Gamer Question: Why does everybody hate EA

I few months ago I got myself an Xbox 360, which led me to some gaming forums. And since I enjoy sports games EA is a company often referred to.

Now, (not hanging out on EA forums 'couse I aint got an EA game) I notice a hatred towards EA. It’s obviously a successful company but on the other hand it’s quite common that people (even grown ups) say they would never buy an EA game, and they are really determined about it.

Why’s that? What did EA do to the gaming community?

The main reason I hate EA is because I develop games for a living, and they’re the epitome of the “unpaid mandatory overtime” employer. So much so, in fact, that they were sued by a group of programmers and artists a couple of years back. They like to hire just-out-of-school employees, ones who don’t necessarily know that they can enjoy better working conditions elsewhere.

They’re also known as the Evil Alliance, since they’re really bad about acquiring new companies and then sucking the soul out of it. A popular shirt at Origin several years ago had the EA logo done as Borg ships, with the phrase “Resistance is Futile” at the bottom.

Plus they’re basically the Microsoft of the game industry, with all that implies.

The original “EA Widow” posting, describing miserable (well, for white collar work) working conditions.

A summary of the overtime disputes concerning EA.

Note that this applies to EA in the United States, and does not necessarily describe their work practices in other countries.

Among sports game fans (and I’m not one, so I might be mangling this) there’s a great deal of resentment over EA’s exclusive licensing of sports franchises. In several areas, EA was offering a markedly inferior product than their competitors, and instead of making a better game, they just bought the rights to use real teams and players out from under their competitors, effectively killing their sports franchises.

Dunno about 360, but I tried to get into Battlefield:2142, and not only does EA use a miserable, intrusive mandatory “download helper” program, but the fucking thing doesn’t work properly. Updates and patches were impossible on the thing, the game crashed frequently, and when they did release a patch recently, it crashed something like 50% of the computers it was installed on. Their customer service is shit. They are the epitome of the “let’s dump a piece of shit program on the market right now. Fuck it. We can always patch it later” mindset.

Never, ever again.

I worked at EA for several months, and they have a very active design-by-committee approach to everything. It was a very “the blade of grass that sticks its neck out is the one to meet the mower” sort of enviroment.

In practical terms for the end user what this means is that, essentially, it will be impossible for them to ever get an innovative or original game out of EA–instead getting the same old game with more buttons–but probably also never ending up with unplayable dreck. Personally, I think that the whole thing of gaming of just repackaging old games with more buttons is stupid, but that’s not really something unique to EA. Warcraft III is nothing different from Warcraft I, and Blizzard is hailed as being one of the more innovative groups about. So I suspect that the issue isn’t so much that EA is dull and uninspired so much as that they’re so unabashedly open about it.

Bastards cheated me on a mail-in offer once. They had a promotional thing where if you bought one of their new games they’d mail you one of their older games for free. I was only semi-interested in the new game but one of the older games being offered was one I wanted. So I figured it was the equivalent of buying the older game and getting the new one free.

So I bought the new game and mailed in the receipt and promotional offer the next day. It was one of those “wait four to six weeks” deals and I even gave them a little extra time and waited eight weeks before writing to them and asking where my game was. Their response was that that promotion had ended a month earlier so I was too late. Yes, I know the promotion ended a month ago - and I sent my paperwork to you two months ago.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hate all games EA makes, but their sports games piss me off most of the time. I’m also kinda pissed that they bought the exclusive rights to make NASCAR games, so any new NASCAR game will suck, big time. If you’ve only ever played a NASCAR game made by EA, or any racing game made by them, you have no idea what a racing game can be.

I believe all of this, but so long as they keep providing me with Madden Football I can never hold them in complete contempt.

Sorry, this is going to be a big hijack…

I agree with most of the rest of what you said, and I hate to be a nudge, but this just really bothered me. Because it’s a horrible example to use.

Warcraft 3 is nothing different from Warcraft I?

