I think it’s fair to say that despite having released some great games, EA is perhaps the one video game company that gets the most grief from consumers. And to be honest there have been a few occasions where the company haven’t helped themselves in this regard. Whether it be the furore following the announcement the SimCity reboot would be online only back in 2013, or more recently the drama surrounding Star Wars Battlefront II and loot boxes, prompting a change in the game’s approach to them and monetisation. These tensions between EA and its customers serve to reinforce the picture of a money-grabbing corporation far less concerned with the interests of its fans as long as there is money to be made. It creates an image of a firm that is so separated from its audience it doesn’t seem to grasp what makes them tick, or seems interested in their, well, interests.
Sadly the latest EA PLAY conference before the official start of E3 this year did little to change that image. If anything it reaffirmed these damning ideals.
Firstly, lets talk FIFA 19. Now I’m a fan of the FIFA games, and chances are I’ll be getting this latest iteration later this year. But the mind boggles as to why it was necessary to spend 7 solid minutes talking about this new version, simply because now it has the Champion’s League. Now OK, I get it, that for EA I’m sure it feels like a coup for FIFA to finally land this trophy out of the grasp of PES, (and lets put to one side how grubby such exclusivity can feel for either game) but I’m still not convinced we needed to take so long when there weren’t any real gameplay updates or announcements, just clarification that a new trophy format is available and a new Journey story was coming. Now some might argue that EA are justified in spending such time on FIFA because of the sheer amount of fans the game has, and how well it sells. And to be fair it certainly wasn’t its most self-indulgent moment of the show (we’ll discuss that in a moment), and was a long way off from the worst offender at E3 (cough Nintendo cough), but I would still challenge back and say the vast majority of people who will end up buying FIFA 19 weren’t watching E3, and I’m almost certain that those 7 minutes won’t have convinced anyone who wasn’t previously going to buy it to do so over PES later this year. So instead you can’t help as the audience feel less engaged with what’s in front of you, and with EA as a result.
But if we want to talk about lulls, there was one flipping huge one in the second half of the presentation, a huge disconnect between the audience and EA, and that was Command & Conquer Rivals. On the face of it a new Command & Conquer game should resonate really well with most people watching, particularly those of a certain age who remember fondly the glory days of Red Alert or Tiberian Sun. What definitely won’t resonate with the audience is a new RTS mobile game, which you only know is linked to Command & Conquer due to the name and nothing else, whose mechanics are only a briefly explained. And to make matters worse, you’re now going to show off the gameplay by making us all sit through a live match between two Youtubers we may or may not have heard of. And you expect us to get excited? Now before I continue I must admit to a couple of things. I was aware of one of the Youtubers – nickatnyte – because I play Clash Royale semi-regularly, and I’ll admit to watching some of his videos online where he plays against others.
But the reason I enjoy that is because I’ve played Clash Royale on and off for several years now, I’m invested in the gameplay, the different mechanics and tactics that come with the game, and so I can appreciate certain plays and strategies. Watching him play against someone on a game I know nothing about, and I’ve only had certain win conditions briefly explained to me, is completely different. It all just washed over me, as did the apathy. EA dedicated about 9 minutes to this game, and it felt like 5 times that amount, again showing EA really don’t get what the audience want to see at these events. By all means showcase a mobile game, but don’t make us sit through an esports type match up before we even know what’s what and expect a positive response. Oh and for the love of god, the CG trailer at the end, as with most bad mobile games, tries to sell an epic, malleable, dynamic battle, when really it’s a single screen RTS. Another disconnect which just makes EA come across as out of touch with its consumers.
However, and this is important, it wasn’t all bad. There was a brightly shining beacon of hope in this presentation. This beacon came in the form of Cornelia Geppert of JO-MEI Games, when she stepped on stage to talk about her new game from EA Originals, Sea of Solitude. Throughout her brief few minutes on stage, she was grinning from ear to ear, so happy and thankful at the opportunity to share her passion for the world. Within the first minute she had to compose herself numerous times due to just how overwhelmed with excitement she was. And it’s no surprise that on one of these occasions when she was remembering to breathe, she earned a rapturous, supportive applause from the audience at the event, and undoubtedly smiles and positive thoughts from those watching the video live from around the world.
There was a clear buzz of energy surrounding her presentation, an emotion that would on the face of it seem at direct odds with the sombre, deep mood of Sea of Solitude itself, a game that promises to explore themes of loneliness and fear. But it becomes obvious why this is the case when you consider who the audience is. It is packed with people enthusiastic and passionate about the video games medium, that want to see it grow and push boundaries in new ways. And so to see that same devotion and love from developers is endearing and heartwarming, and feels completely in sync with our own ideas about how games can make you feel. It makes games as a journey from original concept, to the resulting finished product feel cohesive and optimistic, and that can only be a good thing. It shows perfectly how to connect with your audience because you understand what they want and what they appreciate.
This was when EA got it right, but unfortunately for them, what Cornelia also did was provide a stark contrast to the rest of the show which felt just more corporate and faceless in comparison, the EA we all imagine. Up against her infectious optimism and shared passion, everything else felt flat, and more like a hard sell. And whilst I understand that not all announcements can be delivered in such a way, EA would do well to remember to think about their audience more, and consider them in their presentations. What are they looking for, what will they really appreciate? It’s clear this wasn’t top of mind throughout most of the presentation, and only serves to reinforce some of the negative connotations surrounding the company. And whilst I don’t think the result will be a disenchanted fan base that will vote with their feet, I do think that at some stage it is only natural that they will say enough is enough. Let’s hope they learn their lesson and come back next year thinking more about those that are tuning in.