In The Grim Darkness Of EA’s Future, There Are Only IAPs

By Alec Meer on February 27th, 2013 at 6:00 pm.

Ed Balls

(I know we call ‘em microtransactions not in-app purchases on PC, but John will almost definitely shout at me if I let the headline run onto two lines).

This doesn’t come as much suprise in light of what EA did to Dead Space 3, but there’s still a certain amount of gastric churn to be felt in response to an EA bossman’s public declaration that microtransactions will be a fixed feature of “all our games” from now on.

At a recent business conference (as reported by Develop, but the full transcript is available here), EA’s Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgensen revealed that “We’re building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way, either to get to a higher level to buy a new character, to buy a truck, a gun, whatever it might be, and consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of the business.”

Obviously there’s a a large degree of generalisation in there, and thus there might well be exceptions and certainly variations, but yeah, that’s the course they’re sticking to. And while you might not be “enjoying and embracing that way of the business”, the trouble is this stuff is making money – and more than likely that’s EA’s interest far above and beyond making the best games possible.

We’re building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way, either to get to a higher level to buy a new character, to buy a truck, a gun, whatever it might be.

Take, for example, the earlier claim that “Last quarter, we did over $25 million in Simpsons business alone.” EA’s Simpsons business essentially consists of free-to-play mobile title The Simpsons: Tapped Out. So we can shout and stamp all we like, but we’re not going to turn that particular ship around.

Unless, of course, it turns out to be a fad, as were the Facebook games EA also invested heavily in. I suspect not, though. The option to acquire games for free will hold a long-lasting appeal to a lot of people, even if your and my preferred means of delivery is the up-front fee for a complete product.

The questions, I think, are two-fold – 1) to what extent will other publishers follow suit? 2) Will we see something like Dead Space 4 or FIFA 2014 be launched as free-to-play? Probably yes, given they’re already doing that with Command & Conquer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for multiplayer – TF2, Tribes Ascend and League of Legends do a decent job of it after all, relatively speaking  - hopefully lessons can be learned from those, and not merely from overtly cynical stuff like Tapped Out. The trouble really arises when microtransaction shenanigans play a major role in singleplayer games/modes.

By which I mean that if you thought EndingGate was bad, you should probably brace yourself for what happens in the event EA pull this kind of stunt in Mass Effect 4.

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214 Comments »

  1. Connor Magee says:

    I’m just disappointed that anyone on PC aware of EA’s utterly horrid, exploitative and often amoral business and management practices at every level and in every aspect of their company, continues to purchase their games, regardless of interest. This is capitalism; vote with your wallet. Don’t vote for EA.

    • Phendron says:

      Precisely. There is no awareness.

      Boycotts don’t work because gamers are an unconscious, self-gratifying lot. RPS is an infinitesimally small sample of the demographic, the ‘informed gamer’.

      • Connor Magee says:

        Mass Effect, Dragon Age, the Old Republic and Medal of Honour have been disastrous for them lately and they spent a hell of a lot of money buying their own stocks to try to raise their value. With any luck the reputation should have stuck and they’ll continue to go downhill until they consider treating their customers better instead of trying to milk them harder.

      • drewski says:

        Or maybe the vast majority of people just don’t care.

        • Upper Class Twit says:

          I don’t see why this attitude is so hard to understand.

          There are plenty of gamers out there (me included) that are more interested in just playing the games they like, rather than participating in some kind of large-scale ideological battle for the fate of PC-gaming. If those games happen to be published by EA, then so be it. I’ll buy then if I think I’ll enjoy them. Being off-put by EA’s consumer practices (and they do seem pretty nasty, don’t get me wrong) to the extent that you refuse to buy their games on principle is fine, but I don’t think you should pass judgement on others because they don’t feel as strongly as you do about the issue.

  2. Hoaxfish says:

    In a now classic EA move… they’re trying to deflect their negative image by pretending to care about LGBT again: http://www.polygon.com/2013/2/27/4036482/ea-to-host-one-day-conference-to-discuss-industry-lgbt-issues

    • maximiZe says:

      Hilariously pathetic.

    • Nathan says:

      Why do you say they’re only pretending to care? Do you think they run this kind of event purely as a PR exercise, or is it impossible for any company with a questionable public image to care about anything except remedying that? The very article you link cites a report saying that EA is amongst the most LGBT work environments – it’s not too far-fetched that they might have decided this was something they could take a corporate stance on.

