EA and I have never really gotten along. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, I don’t like sports simulations. Secondly, I like innovation. While I can’t blame EA for carving out a profitable niche in my least favourite genre, I can blame them for the uninspired and largely unnecessary sequels they insist on pumping out on an annual basis.

That said, the last 18 months has seen something of a change of philosophy from EA. It seems that someone in the company must have voiced the opinion that releasing the same game every year with an incrementally tweaked graphics engine and a higher integer tagged on the end is not the most creatively fulfilling of pursuits. Whilst I imagine that this person spent the next ten minutes picking the contents of the office stationary cupboard out of their face, they appear to have made an impact somewhere up the food chain. All the way up to EA Chief Executive John Riccitiello, in fact.

Speaking to IndustryGames last month, Riccitiello said, “I believe there are publishers out there that are milking franchises at their peril. I do think you can sort of stop innovating and do well while you coast for a couple of editions before a product starts to fall apart or a sector starts to fall apart. But I think we owe our customer – core or non-core – quality and innovation that really blows their minds every time we put a product out there.”

Five new uses for the EA logo – but can you match them to the games?

I’m sorry – did EA just criticise other publishers for milking franchises? Riccitiello does realise that EA Sports is part of EA, right? The same EA Sports that has been making the Madden franchise since 1989? EA calling-out other publishers for releasing shameless, cash-in sequels is like Metal Gear Solid’s Hideo Kojima criticising other designers for putting too many cutscenes in their games. His comment is likely a none-too-subtle dig at fellow franchise-floggers Activision Blizzard Inc., the recently merged uber-publisher responsible for the barrage of Guitar Hero and Call of Duty titles that clog up the shelves every few months. Oh, and that online game which Mr T plays. You know, the one you pay for monthly but can never complete? Kinda wish I’d come up with that one actually…

The thing is, EA do look like they’re making genuine efforts to mend their copy-and-paste ways. Over the last two years we’ve seen the EA logo grace the box art of Army of Two, Spore, Mirror’s Edge, Dead Space, Brutal Legend and Dragon Age. Each one was a new and unproven IP, and therefore a financial gamble on EA’s part. Is it possible that Riccitiello actually believes what he is saying, that EA will continue to support and invest in exciting new ideas rather than just trying to spin existing titles into bloated, soulless cash-cows?

I want to believe Riccitiello. I recently attended an EA event and got my hands on Dante’s Inferno, another interesting new IP being released early this year. But when you look at the rest of EA’s releases for 2010, you see an awful lot of games with the figure 2 next to the title. I worry that the innovative new titles of last year are merely the foundation for the next five years of smash-and-grab sequels.

I’m not saying that sequels are necessarily a bad thing; I played Mass Effect 2 at the same event and couldn’t be more psyched about its arrival later this month. But just because a game is successful, doesn’t mean it needs a yearly update. Some games stand alone: unique, complete entities that achieve everything they set out to accomplish in one glorious incarnation.

Some games just don’t need sequels.

BioShock 2
Leave it. Just leave it.







10 responses to “sEAquels”

  1. van-fu avatar

    You are not the only one that has noticed that EA games are actually very different to what they were years ago. Once upon a time, an EA logo on the box made me avoid the game. But not anymore.

  2. John.B avatar

    “The same EA Sports that has been making the Madden franchise since 1989?”

    I’m a bit confused at this bit, you say you dislike a lack of innovation and quality yet Madden has consistently been amongst the very best sports games around even with yearly updates.

    The yearly update anger is usually aimed the sports titles. EA traditionally were more focused on liscenced games than sequels to ips as their ip’s were low quality and didn’t sell as well. The issue with the sports titles however was that despite the NBA, NHL, Fifa, Madden titles improving in quality it’s still not the EA name which brings in the sales. It’s the NBA, NHL, Fifa and Madden liscences which everyone knows and which was surpassed whatever marketing push the gameplay improvements can bring. I read an interview a few years back with the EA Canada guys who said that they had wanted to switch Fifa to one game every two years with the World Cup games breaking it up yet it’s against their contract with Fifa and the value of that name means Fifa can dictate terms.

    At the end of the day I’m delighted EA are produced original ips once more, sequels or no sequels. But I cannot stand the perceived hatred towards the EA of past. This was the company who heralded modern games publishing in the 16 bit era, it isn’t as if they didn’t offer anything to gaming…they simply sought money.

  3. James avatar

    I remember hearing EA had said that they wanted to drop Fifa to a bi-yearly affair, but that just supported my feelings regarding their sequels. When even the designers admit they don’t want to make the game so frequently it doesn’t really inspire me to rush out and pick up the latest instalment.

