Thursday, 10 July 2014

"Gamers Hate Change." - Power, Generalisation and Electronic Arts

Yet another person high up has opened his mouth and said something extremely stupid. The last time we properly covered this sort of thing was when Dan Didio declared superheroes did not deserve to be happy. Now we have the head of a major publishing giant stating that a large chunk of the gaming community in general is opposed to all change and progression. Not only that but they are openly holding it back from having the gaming industry as a whole entering a golden age.

Quoted on among other websites, Electronic Arts COO Peter Moore stated the following: 

"I think we're going into almost a golden age of gaming, where it doesn't matter where you are, at any time, any place, any price point, any amount of time, there's a game available to you, and our job as a company is to provide those game experiences. And then on our big franchises, tie them all together."

"I think the challenge sometimes is that the growth of gaming... there's a core that doesn't quite feel comfortable with that," Moore said. "Your readers, the industry in particular. I don't get frustrated, but I scratch my head at times and say, 'Look. These are different times.' And different times usually evoke different business models. Different consumers come in. They've got different expectations. And we can either ignore them or embrace them, and at EA, we've chosen to embrace them."

As with the Didio example, there is an element of truth and logic here, but it is being twisted for a company's own ends. No doubt if you have even glanced at any community for a game, you'll know this is true. It doesn't matter if it is a patch for World of Tanks or a new gameplay element for Mass Effect 3, there will be those who will adamantly oppose it. Sometimes this is justified thanks to gameplay balancing or other issues, at others less so. 

Moore has brought up a good point about the community and that, for all people push for innovation, people tend to be comfortable with what they have. Zelda has innovation but it sticks to mostly what works, Super Mario is the same (even if the last few games had slid backwards in terms of innovation a bit), Dynasty Warriors, Call of Duty and Battlefield are all the same. For all that people might praise the likes of Limbo and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, there is a degree of comfort in returning to something familiar and nostalgic.

Moore could have used this to seriously bring up some actual problems within the community and certain issues which do require being addressed. Such as the somewhat backwards way some view consoles, the behavior of certain communities to new ideas or even how backwards thinking many publishers could be. He did not. Instead he used it as a shield for Electronic Arts.

Moore goes on to use this in order to defend the business models of Electronic Arts, and effectively say that older, more savvy gamers are what are holding back the industry. To provide specific quotes, Moore states first that "I used to put my disc in the tray or my cartridge in the top, and I'd sit there and play. And all of these young people coming in, or God forbid, these old people coming into gaming!" and then goes on to argue about social media. Talking about how Electronic Arts is listening but still being damned, and can't afford to follow the mistakes of the music industry, using these points to argue in favour of its business models. The sad thing is, this not only ignores the actual reasons people complain, but it's seemingly oblivious to the fact Electronic Arts is making those same exact failings.

The sorts of "change" he seems to be indicating gamers are so opposed to are the terrible business models and ideas which Electronic Arts have churned out over the years. The bad ones which have given the publisher such a bad image and are to say the least consumer unfriendly, usually ending with EA (among others, hello there Ubisoft) blaming the audience for not properly accepting them. Usually those which exist to exploit the most money, or treat their customers more like walking investments than people. 

Let's just consider a few of these shall we? 

We have Dungeon Keeper, an iOS game which not only had veteran players up in arms over its dumbed down nature and completely different aesthetic, but had so many timers that "free" to play was effectively impossible. This is hardly the only example of this, and it grew to be so bad that even the UK's Advertising Standards Authority found them guilty of misrepresenting the title as "free". One of many examples where the company attempted to jump onto the band-wagon to exploit cash from users.

Then we have Origin, which has been a continual PR nightmare for the company since day one. With multiple patches managing to make multiplayer impossible, countless crashes and major failings over the years, and very big problems when it just came to accessing certain games. Even that is ignoring some of the earlier efforts they made, with the system effectively behaving as spyware and being forced upon users to get at any EA owned franchise they enjoyed. A clearly poorly handled attempt to ape Steam and the success found there, but forcing users to side with them rather than convincing them.

Then there's their use of Always-On DRM, which effectively killed the 2013 SimCity title. Something they added on after seeing apparent success at Ubisoft's end, ignoring all criticisms and backlash which had been made against other titles such as Diablo 3. A clearly poor handling of anti-piracy programming. This is also not to mention the fact the game was reduced to little more than a DLC platform with countless purchasable additions growing every week. Something which EA would go onto similarly mismanage in Battlefield 4 in order to try and grab more money.

You see, gamers for the most aren't opposed to change itself, they're opposed to change for the worst. There is a reason a franchise's fanbase cringes whenever a publisher announces they are aiming for a broader appeal or to get the Call of Duty audience on-board. It always ends badly and heavily dilutes what originally made such games so great. Changes for the better though? There are few who oppose this, with many having accepted the benefits of online distribution, leaped at the chance to join World of Warcraft back in 2005 and were excited for each new gaming generation. This isn't about them hating change, this is about them hating Electronic Arts' mismanaging changes and thinking nothing through.

One of the things Moore specifically brought up to support gamers hating change was in reference to the E3 media briefing. Specifically  having to use social media to filter through positive and negative responses. 
Part of what he argued was a positive change was the use of social media in this manner, but Moore continually referred to naysayers as those opposed to him. As such when he referred to "the other 50 percent were basically calling BS because it was conceptual prototypes" he's throwing them under the bus, ignoring just why such flashy and overwrought promotion over gameplay has become seen as unreliable. Colonial Marines, anyone? It's made even worse when he presents them as unreasonable, following this up with 
"so you're kind of damned if you do and damned if you don't" in reference to their push for more responses.
Now let's address that music comment. Moore's statement was arguing the following: 

"We can't be music. We cannot be music. Because music said, 'Screw you. You're going to buy a CD for $16.99, and we're going to put 14 songs on there, two of which you care about, but you're going to buy our CD.' Then Shawn Fanning writes a line of code or two, Napster happens, and the consumers take control."

What's curious is that Moore is apparently oblivious to the fact Electronic Arts is following very similar attitudes. If people wanted to play Mass Effect 3, they also needed to install Origin. If people wanted to get at the aforementioned SimCity, they needed to always play Online. There are countless occasions where, in trying to get to what they want, players are forced to take additional add-ons Electronic Arts have forced upon them.

Then there's that final line. It's supposed to be in reference to a new market overcoming the cantankerous designs and backwards ideas of the old, but here's the thing: When has this not been the case? It's the user's cash, they just need to show a bit of self control and they promptly take control away from the publisher. Don't want Origin? Fine, i'll buy Mass Effect 3 for the console. Don't want always-on DRM? Fine, i'll stick to the older SimCity titles.
Or, given how much EA resembles the music industry, are we instead to read this as something they fear happening? Lord knows all their efforts to retain control at every turn certainly suggests this.

The entire speech was a good idea gone horribly wrong. Rather than actually addressing an interesting concept, it effectively just devolved into a thinly veiled attempt to shame audiences who criticise EA and oppose its practices. This, above all, is why the company can do nothing right. Even after all this time, even after backlash after backlash, managing to turn itself into the villain of all gaming, they still have not learnt a thing. For all they keep protesting they can change and improve for the better, such motivations only go so far as it will guarantee them cash.

Then again, what else would you expect from this company by now.

1 comment:

  1. A good article and a good dissection on why this argument just doesn't work, and you managed to avoid falling into the trap of just dismissing statements outright.

    What Peter Moore is doing is really just scape-goating, he doesn't want to actually look at what the problem is, so he's trying to pin it to something else and hope that causes it to go away.