Electronic Arts: It's Just Business
For almost as long as there have been videogames, debate has raged over their worth as art. Be it early text adventures or the latest high-tech simulations, long-winded discussions about the artistic merit of interactive electronic entertainment have been as close as the nearest message forum. But there's a more fundamental aspect of our hobby that's undeniably true and yet often overlooked: Art or not, it's all business.
This is a pretty good piece, but I do feel it overlooks one major factor driving the "it's just business" philosophy - development costs.
A game costs so much to develop now that companies cannot afford to take risks. This is the same thing that happened in Hollywood. Despite the restrictive nature of both the big studio system and codes, Big Studio Hollywood was able to cultivate talent like Hitchcock, Welles, and Hawkes. This is because even examined from a relative perspective, the money invested in a Hollywood film in the 30's and 40's can't hold a candle to the investment in a blockbuster today, and risks on a film like Citizen Kane could be taken by a major studio without ever nearing the financial risks films take today.
Like Hollywood which responded to its greater financial pressures through creative conservatism, the games industry now has to turn to indie developers to find new talent who might bring something interesting to a blockbuster title, like the talent Soderberg brought to Ocean's 11. Ultimately as development costs rise the videogame creation endeavor will have to become more synergistic, meaning that not only will EA rely on a videogame's success but so too will McDonald's, Toyota, and any other company betting a financial stake in a game.
So I suppose in this sense, the videogame industry really is posed to overtake the film industry.
I think that EA is definitely showing signs of change, all though the recent Battlefield Bad Company downloadable weapons was a step back. But being such a big company means it takes a long time to change things around, but publishing games like Skate, Rock Band, Crysis and the Orange Box is definitely a good way to start.
If they wanted to change the way they do things for the good, isn't that an overnight sort of change? Or does certain contractual stipulations delay that change? There have been small showings of that will to change, even with something so set in it's ways as the FIFA series, the past few years the series has developed and improved drastically, even though it now shows a mixture of corporate bludgeoning and true developer determination.
I'd love EA to start caring more about the quality of it's games rather than how much it would make, if only this had come a few years ago, then games like Army of Two and Need for Speed/Burnout would not be horribly made cash-ins.
I do have some respect for their decision to go to the plate against FOX and to delay Ao2 in order to make improvements (rather than just shovel it out the door). That's not my problem with EA, though. This article ignores the stories I've heard of EA being a coding sweatshop. No mention that EA has a reputation for hiring programmers, working them until they snap, then letting them go for a new batch.
The suggestion that EA ever had an interest in cultivating talent for the sake of supporting quality gaming culture is counter to just about everything i have ever heard and read. The scenario most often described is one of a greedy publisher leveraging highly restrictive developer contracts for it's own business goals.
EA has never been interested in games as artistic expression or compelling experience - since the beginning they viewed gaming as a consumer market. "It's Just Business" quite correctly identifies the situation and to suggest that EA's recent quarterly results comments are anything but financially motivated is absurd.
I would say that EA did not create the mainstream gaming market, but rather that they were positioned to fill the expanding market with mediocre products aimed at the lowest common denominator - this is the definition of mass market economics. The claim that EA brought legitimacy to the industry is apt, just as McDonalds brought legitimacy to the fast food industry.
Games have existed for millennia. People will always seek out games. Sounds like a business strategy.
I dunno man. EA may have been pioneers back in the day, but today they're the very definition of Corporate. You can argue that movie tie-ins like Harry Potter have helped bring attention to games as a whole. I'd say the time spent developing those games could have been used to make games with much more artistic integrity. But I'm a liberal, lefty, wishy-washy commie bastard, so I would think that.
Meh, EA's a business. And businesses, regardless of product/service they provide, will be a business. If they are willing to start helping the devs again, then fine, that's great. But, the fact will remain, that EA has to support its shareholders, so I won't hold my breath on anything concerning this issue.
- A procrastinator
Saw this on Bloomberg this morning, made me laugh:
"Art is making something out of nothing and selling it." -Frank Zappa
It's just business rings less as an explanation than as a bad excuse for selfish behaviour. The modern attitude toward profit dictates money is a good enough excuse for anything, but the major gripe that remains untouched by this article is that not everyone considers obscene profits a decent excuse for monopolosing a budding creative medium, crushing the life out of it and treating it's customers like an inconvenience as soon as the money is in the game store cash register.
"It may be dispassionate, brutal, occasionally even nasty, but in that regard it's really just another major corporation attempting to stay atop an increasingly competitive dog pile. EA's relevance to core gamers may be at a low ebb, but its shareholders continue to smile. "
If EA shareholders are smiling about five years of stagnant growth, they must be incredibly gullible or naive. With inflation, they will have lost 10%+ on their investment. NICE!