      • Iamerror says:

        Once you hate someone it’s easy to twist everything they do to satisfy your negative perspective.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        bit late on the reply:
        1. Soon after EA won the “worst company in America” award, EA was apparently using bots to “support them” in an online counter-petition/poll about supposed anti-LGBT attacks being directed at EA.
        2. The “work equality” at EA is interesting in that EA is apparently fairly horrible for everyone to work at (regardless of sexual identity, etc). Microsoft also won the same achievement, but was sidelined in most articles about it. And then the timing, roughly around when EA declared it didn’t like new IPs, reverting “Bioware Mythic” to just “Mythic”, and SWTOR becoming F2P (mostly agreed as the option for “failed subscription” MMOs).

        There’s the whole LGBT deal in SWTOR, “no gays in star wars”, then “promise of near release inclusion” before finally including them segregated to a “gay planet”.

        Remember, other companies have had “gender-irrelevant” character choices too, and yet no other seem to bring it up when they come under criticism. EA seemed to do it only when they’re being criticised for something else, and not at any other times (though given the criticism EA receives, maybe there simply are no other times)

    • ffordesoon says:

      EA is a big company. Big companies are made up of quite a lot of people. It is not uncommon for some people in a big company (or a small company) to be good people and for others to be awful pieces of shit. It’s entirely plausible that the good people in the company dictate EA’s policies on social issues, and the bad people in the company run the business side of it.

  3. ZephaniahGrey says:

    As if I needed another reason not to buy EA games. I don’t even play the ones I already have just because I don’t want their crappy store on my computer.

  4. GiantPotato says:

    At this point I’m not sure even I understand the basic terms of what it means to buy a game from EA. For $60 you can have a game. This game may or may not receive additional content, which if it exists will be sold for an undetermined additional cost. You will have access to the game until you do not, during which time you can install it on a certain number of machines, unless that changes. And now, it looks like individual components of the game that behave differently depending on a separate set of transactions that can’t even be evaluated until the first $60 is paid.

    There’s not even enough information here for me to dislike it yet. It might be a fantastic offer, and I still can’t justify a purchase because I don’t understand what this thing is.

    • MacTheGeek says:

      You’re hung up on the old-school process known generally as “evaluation”. EA has simplified gaming, thus removing any need to “evaluate”. You give EA your money, and they’ll tell you how much more money you need to give them in order to achieve “fun”.

      • GiantPotato says:

        There’s that old saying though: Once burned, twice shy. There are a lot of new(er) gamers out there who will get excited and jump in with both feet, and hey, they might not be wrong. Personally I am a big believer in the idea that there is no distribution model out there that is, in and of itself, a good or bad thing. But one big miscalculation on EA’s part (and I think they are poised for at least one major miscalculation, either SimCity or one of their later sports titles) and these gamers will suddenly become old curmudgeons obsessed with old-fashioned concepts like “value” and “basically understanding what the f*** I’ve just bought”. And who knows? EA may become to microtransactions what Ubi was to DRM, championing an idea while systematically demonstrating every possible thing that could go wrong with it.

        • TechnicalBen says:

          Yep. I got Burnout Paradise on the PC specifically to get the DLC (already completed it sans DLC on Xbox). Turns out the DLC servers for that game were discontinued, and I had no warning of this. :(

          Very Shy about giving any of my money to EA over anything more than a tenner now, and for anything I don’t know I’ll enjoy. Basically, they are the bargain bin games producer for me now.

  5. maximiZe says:

    “So we can shout and stamp all we like, but we’re not going to turn that particular ship around.”

    I’ll continue not buying EA titles which they keep making very easy for me solely from a quality standpoint, and with that I don’t even have to care about the ship’s direction.

  6. drewski says:

    Much as I wish I could jump on the EA is the evil bringing gaming to it’s knees bandwagon, this just looks like company trying to make money doing thing a company trying to make money does.

    My attitude toward microtransactions is if they’re done well, fine. If not, not fine. I don’t see why you need a blanket “ZOMG MICROTRANSACTIONS EVIL BAD KILLING PEOPLE” attitude. I just consider how they affect each particular gaming experience, and make a value and purchase judgement based on that, in the same way I do with all the other ridiculous bullshit game companies put into their titles these days, like Steam, always online, activations etc.

    Dead Space 3 requires Origin and has a microtransaction grind model? Deduct 90% of value. So…bring on the $5 Origin sale.

    • GiantPotato says:

      First of all, EA can’t kill gaming. EA can only kill EA, and the PC gamers of the world should take heart at this. Really, do you really think that the guys who made FTL or any other exciting, original game this year give one single crap about what EA thinks games should look like?

      Second, how can you know that Dead Space 3 is worth $5 because of microtransactions? What if it’s worth $500 new because of a new type of gameplay so beautiful you never thought it possible? What if it’s worth $0 now because microtransactions have removed the last vestiges of value from an already-decaying AAA franchise? The point is, you don’t know and you can’t know until you’ve already forked over some cash. And why should we fork over hard-earned cash for a big question mark? EA needs to provide a compelling answer to that question if it wants to charge twice.

