Tag Archives | EA

EA Brings Dead Space to iPhone, Not PSP or Nintendo DS

Over the last two years, I’ve enjoyed chronicling the iPhone’s rise as a gaming platform, and had an even better time watching Sony and Nintendo pretend that Apple isn’t really a competitor.

Today marks another milestone, as Electronic Arts releases Dead Space for iPhone and iPad, in conjunction with the launch of Dead Space 2 for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Windows.

That alone wouldn’t be a big deal, except that EA isn’t releasing a portable version of Dead Space for Nintendo DS or Sony’s PSP — more evidence that the iPhone and iPad are not only capable of providing weighty video games to hardcore players, they’re also better for business.

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This Dumb Year: The 57 Lamest Tech Moments of 2010

Progress–to swipe an ancient General Electric slogan–is the technology industry’s most important product. Its second-most important product? That’s easy: blunders. In fact, you could argue that the two are inextricably intertwined. An industry that was more uptight about making mistakes might be more cautious and therefore less inventive.

It’s also sometimes difficult to tell where progress ends and blunder begins, or vice versa. If you believe that Google Wave was a bad idea in the first place, you might think it was smart of Google to kill it this year–but if you thought Wave had promise, then it’s Google’s early cancellation that’s the gaffe.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that while the industry’s lame moments are…well, lame, they can also be important. Last year, I summed up a decade’s worth of tech screw-ups and came up with 87 examples. This time around, I’m covering only a single year–but I found 57 items worth commemorating. No, tech companies aren’t getting more error prone; I was just more diligent. And as usual, there was plenty of ground to cover.

Thanks once again to Business 2.0’s 101 Dumbest Moments in Business and, of course, to Esquire’s Dubious Achievement Awards for inspiring this. Here we go…

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EA Sports to Used Game Buyers: Pay Up

Electronic Arts is getting ever more desperate to cripple the used video game industry, requiring a one-time access code to play its sports games online.

Starting with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, players will need an “Online Pass” to enjoy the game over Xbox Live or the Playstation Network. These passes are included with new copies of the game, but used buyers will have to purchase another pass for $10. All EA Sports games for Xbox 360 and PS3 will require an online pass from now on.

Sony did something similar with SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3, including a voucher for online play in the retail packaging and charging $20 for replacement vouchers. Sony said it was only trying to stop piracy, but EA doesn’t hide its disdain for used game sales. “We want to reserve EA SPORTS online services for people who pay EA to access them,” the company said in an Online Pass FAQ page.

EA previously experimented with innocuous ways to encourage new games sales. New buyers of Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2, for example, received free bonus content that used buyers had to purchase separately. Online Pass promises bonus features for new game buyers as well, but it takes the idea one giant leap further by withholding a core part of the game.

The writing’s on the wall: Gradually, publishers will begin locking up more of what’s on the game disc until there’s no advantage to buying used. It started with bonus content, now it’s multiplayer, and pretty soon it’ll be the whole game. EA’s justification for Online Pass — that it deserves to be paid — really applies to all game development, so you’re kidding yourself if you think the trend stops at online sports games. Want to play the final chapter of your second-hand first-person shooter? There’s an access code for that.


EA Axes Online Play for Old Games, Including Madden

Fair warning to those who like sweeping through Gamestop’s bargain rack to pick up old sports titles: In a month, you won’t be able to play many of them online anymore.

On February 2 and February 9, Electronic Arts will shut down servers for more than two dozen of its past sports titles. This isn’t the first time EA has done this, but the list of titles on the chopping block are shockingly recent. Here are some highlights:

Madden 2008 was the last game in the series to be released for Windows. When the lights go down on this game’s multiplayer, PC gamers will have nowhere to go.

Madden 2009 was released in August 2008, so it’ll be a year and a half old when its multiplayer servers shut down for all consoles. Do you upgrade to Madden 2010, or wait six months for Madden 2011, whose online play will then have a longer shelf life?

Facebreaker, a cartoon-style boxing game, received some good and some very bad reviews, but it’ll be just a year and three months old when its online component gets cut.

NBA Street Homecourt, released in 2007, was the last game in the Street series. No more trash talk for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 street ballers, I guess.

I wouldn’t be surprised if activity was null for many of the games on the list, but certainly the latest round of cuts will spark outrage among these games’ devotees. Even if you don’t own or play any of the games being cut, this is a salient reminder that while online multiplayer is an attractive bullet point on the back of a game box, it’s not a guarantee.


EA is All About the Pirates

Electronic Arts chief executive John Riccitiello is no hard-liner when it comes to software piracy, and in an interview with Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo, he’s back on the stump for pirate-as-potential-sale.

“They can steal the disc, but they can’t steal the DLC,” he said, referring to downloadable content that’s often sold after a game’s release.

