*The following is the sole opinion of the writer and not of KeenGamer as a whole
Recently, VP of EA Strategic Growth, Matt Bilbey, has made several statements in an interview regarding this nebulous new “moral compass,” going on to explain “We learned a lot from Star Wars: Battlefront,” leading him to work alongside Executive Vice President of Worldwide Studios, Patrick Söderlund to “redesign our game development framework and testing platforms.” It’s fairly typical of highly ranking games executives to fluff their language when handling damage control in the public eye. We’ve all seen the broadly stated non-answers time and time before. Although, what astonishes me about this one is just how inherently dumb it really it is. As such, allow yours truly to fill out the rest of this article with a good old fashioned rant, mostly centering on the connotations of using the phrase “moral compass.”
Firstly, let’s take a look at Battlefront II in its original form, pre-uproar. It was a fantastically designed game that handled wonderfully and, thanks to EA’s partnership with Disney to do Star Wars games – a fully authentic library of sound effects and music. Alongside the spectacularly hard work of Motive, DICE and Criterion, Battlefront II was shaping up to be the most authentic Star Wars shooter any fan could hope for. Then along came EA with its relentless money fuelled schemes to nickel and dime every player, leveraging the strength of the fandom to their own greedy ends. Only this step was a step too far. There’s no point going into detail any further on what was the biggest gaming controversy of last year. We all know why it was controversial.
The point here is to focus more on how Battlefront II was the tipping point after a long line up of decisions seeming quintessentially immoral to the gaming audience. Not only had EA been sneaking in greedier and greedier money-making plans markedly into the vehicular and sports titles, but they had also given another big middle finger to Star Wars fans. After a laundry list of devs that had worked under EA only to later be shut down for apparently not being greedy enough to truly join the club, beloved Dead Space team, Visceral became the latest victim of the trend. Not one middle finger from Battlefront II but now two. One from each hand, facing towards an audience expecting what should have been a slew of great Star Wars titles after EA’s deal with Disney. Instead, the roll out of Star Wars games was next to nowhere to be seen and the new hope that was Project Ragtag died with Visceral. Sure, EA execs can butter it up with all the business rationale they like. What matters here is how it made them look to everyone else.
If it wasn’t Battlefront II, it would have been some other game demanding uproar of the player base. Make no mistake, EA would push and push their monetisation schemes in the wake of ever taller bar graphs displayed at earnings meetings, dollars in their eyes, until someone finally said NO. And they did. Up until that point, having a moral compass wasn’t even a concept to EA top brass because it didn’t need to be. Does being moral towards the consumer make us more money? No? Then bugger morality. As I always like to quote Mark Hamill, I’ll do it again. The quote that will sadly ring true for a lot of the games industry’s practices now and into the future is “Careful kids, they don’t care about the story. All they care about is your money.” It wasn’t until the outrage caused by Battlefront II they began to pay attention to the story. The story of EA and how all of a sudden, everybody thought they could just sod off. Will people thinking we’re arseholes make us less money? Yes? Oh, well let’s pretend to be nice now.
EA wants your supposedly fickle love because they’re saying that they’re now employing a “moral compass” policy in their game design. No other gaming giant like Bethesda or Ubisoft has even come close to having to say this because it’s a fairly safe bet that the people within those companies are normal human beings with moral compasses of their own. They don’t need it written down somewhere in a folder of policies to remind them not to be so incredibly anti-consumer that they don’t create the gaming controversy of the year and potentially – the decade.
We don’t expect to see high end products like sports cars have their parent company attempt to display to the world “we’re building cars now with a moral compass because the last one that exploded and killed it’s passengers was the one millionth and we decided enough was enough,” and EA is basically saying the exact same thing but in defense of their recently questionable history.
What I mean here is that EA cannot possibly hope to garner good favour with the community by saying something like this. The only way they could ever regain good will among gamers is in their products. The proof is in the pudding and we consumers will judge the chef based on how damn good dessert is. Make good games that don't dangle us upside down for the pennies; do that consistently for a decade, then maybe some of us will back down. For a company so focused on user statistics and appealing to as broad an audience as possible, they could be doing a spectacular job with PR. Unfortunately, somewhere in the sea of statistics, pie charts and focus test groups, they lost their grip on what was most important – a happy customer.