Okay, let’s see:
1.) Significantly more complex story writing, with an extensive new backstory set up to explain how the Orcs weren’t always evil, create a place in the lore for the Night Elves, set down specific concepts for what demons are and how they work, etc., etc., and tell a story with prominently featured characters who grow and change over the course of the campaigns.
2.) In-game story-telling; while not new for Blizzard, this was introduced in Starcraft, and then brought over for WC3, it’s not in the Warcraft franchise before that.
3.) RPG elements; yeah, the unit upgrades in WC2 were expressed as “levels” but WC3 had actual experience levels, equipment, and selectable skill learning for the Heroes, blending aspects of Diablo gameplay into an RTS game. This was a huge departure from any of Blizzard’s previous RTS games.
4.) Formations; WC3 finally gave your units sufficient AI to move (more or less) and fight in formations, drastically improving the utility of support units like casters and archers, at the cost of pulling in the scope of gameplay to smaller force sizes. This along with the RPG elements remain a fairly controversial move amongst the Blizzard fanbase, and up until the recent unvieling of Starcraft II’s development, fans would often express hopes of a return to large-scale army gameplay for any future RTS games from Bliz
5.) Neutral units: there were some in WC and WC2, but they were only employed for specific missions and settings. Here they exist on every map, and are used to create more of an organic world feel. Most especially, one should note the development of neutral services, like the item shops, zeppelins, ships, and mercenaries
6.) No mirror-armies; WC3 has 4 armies, with fairly radical differences in their capabilites. WC1 and WC2 both had armies that were only cosmetically different until you got to caster units, and even then they tended to be much more alike than 3. While the 4 armies is itself is more of the “more buttons” non-innovative variety, the extensive effort to differentiate them in terms of gameplay, while maintaining balance was a pretty big feat.
7.) Battlenet; the first WC to have it (integrated free online multiplayer hosting and matching service); though WC2 was later re-released with support for it.
8.) side campaigns; WC3’s expansion included an entire campaing that was in no way a part of the game’s regular progression. Plus, it doesn’t even follow traditional RTS gameplay, though it’s run in the basic game engine.
9.) sequential campaigns, rather than parallel; Unlike WC1 and 2, were the player could pick either side, and see two completely different outcomes, all of the factions campaigns are part of a sequence, telling a single story broken up into acts.

I could go on, but anything else is more of the nitpick variety, so yeah… my point is WC3 is pretty radically different.

PS. To be frank, I don’t really know that anyone hails Blizzard for innovation anyways. What people hail them for is the polish of their games, the creativity and vitality of their art, the stirring and compelling presentation of both the story in the game (and even the marketing before it’s release), and their ability to take all the best ideas other people have and build on it to create genre defining games. And that’s what I’d say most of their acclaim comes from; not some triumph of innovation, but the extremely high quality and craftsmanship of their products.

EA also has a terrible policy of “retiring online support” of all their older sports games to force people to buy the latest one just to keep playing online.

I would consider the move from Civilisation to games like Warcraft or Command & Conquer as being something innovative. Adding new pieces, better AI, some more functionality, and movies is just expanding the type of the game. And the problem I have with that is that while it gives a new life to the game for people who have become gods of the last incarnation, it cuts off the number of people who can reasonably play it. Warcraft I could play, but once you have to control your economy, your troops, handle real-time duels between heroes, plus accomplish a quest at the same time…I mean yeesh people, let it die. Having each new generation be, in essence, a more difficult-to-play version of the old game is a dead-end course. Why not just create a new type of game?

And here is EA’s core audience–the people who can be counted on to pay full price for the same damn game year after year. Who needs to innovate if you can get people to pay you again for something you’ve sold them before?

(No offense, Omni. I’ll freely admit that Square owns me through the Final Fantasy series–but at least those have generally have new stories.)

I used to love Bullfrog’s games: Syndicate, Theme Hospital, Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper, even Warmonger on the Sega Megadrive. Then EA bought them and sucked the very marrow from their bones. OK, I admit that Dungeon Keeper was released after the EA merger - I like to think of it as Bullfrog’s last death rattle.

Don’t get me started on Origin Systems. Their corporate strategy stinks of 1980’s M&A tactics.

Unfortunately I’m also looking forward to Spore. Damn EA!! DAMN YOOUUUU!!!

They killed Wing Commander, the bastards.

Well, I thought the only reason EA were really disliked is because they release sports games. A lot. And they look like the same sports games every year (except, of course, the year has changed). Which isn’t that much of a trangression upon a gamer’s delicate sensibilities when nobody’s exactly forcing you to buy any of the games anyway.

Warcraft didn’t “develop” from Civilization type games. Turn based strategy and real time strategy games are two different genres. You’re basically saying that the only way to be innovative is to create a new genre every time you release a title, that’s not only ridiculous, it’s also impossible.

It’s akin to saying a director isn’t really creative unless he creates a new genre of film every movie. If a director could do that, yes, he would be very creative. But a director who stays entirely within the same genre his entire career can still be highly creative because there is an amazing amount of variation within a given genre.

“Why not just create a new type of game?” That’s like asking someone who plays golf, “why not just create a new game, why do you just keep playing golf on different courses?” Well, the thing is, they like golf. They might go to a different courses from time to time because they like some general variation, but they’re perfectly fine with the game itself.