Riccitiello’s tone is less extreme than it was in June, when he told IndustryGamers that “if there are any pirates you’re writing for, please encourage them to pirate FIFA Online, NBA Street Online, Battleforge, Battlefield Heroes…” but the idea is the same: If you don’t demonize the bootleggers and illegal downloaders, there’s a chance they’ll purchase some extra content, and that’s better than nothing. They may even go legit as a way of showing support for developers.

Minus that last part, it’s essentially the same view Riccitiello — and much of the games industry — takes towards buyers of used games, from GameStop or other second-hand sources. Even if EA didn’t make any money off you for the base purchase, they can still get you on the optional extras.

I like Riccitiello’s dovish stance, but there’s a dark side in just how much DLC has become available, to the point where it seems like legitimate buyers are eating some of the costs of piracy and used games. Where extra content was once an afterthought that came months down the road from release, it’s not uncommon now to see additional content available on the day of purchase. Dragon Age: Origins, published by EA, is a recent example, where some of content was free, but some cost money. At least the publisher rewarded buyers with some free content as well, which pirates or second-hand purchasers would have to pay for.

Still, it’s hard to argue that you’re not getting your money’s worth from a game like Dragon Age, which boasts over 100 hours of play. And Riccitiello says that when customers are offered more DLC, they lap it up. He may be on to something.


Will EA Lead a Games Industry Deflation?

ea_logoElectronic Arts shared some good news and bad news today. First, the company acquired Facebook game maker Playfish for up to $400 million, but then EA announced that it will lay off 1,500 employees and close some of its game development studios.

VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi has a good summary of today’s events, if you’re into the business side of things, but what’s really interesting is the way that EA is scooping out a significant chunk of the company.

Think of EA as a gigantic tower of game publishing. At the top are your high-budget, high-sales franchises, such Madden football, FIFA soccer, Need for Speed, Rock Band, Mass Effect and Left 4 Dead 2. At the bottom are EA’s smaller-scale ventures, such as mobile games and now social networking games from Playfish. The higher up the tower you go, the higher the production values, and the bigger the risk if the game tanks.

EA is essentially chopping off the middle part of the tower. Chief executive John Riccitiello said the company will now invest more in high-priority games (the stuff at the top) and digital businesses (the stuff at the bottom). Smart move, I think.

As I’ve written before, the games industry is facing a crisis now, and not just because of the recession. The cost of game development is spiraling exponentially upwards, leaving less room than ever for error. This is not a sustainable strategy, especially for B-list video games, because a gamer could easily limit his or her $60 game purchases to the best dozen titles of the year and still be perfectly happy.

The way down from this endless spiral is to focus on smaller-scale gaming. One way to do this is with cheaper, simpler downloadable games, such as the Xbox 360 hit Shadow Complex. EA, meanwhile, is muscling up in the mobile and social space. All these strategies are good antidotes for out-of-control game development costs.

So while it pains me to see that 1,500 people will lose their jobs, it had to happen this way.

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Settled: Activision’s War on Brütal Legend

Cooler heads prevailed today, as mega game publisher Activision and settled a lawsuit that could’ve halted one of this year’s most promising games, the AP reports.

In June, Activision sued game developer Double Fine to stop the release of Brütal Legend, a metal-inspired action-adventure game starring the voice of Jack Black and directed by Tim Schafer, designer of The Secret of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango. Activision filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles on June 4, just as Brütal Legend was receiving accolades down the road at E3.

At issue was the $15 million Activision claims it invested in the game before merging with World of Warcraft maker Blizzard Entertainment and subsequently dropping the project. After the merger, Electronic Arts took over as publisher, but Activision said that it still held rights to the game and that Double Fine didn’t deliver it on time.

Before the lawsuit, EA expressed doubt that there’d be a court battle. “That would be like a husband abandoning his family and then suing after his wife meets a better looking guy,” the company told Variety in a statement.

Activision did sue, but when it came time for the publisher to argue today why the game shouldn’t be released, Activision instead told the court that the lawsuit was settled. Attorneys didn’t return the AP’s calls, so I don’t think we’ll ever learn the settlement details.

This is great news. I’m no metal fan, but I still appreciated Brütal Legend’s wry humor during the lengthy playable demo at E3. Combine that with its 3D/cartoon art style, puzzle-solving, driving and button-mashing, and Brütal Legend at least looks like a break from the usual generic shooters and beat-em-ups. I’m looking forward to playing it in October.

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Hey Pop-Up Ads, Get Outta My Xbox!

Over the weekend, I sacrificed the better portion of one evening to my Fight Night Round 4 addiction. Home alone, playing offline (but connected to Xbox Live) and grinding through match after match, I was confronted with this:



After a moment of shock, I realized this was an advertisement for the upcoming film The Final Destination, and suddenly Fight Night Round 4 was stumping for it in every available nook and cranny. Each post on the corners of the boxing ring had a number you could text message to enter a movie-related contest, and the floor mat had the name of the film running down the center.