      • drewski says:

        But we do that with *every single game we buy*. With no game do you get to decide what it was worth until after you’ve completely finished playing with it.

        Any game you buy is a trade off between your expected enjoyment and the value (in money) you are prepared to pay for that enjoyment. With, say, Dead Space 3, it may have a revolutionary type of gameplay that will completely change my life, but my current expectation of it is not that. I expect a vaguely horror influenced sci-fi shooter. With microtransactions and Origin.

        The only rational thing microtransactions can do is alter your expected enjoyment, which in turn should logically alter the price you are prepared to pay for the game. In many cases, the microtransactions may alter your expected enjoyment to zero, in which case it is perfectly rational not to buy it. But to exclude all games with microtransactions from the possibility of providing you with expected enjoyment is irrational, as games with entirely superfluous microtransactions may in fact be incredibly enjoyable.

        Personally, I find being prompted to microtransact irritating – considerably so – but as long as it doesn’t break the game mechanics, I can get over it; but I deduct expected enjoyment from it and therefore assign it lesser value.

  7. jrodman says:

    Just say no to large quotes.

  8. crinkles esq. says:

    From the developers I’ve talked to that have explored microtransactions/IAPs, 10% (or less) of their customer base is funding 90% of a game’s profits. So, it doesn’t really matter if you boycott EA or not, because there will still be this small minority of gamers out there with addiction problems who can’t help themselves, and EA will be glad to take advantage of them.

  9. TechnicalBen says:

    “to get to a higher level”
    Int Level
    Level = 1
    Level ++1

    You want me to PAY to have my level counter go up? A single number in a game? You are kidding, right? Know what I value a lone variable? Nothing. In relation to the thousands of lines of code I’ll happily pay you £30. For a single variable, I’ll pay the relative fraction and cost to you, £0.00001p. Your welcome!

  10. Spoon Of Doom says:

    Excuse me if I’m wrong, but how is this a new stance? Haven’t they been doing exactly that to varying degrees for years? I remember being able to buy special armor and weapons in Dead Space 1 already, and similar things have been in most of their games. The only thingg that are new are that it is now explicitly guaranteed to be in their games and that it will probably be turned up to eleven from now on. Note that I’m not saying that it’s not a bad thing, just that it’s not a really new bad thing.

    I already see it coming. We finally get Mirror’s Edge 2, and at the end of the tutorial they give you 50 EA Points to buy the “slide” ability from their ingame store. “Congratulations! Feel free to come back to the store when you’re stuck to purchase new, powerful and fun abilities, such as ‘Jump’, ‘Sprint’, ‘Climb’ or ‘Jump in a direction instead of only straight upwards’! Enemies too strong? Why not buy the impenetrable body armour for 10000 EAP, the heavy machine gun for 20000 EAP or both in the Super Saver Bundle for 29990 EAP!”.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Wait, is that Planetside?

    • Spoon Of Doom says:

      Fair point, I hadn’t thought about the gimmick versus “things the game is built and balanced around” angle. That only depresses me more, because I really, really wanted Mirror’s Edge 2. Now, all I get (if at all) will probably be some mutated mess that’s whispering “kill me” at every loading screen.

  11. Groove says:

    EA make me so sad, since behind all the dlc, microtransaction garbage they’ve released some of my favourite games of recent years. It’s hard to vote with my wallet when I love 90% of the product to bits and hate the final 10%.

  12. Shumbok says:

    EA-Free since ’03 ( Was’nt there a HIMYM episode about it ? think so)
    I Prefer to deal with the Devil on my own :p

  13. fish99 says:

    So not only are they evil, they’re actively broadcasting it, which is kinda dumb from a PR point-of-view.

    Personally though I’m rubbing my hands at all the money I’m going to save by boycotting EA. Sorry EA but I don’t want every game I play to be a drawn-out grind to force me into your shop so I can end up paying 30% more than the boxed price to have a decent time. There’s enough other publishers out there with a bit of integrity left that I won’t miss your games.

  14. strangeloup says:

    I said to myself that Mass Effect 3 on the consolebox was going to be the last EA game that I bought, and fortunately EA have made that a really easy promise to keep by only releasing crap that I don’t have the faintest glimmer of interest in.

  15. LambChop says:

    Well, since I have stopped buying EA games about 2 years ago with their “zero day” DLC scam. This doesn’t affect me as much. I hope more will follow.

  16. Branthog says:

    Like Cliffy B said a few days ago “if you don’t like it, don’t buy it” — which I assume implies that you should just “pirate” it.

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