Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Electronic Arts: Greed Is Not the Problem

Shamus Young | 18 Feb 2014 19:00
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Dungeon Keeper failed both as a homage to the original game and as an attempt to jump on the free-to-pay mobile bandwagon. It tarnished a successful brand instead of building on its success.

Sim City was one of the most famous, beloved, and unique titles in the history of gaming, and in the space of a year EA buried it with a long campaign of gross mismanagement and bungled gameplay decisions. Analyzing the problems with the game could fill an entire column by itself, but the result speaks for itself: Sim City was a disaster and represented a massive waste of resources on the part of EA.


Valve's marketing is notoriously charming, witty, and clever. Their Portal 2 ads went viral, with gaming sites scrambling to share them without Valve needing to pay for the "advertising". Sure, they bought TV spots. But note the efficiency of the ad. We get the premise (testing) the gameplay (portals) the tone (dark comedy) and the characters (GlaDOS and the bots) depicted in just 32 seconds. Valve's products don't need a lot of marketing, but when they do Valve gets the most out of their advertising dollars.

In comparison, EA's marketing is wasteful, clumsy, and frequently self-destructive. Their Sin to Win promotion for Dante's Inferno was deeply offensive to a lot of people, and really doesn't tell anyone about the game. The game itself was a brawler, and encouraging guys to sexually harass booth babes tells us nothing about the gameplay, the tone, or the characters. The only goal of the campaign was to generate buzz by creating controversy. I suppose it worked. Five years later, the only thing people remember about the game is how distasteful they found the marketing.

Dead Space 2 was relatively successful, but their decision to deliberately market an M-Rated game to kids was self-destructive, particularly since underage kids can't afford AAA titles and politicians were making a lot of noise about violent videogames at the time. They were marketing the game to people that couldn't buy it, offending people who could, and attracting exactly the kind of attention that gets your CEO dragged in front of a congressional hearing. Things didn't go that way, but they easily could have. And the resulting bad press and worse legislation could have harmed the EA bottom line in a big way. And for what? A few minutes of hype?

Digital Delivery

Valve's Steam platform (released in 2004) is the gold standard for digital distribution. It's the iTunes of videogames, only with better software and market saturation. In contrast, EA Downloader (released in 2005) was a shallow joke. It would take EA a mind-boggling six years to replace EA Downloader with their Origin digital distribution service. When Origin finally arrived it was rife with fundamental shortcomings, despite the fact that they had lots of time, plenty of money, and they had a successful working model (Steam) to copy from.

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