It is safe to say that 2013 was a year to forget for Electronic Arts. Despite small victories here and there, the year was largely abysmal for one of the largest publishers in games. In one year the company dealt with the departure of its CEO, being unofficially voted the worst company in America, and dealt with two massive server issues effecting two of its highest profile games. Yes, it is safe to say that Electronic Arts’ New Years Eve party was a welcomed sight for the company, a chance to start fresh. And start fresh they have, while Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was a fine release for the company early in the year, the crown-jewel, Titanfall, has been a huge win for the studio, as they hoped it would be.
EA did not need Titanfall to be a success, it’s failure would have been a significant blow to the company, but they have not been balancing on the brink of bankruptcy. While the company may have made some missteps, some recently, some a while ago- *cough* The Old Republic *cough*- EA has plenty of sure-fire revenue streams, including FIFA and Madden, their big sports franchises. All the same, after a year to forget, EA really needed a win, not monetarily, but a win in the hearts and minds of players everywhere. Luckily, Titanfall has delivered.
While there are plenty of massive publishers, EA and Ubisoft are probably the two most-alike. Both hold high-profile E3 Press Conferences, both have annualized popular franchises to increase visibility and finance, while still trying to appeal to “core” players. EA is probably a little more heavy handed than Ubisoft, and could use more of the tact its counterpart exudes, but there is little difference to their mission statement in the end.
The larger difference has been the reception of the two companies’ titles over the last year. Both have their free-to-play games in Plants vs Zombies 2: It’s About Time and The Mighty Quest for Epic loot, but while The Might Quest for Epic Loot has been largely ignored, Plants vs. Zombies 2 has been scorned for turning a beloved mobile game into a greed-machine. Crysis 3 and Dead Space 3 started the year for EA, being dismissed and criticized for milking a good thing, while Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and Call of Juarez: Gunslinger were praised for reinventing their respective series. In the summer, Fuse proved to be rough around the edges, while Rayman Legends delighted critics. While there are similarities, it is hard to find an Ubisoft game to match the horrible NBA Live, EA release to end the year. The game was so bad it seemed to be an exclamation point to EA’s rough patch.
The gap between the two publishers is most evident in the biggest titles. While Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag to a strong reception and delayed Watch Dogs to 2014 for improvement, EA release Battlefield 4 and Sim City in two of the most disastrous launches for online communities. The message, whether true or not, comes across as Ubisoft trying to create quality products while EA simply gets them out and prays for the best.
The issues stretch back to the year before last if you want to dig that far. Star Wars: The Old Republic went free-to-play after subscriptions dropped dangerously low and Medal of Honor, which was supposed to compete with Call of Duty: Black Ops II, was a trainwreck. It had been a long time since EA had a title they could be proud to see their name on.
It is hard to tell if it was due to these issues or not, but early in 2013, John Riccitiello stepped down from his post as CEO. Maybe it was due to previous falters, maybe EA knew nothing good was in the pipeline, either way his departure is icing on the cake of a terrible year.
There were bright spots to 2013, proof the company was riding out a wave of trouble. EA was able to ink a contract with Disney to the Star Wars video game license, a major win for the publisher. The company wasted no time in green-lighting a new Star Wars: Battlefront game to the approval of many Star Wars fans. EA also announced a sequel to the beloved Mirror’s Edge, which also pleased fans. The announcement that really set EA on the right track was the rights to publish the anticipated title from Respawn, Titanfall.
The cloud over EA could have followed them into the Titanfall launch. Many nervously fretted over server issues, nervous that Titanfall would have the same issues Battlefield 4 had so recently experienced. Respawn and EA numerous times had to field questions of this nature, assuring fans there would be no issues. In many ways, it felt like EA was playing second fiddle to Respawn, who seemed to use EA’s history as a reason to make themselves the focal point of Titanfall’s release. At times EA even seemed less obviously involved than Microsoft, who acted like they had published the game when all they had done was secure it as a console exclusive. Regardless, no matter what you see when you boot up the console, EA’s name is proudly displayed prior to the game’s beginning.
Titanfall has lifted the cloud over EA’s head. The strong critical praise, the word of mouth has helped EA climb out of the dark hole it inhabited in 2013. With only small server issues, the launch managed to avoid another putting EA in the center of another online debacle and instead has earned the publisher a strong addition to its catalogue.
Goodwill and mindshare are hard to evaluate. It is as likely that EA could incite the fury of the internet and win the Consumerist’s award for Worst Company of the Year again, despite its victory with TItanfall – the internet is a fickle lover. Did EA actually lose any Dead Space, Plants vs Zombie, or Battlefield fans last year? Who knows. It just feels good to be writing about EA and not be lamenting another rushed effort or botched release. Titanfall is a great game, it runs well online, and begs to be an established franchise for a new generation. 2013 is over, and 2014 is looking much better for Electronic Arts.