Catching Up On the Backlog

Yeah, I know, I’ve been slacking. Between work and Champions of Norrath, I’ve been neglecting the site. But I’m here now, to catch up on the backlog of EA-related news.

I mentioned the layoffs and the increased profits in the last post, so that’s off my plate for now.

Empire at War

All you Westwood Studios fans (myself included) have reason to celebrate. No, I’m not talking about the announcement of Red Alert 3, I’m talking about the announcement of LucasArtsEmpire at War, developed by Petroglyph. It looks like by the fall, we should have two things we never thought we’d see: a new RTS game from Westwood Studios and a Star Wars game that doesn’t suck! (Okay, I take it back. KotOR didn’t suck.)

Funny how the announcement of Red Alert 3 came just before the announcement of Empire at War. It’s like someone at EA heard about it through the grapevine and said, “Oh, shit! This is going to pull all the C&C fans away from us! Quick, we need something to focus their attention on us! I know, we’ll announce Red Alert 3! I know we’re not working on it, but we can just throw a new skin on Generals and bang something out in a few months! Hey, it works for Madden! Look guys, shiny! Pay no attention to the game company made up of former Westwood staffers!”

Now I’ll be the first one to admit, I can be pretty easily hooked by slapping a “Command & Conquer” logo on something (although I did manage to avoid the Sole Survivor disaster), so I’m going to be hard pressed to give this one up. Especially if the reviews come back positive. But I’m going to do my damndest. I’m also going to pick up Empire at War, no matter what the reviews say, and do my best to support Petroglyph. I hope everyone who’s pissed off at EA will do the same.

NFL

EA announced last month that they had signed a five-year exclusive agreement with the NFL and NFLPA making them the sole producer of NFL-branded games. Looks like they couldn’t stand the competition so they threw money at the problem until it went away.

Then they followed it up with an exclusive deal with the Arena Football League. Does anybody really believe that they think an AFL game is going to sell worth a damn? No way, they just want to make sure nobody else can make a video game featuring a professional football league. (Except the CFL, and nobody in the States would buy that!)

And to top it off they signed a 15-year exclusive deal with ESPN, to make sure that any competitors can’t gain credibility through the ESPN brand, for any sports game.

Nothing illegal about what they did, of course. Hey, it’s a great corporate strategy, to force out the competition. But given EA’s recent history, I think we all know that this means that Maddens 2006 through 2011 are all going to be the same game with a few tweaks, an updated roster, and now an ESPN logo.

Ubisoft

Also at the end of December, EA announced that they were buying a minority stake in France’s Ubisoft Entertainment, developers of such games as Ghost Recon, Prince of Persia, and the Tom Clancy series (Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, etc.). If the deal is approved by the good folks over at the DoJ, they’ll have about a 20% stake in the company, ahead of even the founders of the company, the Guillemot brothers. Ubisoft is treating this as a hostile action. Based on EA’s history of taking over small companies with popular intellectual property then using that popularity to fire off sub-par games that are guaranteed best sellers just because of the name, I don’t blame them one bit. Infogrames Entertainment S.A. (a.k.a. Atari, Inc.), another French company, has pledged to keep Ubisoft out of EA’s gaping maw, up to and including a merger, and apparently has the backing of the French government to do it. Here’s hoping they”re successful; it would be a shame to see another promising development house go the way of Bullfrog, Origin, or Westwood. Meanwhile, Ubisoft has to work with a virtual Sword of Damocles over their heads. One wrong move and EA might finish them off.

The Strangulation of the Sports Game Continues

Take 2 Interactive (publishers of, among other things, ESPN NFL 2K5) announced they had signed an exclusive deal with the MLBPA for baseball games on the next-generation Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft game consoles. So no, this isn’t directly related to EA, but would they have felt the need to make such a deal if EA hadn’t just screwed them out of both the NFL and ESPN games? With all these exclusive deals flying about (EA already has NASCAR, the AFL, and others, and rest assured, there will be more) there is quickly becoming less and less competition in the sports game world. With less competition, the games will stagnate and that means that the only people who lose out on these deals will be the fans.

EA’s current corporate climate can be best summed up by an omission from “Rusty” Reuff’s memo: He said that EA’s goal was to become the biggest entertainment software company in the world. He didn’t mention anything about them being the best entertainment software company in the world.

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