You’ve just started playing a game. You’re enjoying the multiplayer. Then you realize it’s offering to sell you the resources to get the best items in the game immediately, instead of working for them. Or maybe you’ve just started up your new simulation and are dismayed that you only get a small plot of land and can play online. Perhaps you’re in the midst of an awesome game, but you’ve run out of energy and can’t keep going unless you wait or open your wallet. You aren’t playing Mafia Wars, CityVille, YoVille or FarmVille, you’re playing Dead Space 3, SimCity or Real Racing 3. Slowly, but surely, EA is turning into Zynga.
It’s ironic, given the legal trouble between EA and Zynga that recently wrapped up. EA was mad about Zynga copying The Sims for its Facebook game The Ville. Apparently, it found something admirable, perhaps even respectable, about Zynga’s business practices because now it’s duplicating its moves.
The first came with Dead Space 3. If people don’t want to work for upgrades or resources to make their characters better, they can toss $1 to $5 into the money pile for instant gratification. Like many Facebook games, these upgrades could be earned by investing actual time and effort, but EA saw people willing to toss money at Zynga to avoid work and figured it had to join the party.
Then there’s Real Racing 3. Instead of charging a flat $9.99 for the game, as was done with Real Racing 2, EA decided to make it a freemium game. Players can only do so much before their cars crap out on them, needing regular maintenance and repairs. People then have to pay for these improvements. Of course paying for them is only the first step. They also have to wait for the repairs. It’s like someone’s playing a Zynga game. Pay up and you can go about your way. If you don’t, then I hope you have some other apps to kill time while you wait for your virtual car’s oil change. It’s a hallmark of social network gaming, a feature employed often in Zynga’s FarmVille and YoVille
The SimCity situation speaks for itself. In a move designed to fight piracy and force socialization into a famously, fabulous single player game, EA turned the city simulation into an always online affair. For days after launch, the servers were incapable of handling the load of consumers dying to play. Those who did get through found themselves caught in the company’s web. Their city sizes were limited. Errors resulted cities becoming inaccessible or disappearing completely. People who did manage to get in and play were dismayed to find smaller cities, in an attempt to force people to work on small cities that would power a whole region rather than megalopolises, and that their decisions were permanent. SimCity had become more like SimCity Social, which in turn is quite reminiscent of Zynga’s CityVille.
Don’t like it? Too bad. EA’s decided this is the way to go. It’s already tried to say fixing SimCity to make it an offline affair would be a massive undertaking. Not to mention Blake Jorgensen, EA’s Chief Financial Officer, has said that microtransactions will be incorporated into all future games. That isn’t even getting into EA’s push to have Origin everywhere, so people always have to log in before playing a game on their console, handheld or computer. At this rate, EA could earn the Worst Company in America award two years in a row.
The thing is, EA shouldn’t have to resort to these measures. Undesirable business practices and sudden Zynga-mimicking aside, it has published some fantastic games. It brought us Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Spore, Mirror’s Edge, Dead Space, Crysis, Need for Speed, Madden NFL, The Sims, Battlefield and many other respectable series. If it just showed little consideration for the consumers and their desires, instead of looking to make a cheap buck, it might even find itself loved and respected. But no, it’s taking the microtransaction-approach to business. Instead of investing time and effort to build customer loyalty and goodwill, it’s going for quick successes and fast money.
Look at Zynga. It was riding the microtransaction and social highway, but people have gotten wise. It’s stock started at $10 per share when it hit the NASDAQ on December 16, 2011. At close of business March 12, 2013, it was down to $3.73. It closed its Boston Office in October, 2012. Over 100 people were fired that same month at Zynga’s Austin office. It’s losing of millions of players in its games. It ended up closing 11 games in December, 2013. In January, 2013, it’s Japan studio was closed. It’s a dying company. Don’t follow their business example.
It’s a shame to see a company fall so far. It’s a sad day in the video game world when one of the biggest, third party publishers is adjusting its business plan to make its AAA games more like the tripe you see on social networking sites. Zynga was a flash in the pan EA, and only idiots would think its casual game plans should be applied to major releases.