When I play a turn based strategy game (for example a game from the Total War series) I don’t expect a new genre, in fact, I would hate a new genre. I’m buying that game for a very specific reason, I want a turn based game in which I fight out a fictional campaign in a historical setting (be it Feudal Europe, Feudal Japan, Ancient Rome or et cetera.) I would be pretty pissed if Rome Total War and Medieval Total War were identical. But they weren’t. Since they both take place a good one thousand years apart, you have different units, a different political system, different diplomatic system and et cetera. Certain things stay the same, the game progresses by finishing “turns”, you move armies around the map, you fight tactical battles in real time, you have to manage provinces and et cetera. But enough changes from game to game that it remains interesting.

Such a game would become cumbersome if you simply added new features and kept ALL the old features from previous games, but Warcraft III did not do that. It didn’t make it “unplayable” to new players, in fact WC1 and WC2 are different enough from WC3 that even the best WC2 players will be terrible at online play against humans if they try to play the game like they played WC2. Warcraft 2 was more about moving mass armies with no formation, Warcraft 3 is very dependent on your ability to get a good research/resource base, level up some heroes, and wreck havoc on your enemy using strong “strike forces.”

As for the thread topic itself, I don’t hate EA. There are a few EA titles I have liked through the years. I liked Bard’s Tale way back in the 1980s, I liked SimCity 4, and I generally enjoyed the MVP Baseball series, the NCAA football series, and the Madden football series. Yet while I enjoy those series, I have fundamental problems with all three of them (the MVP series no longer has an MLB license so I haven’t played it in years.)

MVP, NCAA, and Madden were three solid games and had/have been three solid games for awhile. The problem is in the particulars. MVP offers great baseball play and even introduced a really awesome franchise mode, that had three layers of minor leagues and all kinds of cool management options.

But, as much fun as MVP is, one iteration of the game you realize that there are two game-breaking bugs. What sucks about these game breaking bugs is they’re not really easy to notice until you play the game a lot so they escaped reviewers and the game got great reviews across the board.

The two bugs were:

–For some unknown reason, left handed hitters had drastically reduced home run hitting ability in games you played (simulated games in a season behaved normally.) Somehow, the mechanics of the game, the physics of the game and et cetera, made it so lefties couldn’t hit home runs except with extreme rarity, and even then with only the very best home run hitters in the game. You could unlock Babe Ruth and he’d literally have more difficulty hitting a home run than say, Derek Jeter–not a player known for home run hitting ability.

The second bug was, you had a 120 year dynasty/franchise mode. After about 10-15 years most of the “real” players that you started the game with have retired and what you are left with is computer generated prospects. You have to move your prospects through your farm system and develop them into stars. The problem is, EA messed this up somehow and the prospects lost the ability to develop after the first season. So your prospects would develop for the first season of a 120 season dynasty, but for the last 119 seasons they would hardly develop at all. Meaning every team in the majors would, after a decade be plagued by players with ~40-60 ratings (with a player’s overall rating going up to 99 in that game, with virtually all every day players being 80+, and really good players being 90+.) It was ludicrous that 15 years into your dynasty a 45 year old version of Albert Pujols would be winning the MVP/batting crown/home run titles et cetera because despite the fact players DID drop off as they aged, no other player would develop. So even a 45 year old Albert Pujols was drastically better than the best computer generated prospected in the game.

This is the biggest problem with the EA sports titles. They get very very close to getting everything right, MVP was great fun if you could look past those two flaws. The reason I keep buying new versions of NCAA is because I like the new rosters and because it seems like every year reviews report that several of the problems with previous versions have been “fixed.” Of course, no other game exists for playing college football, so the EA game is all that there is. So you buy each iteration because the game is really fun at its core, but slightly flawed, and like some fool you keep expecting the developers to get rid of these flaws. What’s frustrating is it is obvious they do get rid of some of the flaws, as the games do get better over time. One of the earliest iterations of NCAA, you could just throw the ball up and run up the score 100+ on your opponent. Aside from that (aside from that) the game played pretty well, meaning as long as you didn’t air the ball out you’d get a pretty good approximation of a real college football game. If you did air the ball out, you’d put up an unrealistic score every single time.

That is something that has been a persistent problem, there is still way too much of a problem with people being able to consistently get too much of a positive return from just “throwing the ball up” meaning throwing the ball into double or triple coverage and getting 70+ yard completions. This just isn’t realistically something that happens 30 times a game in real football. They’ve continually tried to tweak this every year, and it has gotten better in that regard every year. But they still aren’t “quite there” in representing the concept that you pretty much don’t throw into coverage most of the time. While the chance of success has gone down dramatically over the years, it hasn’t been represented in a realistic manner in my opinion.

There are tweaks in the AI every year, as well as a change in focus (running vs. passing vs. defense, for example). Let’s not mention roster changes, too.

This is my last Madden year if it’s not ultra sexy. I’m jumping ship and going to All-Pro Football. The demo was rather nice, but Madden gets ONE more try because they’ve provided me with joy over the years.