The Anti-Consumerism of Electronic Arts

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Anti-consumerism is defined as actions which discourage ever-growing purchases and consumption of material possession. This is expressed in how firms price their products and even through the selling of inferior goods. Over the years, Electronic Arts (EA) has adopted technologies and questionable business decisions which are highly anti-consumer.

Online Pass

This generation of gaming saw how developers had to deal with the ever growing market of second hand game sales. To players, second game sales are a god send. It allows players to enjoy single player games for cheap. Games such as Spec Ops: The Line, God of War and even Duke Nukem Forever.

Game developers on the other hand have absolutely no love for second hand game sales. The money from these sales do not go to the developers at all. They are instead fully profited by the brick-and-mortar stores and consumers still get to enjoy games at a lower cost.

While most developers are fumbling around with solutions to second hand game sales, EA fired the first shot with their EA Sports Online Pass. These Online Pass codes will come inclusive with every new copy of a game purchased. However, if you purchased a used copy and wish to enjoy it’s online features, you will have to pay an additional $10 on top of whatever you paid for your used copy.

[pullquote_right]While an additional $10 won’t burn your pocket, considering how much you can save on a used game, think about where that $10 is going. That $10 is going back to EA, who has now made an additional $10 on a game which has been fully paid for. This little ‘scheme’ doesn’t affect game stores at all but rather, it is consumers who are caught in the middle.  We as consumers are stuck paying game stores and EA again to enjoy a game which has been fully paid for before.[/pullquote_right]

This Online Pass ‘scheme’ is so successful that it would go on to appear on other EA franchises such as Battlefield, Mass Effect, Dead Space, Need for Speed and a variety of other games just to simply milk more money out of their consumer and products.

In-Game Equipment

Gamers familiar with Mass Effect should know that this is one of the series which EA or Bioware would shamelessly put up in-game equipment for sale.

Let me be the first to say it, I shamelessly bought them all. I was captivated by the world which Bioware created and when Mass Effect 2 launched, I poured hours into it. These weapon packs gave me a reason to revisit the world of Commander Shepard with new weapons and I bought them all; as I’m sure thousands of players all over the world did.

They could have given it for free but they chose to capitalize on the fans of the series into giving them more money for a few new weapons. Some of the weapons are not even that great to begin with, and yet, they shamelessly charged players for them.

This sale of in-game equipment is also in the more recent Dead Space 3. It allows players to simply use real money, to purchase upgrades and weapon resources before even playing. Players can, through these DLCs upgrade their characters to make the game easier.  They can purchase packs such as the Ultra/Epic Weapon and Resource Pack  which will provide them with high end weapon parts as well as a fair bit of crafting resources. There are also Scavenger Bot upgrades which reduces the time which the Bot has to spend to find resources as well as doubles the capacity of resources which the Bots can scavenge.

EA has also since said that their games will be incorporated with similar micro transactions in the future, that is on top of charging full retail price for their games.

Day One DLC

Yet another one of EA’s more infamous business practices. Bringing you back to the launch day of Mass Effect 3, players may remember a certain DLC titled From Ashes. From Ashes featured a new mission where players return back to Eden Prime where lo and behold, they find a living Prothean. Fans of the series would know the significance of a Prothean and lore-wise, it was the most important piece of DLC ever announced.

It gave players a chance to gain the insight of the race which experienced the harvest of organics but someone back at either EA or Bioware, had the balls to make an executive decision to purposely remove content of significant importance to the trilogy solely to monetize day one DLC.

This of course rubbed players all over the world the wrong way. EA is manipulating the fans of the series to pay more for  omething that is already on the disc which the $60 cost of the game should cover. Some players (like me) paid for it. We had to pay additional money to unlock content which was removed on purpose for the sole reason of making more money. But, certain players, like Youtube personality Totalbiscuit decided to boycott Mass Effect 3 entirely. To this day, I don’t think Totalbiscuit has played Mass Effect 3. Not only did he boycott Mass Effect 3, he also encouraged players all over the world to do it as well. And they did, or at least some of them did.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

We all saw this one coming now didn’t we? With the amount of money dumped in to SWTOR (Star Wars: The Old Republic), it was only a matter of time before Bioware had to opt for a free-to-play model. While there is no harm in going free-to-play, the features of SWTOR free-to-play model is highly questionable.

Free players in MMORPGs will no doubt be restricted in more ways than one. These restrictions can come in the form of access to guild bank, auction houses and even mail. Certain MMORPGs will opt for a ‘friendlier’  approach where free players will get the same game that paying players get but they offer perks to players who choose to maintain a subscription.

But SWTOR actually goes out of its way to screw its free players. On top of the usual quality of life inconveniences, SWTOR restricts the number of quickbars to 2. It also lowers the rate at which free players gain experience points. And worst of all, free players are refused in-game customer support. If that doesn’t treat free players as second class citizens, I don’t know what does.

I get that they have to make playing the game for free unattractive, but there are certain aspects of the game which you just do not mess with. Rather than encourage players to try the game for free and possibly make purchases from the cash shop, SWTOR’s free-to-play features are just an outright turnoff.

SWTOR has amazing storytelling, it’s what to expect from a Bioware game. It would have made more sense to lock certain chapters from a free player’s story progression than to refuse him/her in-game customer support. Going free-to-play should be an opportunity for Bioware to attract more players to try out their game, but their supposed ‘features’ actually dissuades anyone from playing.

Always Online

I have wrote before  about always online at length so I don’t imagine this taking long. But this I would imagine is the straw that broke the camel’s back for most players. While I understand the developers’ stand for the need for always online DRM, I feel no argument for always online can justify having it in single player games.

Take the newly released Sim City for example. It forces the social aspect of the game onto players by making it always online. And what happened was yet another always online fiasco on launch day which we have seen from Diablo 3 and Far Cry 3. Players have the infrastructure to be always online but it is the developers, who enforce such ridiculous DRM on players who cannot keep up with demand. If you want to force always online on players, you jolly damn well make sure you can accommodate everyone.

Maxis has even told Kotaku that their choice for always online in Sims City wasn’t about DRM, but because always online “offload a significant amount of the calculations to our servers” and that it would require “a significant amount of engineering work from our team to rewrite the game” for single player.

This is made worse when an anonymous source inside Maxis got in touch with RockPaperShotgun and said that SimCity didn’t actually require always online.

Players in general are getting sick and tired of not being able to play their game purchases because of some nonsense DRM which is forced on them and the backlash when developers can’t deliver is getting worse. They want to be able to play a game which they purchased whenever they want to and always online is a major hurdle which prevents them from doing so.

I get that EA is a big corporation with investors to answer to, I really do. But some of EA’s actions and business tactics over the past years have been highly questionable. I don’t doubt the quality of their games, they still make good games, but they have really strained their relationship with gamers. They have become less about the games that they are making and more about how they can extract as much money as possible from their consumers.

With the recent news that the CEO of EA is stepping down, I sincerely hope that the new CEO who takes over, drives the company in a new direction and try to salvage it’s reputation. I want to support EA, I really do, but they are making it real hard to do so.