Electronic Arts (EA) has gathered a lot of attention over the last week in gaming and mainstream media. The point of contention revolves the use of microtransactions. As you might know, EA announced that the feature is returning in Star Wars Battlefront II (SWBFII) in the next few months. Inevitably, that generated a lot of discussions both about the practice as well as EA and the gaming industry in general. Two very well-known publications also added their own unique take to the debate.
EA makes the list of most hated companies in the US
On February 1st, USA Today posted an article covering the top 20 most-hated companies in the US. The publication took into account customer surveys, employee reviews at Glassdoor and USA Today’s annual customer satisfaction survey. In the list itself, EA won the title of the 5th most-hated company in the US. The two main reasons listed were (1) the company’s practice of buying smaller studios for their intellectual property (IP) then eventually closing them and (2) SWBFII’s microtransaction controversy. The company joins a list of other companies such as Equifax, the NFL and more.
Fortune’s list of most admired entertainment companies in the US
EA makes the list of most admired entertainment companies in the US
The February edition of Fortune magazine published their list of most admired companies in the US. The list was put together by taking into account surveys of directors, executives, financial analysts from a pool of the largest companies by revenue. Under the entertainment sector, EA won the award of the 3rd most admired company in the US for entertainment. It’s worth noting that last year the company was listed under computer software. For reference, Disney won the number 1 spot, while Netflix came in 2nd, and Activision/Blizzard landed on the 4th spot. It’s worth noting that in a separate article covering the gaming industry, Fortune states:
…these franchises helped EA earn $1.81 billion in the 12 months that ended in the 12 months ended in 2017 from recurring sources such as microtransactions, subscriptions and game expansions, up 25% from a year earlier. Of course, the formula doesn’t always work; EA pulled in-game purchasing out of its Star Wars Battlefront II game last fall after facing consumer backlash. But as gamemakers strive to please investors, such retreats are likely to be the exception, not the rule.
Is EA running away with their profits disregarding gamers? It’s not that simple.
Two sides of the same coin
These two lists cover two important aspects; consumer and business. Thinking about them certainly makes us think that the topic is not as simple as black and white.
From one side, as gamers, we want the best value for our purchase. Gaming provides that value since playing games is something we can do for a long time without any added costs. Obviously, microtransactions change this situation. The practice is widespread across the industry but implementations differ. If done properly, they can extend the life of a game and add new content that will keep gamers playing for years to come. On the flip side, if they’re poorly implemented, they can have the exact opposite effect.
Gamers typically have many opinions on the topic. You might see some who are categorically opposed to the practice and don’t want them regardless of their implementation. There is also another category who don’t mind them, as long as they don’t impact game balance. Lastly, there is a less vocal group of gamers who actually support microtransactions regardless of implementation. Considering that EA’s microtransactions, DLC and subscription revenue increased by 25% this year, only seems to point to that.
The other side is obviously the business side. We’re not going to attempt to explain the business aspect of the gaming industry because -frankly- we’re not industry experts – we’re fans/gamers. At a basic level, however, any business exists to be profitable. One can certainly argue on the different business models each company implements to become profitable. A lot of gamers tend to have very strong opinions on how different companies should be run. The business aspect, however, is rarely considered in their recommendations (if not demands).
Making your head spin? Talking about microtransactions and the gaming industry is not a black and white discussion.
Trying to make sense of it all
If you have a passing interest in the industry we highly recommend that you read Amy Hennig‘s recent interview. Hennig was one of the leads of the recently canceled Star Wars game. She offers some very interesting insights on the industry and aspects that gamers don’t get to hear but are important when trying to launch a title. We also recommend that you watch the video below that was posted originally by Battlefront Updates.
It’s easy to take sides without considering the whole picture as well as our actual (not perceived) behaviors as consumers. Publishers release games with microtransactions in an attempt to meet a demand and be profitable. If these were so horrible, loathed and criticized nobody would spend any money on them. Yet, that’s not the case as we saw in Fortune’s data above. The gaming community might have vocal opponents of the practice but also many silent supporters of it. Gamers also skip buying certain games because of whatever reason. In turn, poor sales might translate to studios shutting down.
Are publishers completely innocent? Not necessarily. In many ways, recent SWBF games suffered from quality. The practice of releasing games when they’re not completely done is a decision of prioritizing schedule over quality. These are not easy decisions that publishers make in a heartbeat. At the same time, however, it certainly doesn’t make a good case for investing in a game when right off the gate it faces so many problems. It also makes justifying microtransactions even more difficult and fuels the anti-microtransaction sentiment. It’s a tough balancing act.
Regardless of where you stand in the whole debate, it is important to research and understand all sides of the topic before forming your own opinion. Being dogmatic about this, and any topic takes away our ability to accept other perspectives. There are certainly numerous layers to this. Choosing to hear only what the loud and annoying voices say is easy. Understanding the whole spectrum, however, is difficult, requires more work but at the end of the day, leads to better decisions.
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