By John Walker on July 4th, 2008 at 4:01 pm.
He clearly doesn’t, and that’s just the sort of reactionary nonsense he’s clearly hoping to avoid. But a recent post on his blog, regarding EA’s decision to stop making their Sports franchises for PC, isn’t quite as heartwarming as he might wish. It seems the reaction to EA Sports’ games becoming console only has been pretty vocal, so Moore has responded by laying out exactly why the PC is to be abandoned. So let’s take a look at his argument.
The PC as a platform for authentic, fully-licensed, simulation sports games has declined radically in the past three years as the next generation consoles, with their high definition graphics and 5.1 sound capabilities have attracted millions of consumers to eschew the “lean in” PC sports gaming experience for the “lean back” full room console experience.
I think there’s probably a great deal of truth to this “lean in/lean back” theory. Of course some of you will have your PCs hooked up to your 900″ plasmatronic in your home theatre, enjoyed from the comfort of your ergonomic massage-o-couch, but the vast majority of PC gamers are sat at some form of desk. However, it’s crucial to point out that as the sales have declined, so has the quality of EA Sports releases. For instance, the flagship Fifa series’ scores in PC Gamer UK:
Fifa 06 – 83%
Fifa 07 – 71%
Fifa 08 – 66%
NBA Live 03 on PC gets a Metascore of 80, while 08’s basketballer only reaches 67. NHL 2001 gets 90, but NHL 08 scores a weak 65. This has been a steady decline across most of the ranges, so it can’t be any wonder that sales have dropped too.
But the console versions are selling well, you may point out. Remarkably, NHL 08 has a Metascore twenty points higher on consoles. The PC ports, and they are so distinctly ports, are of a much poorer quality. It seems a stunning ommission in the argument to not acknowledge this.
The business model for PC games is evolving from packaged goods to a download model. The on-line experience is paramount, and hundreds of companies in this space are experimenting with direct-to-consumer revenue models, incorporating premium downloadable content, sponsored downloads, micro-transactions, subscriptions and massive tournament play.
This is unquestionably true. It is, in fact, the perfect response to those who proclaim PC sales are falling. “AT RETAIL!” you must reply, before pointing out not only the phenomenon of PC gaming figures online, but that these falling retail claims are a tad dubious. Thing is, Mr Moore, EA have an online store offering downloadable games, so it’s not the strongest reason.
Piracy is an issue. Sorry, I know many of you disagree with me on this, but the numbers don’t lie. Companies spend millions developing content, and deserve to see a return on investment for their risk. The employees developing the game design, writing code and creating art deserve to get paid for their work. Period.
It had to happen. It’s very disappointing to see the words “the numbers don’t lie,” without a link to any numbers. It’s not surprising either, as the numbers that do exist aren’t very convincing. (Well, they often are, but for the opposing argument).
I would also raise an extremely serious issue with “and deserve to see a return on investment for their risk.” No they absolutely do not! No one “deserves” anything of the sort. Companies that generate superb content with broad appeal you’d hope would see return. Companies that spend millions producing substandard products for a medium they treat dismissively deserve not to see a return. Business.
Also, conflating employee pay with return on investment is extremely disingenuous. Of course your employees deserve to be paid. However, if they produce substandard work not of a quality to see good sales, I’d suggest they should no longer be your employees. If employees are paid based on the sales of the product, rather than for their time creating them, then the products need to be really good. EA Sports’ games on PC haven’t been for a long time, and anyone agreeing to that contract is taking a serious risk of their own choosing.
Businesses have to make hard trade offs for where to invest for the best return, thus creating capital to make even more games. They have to take expensive risks in our hits and misses industry with new intellectual property to keep the games available to gamers fresh, innovative and pushing the technical boundaries of the hardware platforms. I know this concept touches a nerve with some of you, but our industry is founded on publishers that have driven for financially-successful games and then re-invested the proceeds in development of even more content for gamers to enjoy. It’s a simple financial premise, and an obligation for publically-traded companies who answer to their shareholders. We are not making games in garages or bedrooms any more.
A couple of years back, EA making an argument based on taking risks with new intellectual property would have had me cough out coffee I wasn’t even drinking. Things certainly have changed at EA in those regards, so he gets away with it. However, I’d go back to my point that were they to be making stunning PC sports games, it would be very interesting to see if the same logic applied.
In order to make fundamental shifts in an ecosystem, you sometimes have to hit the reset button. That’s what we have done this year at EA SPORTS as regards some of our franchises on the PC. That does not mean that we aren’t coming back next year with new, innovative, maybe even less-expensive ways to play all of our franchises on the PC, but for right now we are assessing all of the options open to us to shift the current paradigm for our games on this platform.
As soon as I hear something explained away as to do with “paradigm shifts”, I start hearing bird twittering noises. I think what he’s saying is, “We’re trying to think of a new way of approaching the PC market with our sports games.” And if he is, then great. I think EA need to do that very much. EA Sports need to start treating the PC with some dignity, rather than a last-minute thought once the consoles are taken care of. Downloadable, online-focused sporting games, at a decent price, would be a superb idea.
Are you a dedicated fan of EA Sports games on PC? Or were you, and what stopped you buying them? And most of all, how would you like to see EA approach the PC sporting market in the future?