What most offended me was not the ghastly imagery, but the ads that appeared during the boxer recovery phase between rounds. I call them pop-up ads because they make no effort to blend with the game world, as most in-game advertisements do. They’re just plain tacky (by the way, these photos were hastily shot on my iPhone, so my apologies for the quality):


A similar set of pop-ups for Ford appeared in an earlier session, but I had no camera at hand to prove it. Keep in mind that I had already logged countless hours with the game before seeing either of these ads, and that I was playing offline, against the computer, while connected to the Internet.

It’s not clear whether this is happening on the Playstation 3 as well as the Xbox 360, but I’ve asked Microsoft whether this has anything to do with Silverlight ads coming to Xbox Live, and I’ve requested that Electronic Arts answer a few questions as well, such as how the ads are being delivered and for long we’ll be dealing with them. I’m hoping to hear back from both parties.

In any case, I hope these ads aren’t the start of a new trend. Buying this game, no one told me it’d be cluttered with ads that have nothing to do with boxing. While a bit of in-game advertising is appropriate when it fits the surroundings (such as street billboards in a racing game), blatant banners that cover up the game screen are just uncalled for.


How Low Can EA Go? Contest Encourages “Acts of Lust” With Booth Babes

dantes-inferno-screenshotUpdate: EA’s Dante Team has apologized “for any confusion and offense that resulted from our choice of wording, and want to assure you that we take your concerns and sentiments seriously.” The team further explained that “commit acts of lust” is “simply a tongue-in-cheek way to say take pictures with costumed reps.” Full statement here. Original post below.

Electronic Arts is no stranger to controversial PR stunts, so maybe I’m playing right into the company’s hands by decrying its latest giveaway for Dante’s Inferno. Whatever, I’ll risk it.

Have a look at the contest flyer, as posted on Kotaku. The idea is for San Diego Comic Con attendees to take pictures of themselves with booth babes and send them in to EA. The more pictures sent, the more entries in the contest. EA calls these photo ops “Acts of Lust.”

To the winner, the contest promises “Dinner and a sinful night with two hot girls, a limo service, paparazzi and a chest full of booty.” The innuendo is cringe-inducing.

In a way, I’ve got to hand it to EA for pointing out the very backwards aspect of the games industry that unashamedly degrades women. If only the gaming blogs covering the story could see the forest from the trees. Destructoid, for example, cries foul despite having no problem celebrating booth babes during E3.

And then there’s the game itself, poor Dante’s magnum opus dumbed down to yet another male power fantasy, and a God of War wannabee to boot. I guess EA figured it had already lost the female demographic by turning a cautionary tale on sin into a hack-and-slash bloodbath. Why not alienate them completely?

Stunts like these — and booth babes themselves — give gaming a bad name, but it’s only made worse when related to a work that’s treated with dignity in any other medium. Game publishers have gone to some incredibly puzzling lengths for publicity before, but this is the most offensive example I’ve seen, in more ways than one.


Despite Piracy, The Sims 3’s Doing Fine

Given the chance, the games industry will whine ad nauseum about the evils of software piracy, but the recent success of The Sims 3 shows that illegal downloading isn’t necessarily bad for business.

Electronic Arts is boasting that The Sims 3 is a hit, with 1.4 million units sold in the first week alone. That’s the biggest PC game launch in EA’s history.

The company doesn’t break from its victory cry to acknowledge that 180,000 people illegally downloaded The Sims 3 a few weeks ago, after it leaked to BitTorrent sites. The piracy statistics, cited by Bloomberg, come from BigChampagne, a company that monitors file sharing. I’ve contacted the company in search of up-to-date statistics. (Got ’em. See below.)

Even if illegal downloads of the game increased significantly since the end of May, it hardly seems that the leak dampened legitimate sales.

Why not? There are a couple possible explanations. First, there’s no demo for The Sims 3, so piracy could in some cases amount to taking the game for a test drive. Pair this with EA’s claims to Bloomberg that the leak is a “buggy, pre-final build” of the game, and there’s even more reason for downloaders to get the real thing. Also, there will always be a group of people who don’t want or can’t afford to pay for the game anyway. Neither of these scenarios can be justified legally, but they also don’t support the tired claim that every pirated download constitutes a lost sale.

And isn’t BitTorrent somewhat of  a niche anyway? The Sims 3’s appeal expands far beyond the tech-savvy Internet users who know their cracking software, and its online community features make a legitimate copy preferable.

I understand the games industry’s plight. It’s a shame that not everyone pays for their PC games, when legally they should. But perhaps instead of complaining that people aren’t buying software, publishers should study the people that do and look at why The Sims 3 earned their $50.

Update: Just got the latest stats from BigChampagne. The Sims 3, the leaked version, has been downloaded more than 700,000 times per week over the last few weeks, totalling 2.21 million downloads as of June 9.

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