producer, Casey Hudson, and others. Portions of the community of longtime fans, who had been playing the franchise for some seven years in anticipation of its conclusion, felt they’d been betrayed and sold an inferior product that had not been given enough time in development. That Mass Effect 3 included a multiplayer mode — something that, arguably, no fan had asked for in the single-player role-playing game series — suggested further that EA meddling. Finally, many complained the ending looked cheap and incomplete, suggesting a shortened production schedule had damaged BioWare’s ability to properly complete the game.
The ending controversy was arguably compounded by BioWare’s approach to dealing with the situation, which was to remain largely silent and dismissive of player complaints. Public relations with the press and fans was very carefully handled during the year following Mass Effect 3′s release as BioWare tried to minimize the backlash, and in so doing, the developer made many fans feel as though they had been taken advantage of and marginalized. EA, by extension, caught a lot of the backlash as well.
More controversies erupted in 2012. Images of the EA Sports release FIFA 2013 for the Nintendo Wii quickly made clear that the game was the exact same title players had been sold the year previous, down to the visuals, engine and even quirks, but with a new roster and a reskinning of some graphical assets. The company appeared oblivious to consumer complaints on the issue of digital gaming despite player complaints, and in October, the press and gamers were tipped off to the fact that EA might not have much confidence in the quality of Medal of Honor: Warfighter, when EA didn’t release review copies until the day of the game’s launch. The game garnered Metacritic scores of around 55/100, but found its way back into the news after Navy Seals involved in the death of Osama Bin Laden contracted with EA studio Danger Close on elements of the game and landed in trouble with the U.S. Department of Defense.
In 2013, EA’s Visceral Games released Dead Space 3, and again the game received a great deal of backlash among players. The title, traditionally a horror shooter, included an online cooperative mode that many players felt was another shoehorned addition as part of EA’s plan to create more multiplayer titles, and that would push the game away from its horror roots and more toward being a generic shooter. The title also included mobile-style micro-transactions that allowed players to purchase materials to use in the game’s weapons crafting system, which players feared was the first step toward EA weakening the design of its games and making them more inconvenient to play, in hopes players would spend more money to speed up time spent “grinding.”
That perception was compounded after EA Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgensen said all future EA games would include micro-transactions. “We are building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way; to get to a higher level. And consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of business,” he said. Jorgensen later clarified the statement by saying he had been referring not to all EA games, but all EA mobile games.
Meanwhile, Dead Space’s 3′s level of quality at release alleviated many of the fears surrounding it, but the damage to EA’s image relating to Dead Space had already been done, and the game has been noted as being markedly more action-focused and less scary.