Post Script

Sug­gests EA’s at­ti­tude to its cus­tomers is im­prov­ing – grad­u­ally


The rise of The Sims is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to the rise of its pub­lisher. The first game in the se­ries was an ex­per­i­ment by Will Wright that found ex­tra­or­di­nary suc­cess with a far broader de­mo­graphic than EA would have nor­mally reached. The Sims was in many ways a pre­cur­sor to so­cial games, to browser-based strat­egy and the other in­cred­i­bly lu­cra­tive forms of the medium that largely fall out­side of what hob­by­ists con­cern them­selves with. Its for­mi­da­ble pop­u­lar­ity has meant it has passed through ev­ery business model that EA has ex­per­i­mented with over its long, long his­tory of ask­ing slightly too much for slightly too lit­tle.

This be­gins with the era of the ex­pan­sion pack, of con­tin­ual boxed it­er­a­tion that main­tained a game’s pres­ence on shelves, and con­tin­ued – with The Sims 3 – into the era of mi­cro­trans­ac­tions and down­load­able con­tent. The Sims On­line used a sub­scrip­tion-based model and, in its later in­car­na­tion as EALand, spawned an ex­per­i­men­tal user-gen­er­ated con­tent store. The se­ries ex­panded onto Face­book, con­sole and mo­bile, as part of an EA-wide at­tempt to spread its suc­cess­ful brands as broadly as pos­si­ble and then mon­e­tise them down to the nuts and bolts.

The mid­dle sec­tion of The Sims 3’ s life­cy­cle co­in­cides neatly with ar­guably the low­est point in EA’s rep­u­ta­tion with play­ers – the years fol­low­ing the ac­qui­si­tion of BioWare when Bat­tle­field be­came an an­nu­alised an­swer to Call Of Duty, Dragon Age was dis­as­trously re­tooled as a fan­tasy-ac­tion game, and day­one DLC and ex­ten­sive pre­order pro­mo­tions be­came the rule. In this pe­riod, which ar­guably lasted un­til the end of 2013, it be­came im­pos­si­ble to buy an EA game un­less you bought it on EA’s terms, par­tic­u­larly on PC where down­load ser­vice Ori­gin grad­u­ally be­came the pub­lisher’s sole method of dis­tri­bu­tion. EA’s cus­tomers were tightly cor­ralled into pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions that left them feel­ing both mugged and leg­is­lated against: if you didn’t buy a spe­cific ver­sion of a new BioWare game at launch, you’d miss out on en­tire com­pan­ion char­ac­ters, sto­ry­lines and ex­pan­sions fur­ther down the line. It’s this that fos­tered the sense that EA’s pri­mary aim was to drain, rather than serve, its cus­tomers – and EA’s favourite de­vel­op­ers – of ev­ery­thing they had, and saw the pub­lisher crowned Worst Company In Amer­ica two years in a row.

The Sims 4 marks a slight but tan­gi­ble im­prove­ment to the sta­tus quo – a change in the company’s at­ti­tude that should, hope­fully, put the worst of th­ese dam­ag­ing mon­eti­sa­tion ex­per­i­ments be­hind it. At launch, the game’s pre­order and spe­cial-edi­tion bonuses are mea­gre. Pur­chase the dig­i­tal deluxe edi­tion and you’ll re­ceive a few new pieces of tikithemed fur­ni­ture, a cou­ple of hats and a down­load­able sound­track; nice to have but not some­thing the av­er­age player will miss. Fur­ther­more, there’s no sign of a pre­mium con­tent store in the game at all at launch, which seems like such a shock­ing omis­sion for the company that we had to check twice.

The Gallery, which could have been a prime plat­form for mi­cro­trans­ac­tions, is sim­ply a way for play­ers to freely share the things they’ve made. This level of con­nec­tiv­ity could have been used to jus­tify mak­ing an al­wayson­line game with all of the at­ten­dant ben­e­fits to re­pelling piracy – but no, it’s en­tirely op­tional. There will, in­evitably, be ex­pan­sions, but they will at least be a known and quan­tifi­able cost to the player, and can be sen­si­bly as­sessed on in­di­vid­ual mer­its.

If it seems odd to praise a company for its decision to not do some­thing aw­ful, con­sider that this is the cyn­i­cal po­si­tion EA has left its play­ers in over the past cou­ple of years. The Sims 4 marks a pos­i­tive shift away from those at­ti­tudes, in all re­gards ex­cept price: the dig­i­tal deluxe edi­tion costs £60, and the stan­dard edi­tion – which costs a heav­ing £50 – is hid­den in a sub­menu on Ori­gin.

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