    I’m not going to weep for EA because they signed very, very lucrative deals with all the major sporting organisations at the cost of their own creative control. It’s a shame, but they made their jewel-encrusted bed. I don’t hate EA, I just don’t look forward to annual releases which even the creators concede they don’t really want to put out. But, like I say, I’m genuinely excited that they’ve started knocking out some fresh material again, a lot of which I have purchased and thoroughly enjoyed. I just thought Riccitiello taking a side-swipe at ‘other’ publishers for milking franchises was a bit bloody rich.

  4. MarkuzR avatar

    As much as I hate what EA have done to the Command And Conquer franchise, I still fondly remember years in front of my Amiga creating visuals with Deluxe Paint and all of the incarnations to follow and they were, as far as I know, the first to introduce 24 bit design for the home user. Every time I want to bitch and scream about how Command And Conquer has been bastardised to the point where I find it almost unplayable, I close my eyes and remember that golden King Tut image and give off a little smile instead.

    Then I bin the latest C&C game anyway.

  5. John.B avatar

    But it’s not the deals themselves that surrendered creative control, more the popularity of the games in the Mega Drive era which in turn put bargaining power in the hands of the liscences holders and not the liscencees.

    Looking at EA they cannot win. They become a publishing power house, selling games by the bucket load that clearly the people want and everyone loathes them. They slowly turn around their sport division, surrender control of film liscences and produce fresh ip. Not only do they get slated now for sequels but for just buying in talent (which they had to do) but also for talking about the industry as they see it. They are an example of how publishers can change output and should have every right to speak out about this. Holding a 5-8 year period of little creativity against them is petty.

  6. James avatar

    Firstly, 5-8 years is really rather a long time. Secondly, I’m not slating all sequels, just ones which are released because of contractual obligations rather than genuinely fresh content, something which EA themselves admit to. Thirdly, half the post is talking about the positive moves they’ve made in the past two years – it’s not a hate speech, and most of those seven games I mention are sweet and worthy of massive props. And finally, they’re absolutely entitled to say what they like, but when the biggest franchise-milkers in the business criticise others for doing what they themselves do best, I can’t help but see an image of a massive stone whizzing through the side of a big glass house.

  7. Martin avatar

    I think it is fair to say, that without EA producing games during the 90’s that gaming would have died out a long time ago. Their commitment to releasing yearly updates meant that consoles and indeed games kept on selling. Many also believe that lack of support for both the Dreamcast and Gamecube by EA was pivotal to their demise.
    Holding on to the various licenses for so long is milking it a bit though , take F1 for example, many people have waited years for a decent game but EA held the license and did nothing with it. If you look at the yearly updates of FIFA for around 10 years all that changed was player names, the gameplay was shockingly samey. Madden, however, stood head and shoulders above with better graphics and content. This has now been reversed with FIFA being the better example.
    All said, and I reiterate, without EA I feel the games industry would have died more than a decade ago! Sad to see though, that Activision have turned in to the EA of old.
    Great piece.

  8. John.B avatar

    But it’s not James, you say they made great strides then in the same breath say you fear it’s just the foundation for them to milk these franchises for all they are worth. You are judging the company on a period they’ve moved away from still.

    @ Martin. The F1 liscence is an odd one, their motives were never explained on that one.

  9. James avatar

    I’m weighing the possibilities on the evidence available: their previous form. I truly hope that EA continue with the path they’ve taken over the last 18 months, because it’s been a great move on their part. You and I both agree that they’ve distanced themselves from that negative period over the past 2 years with fresh IPs, and all power to them. But when you see Dead Space 2, Army of Two – The 40th Day, Mirror’s Edge 2, Mass Effect 2, Crysis 2 all occupying next year’s release list, plus the obligatory Fifa, Madden, NHL, NBA 2011s (not to mention a Medal of Honour reboot), I don’t think it’s that unreasonable to harbour some fear that they might slip back into old habits.

  10. Celeste avatar

    “Some games stand alone: unique, complete entities that achieve everything they set out to accomplish in one glorious incarnation.”

    Couldn’t agree more, and BioShock is the quintessential stand-alone game. It’s brilliant and I hold very fond memories of it, memories that I’m afraid might be tainted by the sequel (which, by the way, I am uber excited about. Yes I realise that makes no sense at all). It’s a concept that works well on its own – there’s no direction 2K can take to improve upon the game, only dilute the phenomenon that was the amazing BioShock experience.

    However, I don’t really expect publishers to stop releasing virtually unchanged sequels. They wouldn’t be able to do this if there didn’t exist a market perfectly willing to buy more of the same. People continue to buy these games, and businesses like EA are inevitably going to want to take advantage of this. Why go to the bother of sowing new seeds when people are willing to pay the same price for last year’s harvest?

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