Thoughts on EA controversies

EA has had a rough relationship with segments of the internet in recent times. Let’s recap a few of the controversies.

First, there was the negative reception from the changes made to the series in Dragon Age 2. I liked the game, in spite of the repetitive game locations and the story focus being largely on the area Kirkwall instead of the grand narrative in Dragon Age: Origins that encompassed more places for the player to visit. I liken the game to the middle Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back that lacks the same blockbuster explosiveness of its predecessor but is instead a more personal, quiet, and darker film that ends on a cliff hanger and lays the groundwork for the following film that concludes the overall story.

Next, there was the matter of BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler who dared to have an opinion and suggest that games could have a fast-forward button to skip combat just as many games already have a skip option for dialogue and cutscenes. It’s not such a novel idea as it’s one that Nintendo for example incorporated in New Super Mario Bros Wii with the “super guide” that enables the player to skip a level after failing it eight times. Players who want to be challenged by the game can simply ignore the super guide. What would the harm be in incorporating this into a BioWare RPG? Yet for the crime of speaking her mind she was declared on Reddit to be, “the cancer that is killing BioWare”. Also, because this is the internet, and the internet has yet to grow out of its dudebro juvenile misogynistic mentality, she received hate filled sexist vitriolic attacks. The sad reality was that her opponents instead of engaging with what she had to say and trying to collaborate to improve videogames, attacked her personally and in the end, no-one won.

Then there was the controversy over the ending to Mass Effect 3. I haven’t as yet played Mass Effect 3 (or any games from the series yet) so I can’t for now comment on the specifics of the story. However, from an outsider’s perspective, the commotion seemed a little extreme. My understanding is that players were disappointed with the ending for not acknowledging the player’s choices that were made in the games leading up to that point? I’ll find out when I eventually play it. To be upset with the ending if that’s how it was is fair enough, but to then petition BioWare to change the ending seems over the top to me. Once again, I haven’t played it, so maybe I don’t know the full extent of the disappointment, but hey, while I loved the original Star Wars films, I didn’t greatly enjoy George Lucas’ prequels to them. Should I (and the other fans who were disappointed by the Star Wars prequels) expect him to rewrite and refilm them? Of course not! We get on with our lives and watch other films and consume other media.

Speaking of Star Wars, there was the matter of EA being criticised for planning to add same-sex relationships to their Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. Yet why is this even an issue? It may come as a shock to some people, but there are a lot of gay people in the world. There always have been and there always will be. Homosexual characters in EA’s game is just reflecting that reality of human sexuality. “There were no LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) characters in any of the Star Wars films”, proclaimed the Florida Family Association on its website. To which I say, “pfft”. Have they really seen the Star Wars films? C3PO and R2D2 are the token gay robot couple.

Seriously though, there have been homosexual characters in videogames for a long time now. I recall the bisexual gypsy prostitutes way back in Ultima VI and Dupré scolding the Avatar for wasting time with sex instead of saving Britannia . So why all the fuss now with homosexuality in The Old Republic?

Scene from Ultima VI in which the Avatar has sex with prostitutes

Lastly, there’s an EA Indie Bundle on Steam now which has caused the internet to do a double take because “EA” and “Indie” in the same sentence appears to be oxymoron of the grandest proportions possible. At first glance, it seems obvious that EA are trying to cash-in on the public goodwill at the moment towards independently developed videogames. However, what is an “indie” game these days anyway? Is it really just a game that has been developed independently of the support of a commercial publisher? Or does “indie” refer more to the style and ascetics of the game? I’d argue that it’s more the latter. After all, Notch, our poster child for indie success with Minecraft now has his own company and employs people. By his own admission, he no longer considers himself to be, “indie”.

Take another example with Valve who made the videogame digital distribution system Steam and have given us many successful game series such as the Half-Life series, the Team Fortress series, the Portal series, the Left 4 Dead series, to name just a very few. They’re not a publically floated company and they self-publish all their games. If we define, “indie”, as independent, then that’s what they must be.

While none of the games in the EA Indie Bundle were made in somebody’s garage by a team of a few people on a budget of a couple of dollars, they’re hardly triple-A games made on a multibillion dollars budget either. So arguing about the semantics of indie-ness and criticising EA for trying to sell some games (when that’s its job – to sell games) is probably futile. They’re a publisher of videogames. They’re not the Third Reich. Nor are they “America’s worst company” as they were voted last month by readers of the Consumerist. That’s just hyperbole.

To conclude, EA is not without its faults. For example, the recent “goof” over Rock Band for iOS was bizarre. As is the way they have handled Tetris for the iPad. Also, it was back in 2004 when Erin Hoffman published her EA Spouse blog to highlight unethical work practices at EA. They’re not perfect, but in spite of the legitimate problems that EA have had, I can’t help but feel that sometimes the internet, or parts of the internet, can blow some matters out of proportion.

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