Imagine the board of investors at EA, all sat around an obnoxiously long table. At the head, we have Andrew Wilson. Next to him, head of Respawn Studios, Vince Zampella in that cap he always likes to wear. One after the other, various men in suits, investors, step into the boardroom, taking their seats. The remote call screen is set up and yet more men in suits sit and wait expectantly on the other side. Everybody is here. Vince takes a deep breath, stands up and begins to speak. What follows, as he is no doubt aware, is one of the toughest sales pitches he will ever make.
These EA investor regulars will expect a certain kind of product pitch. However, after much heated debate with Wilson on the mindset of the gaming community, Vince will today pitch something the suits are wholly unaccustomed to. Jedi: Fallen Order – a single player game with no monetisation.
Initial Sales Make Jedi: Fallen Order An “Under-performer” But EA Boasts Anyway
I won’t pretend to understand the logistics of the billionaire’s investment game but the above scenario is a nicely fictionalised way to look at things. A kind of game that EA is certainly no stranger to. It’s the kind of game that has made EA simultaneously one of the most successful and the most hated of gaming companies in the world. The game would be literally virgin territory for Andrew Wilson. His entire career as CEO of Electronic Arts has been built on appeasing these investors with predatory monetisation and guaranteed returns. Yet, without those predatory machinations, Jedi: Fallen Order has been a critical success regardless. Just how does that success look in cold hard figures?
An EA rep recently made sure to waste no time letting us know. Jedi: Fallen Order would become EA’s fastest ever selling PC title. In its first two weeks on the shelves, 89,000 physical copies were sold. While we don’t have specific numbers for digital sales, EA has also told us that it enjoyed the fastest selling digital release ever for a Star Wars game. All very bold statements but let’s pull it back a bit and put things into perspective. Jedi: Fallen Order release window sales were actually 33% less than those of Battlefront II. Which is bonkers, given the global scandal that still permeates Battlefront II’s existence. The former would typically be referred to as an “under-performer” by EA.
In its first three months, Battlefront II shifted 7 million units and EA stated it was half of what they were expecting. This figure got the “under-performer” treatment. We haven’t yet reached three months into the life of the latest Jedi adventure but EA says its initial sales are at a third less than Battlefront II this far into release. As far as profits are concerned, EA would typically look on Battlefront II as the more successful product (stick with me here). After Battlefront II’s release, they announced its initial sales to be a disappointment. Fallen Order sells nowhere near as many copies and EA zones in on the positive, then makes that positivity public. This gives me hope and it should give you hope too.
How EA Typically Responds To Sales “Disappointment”
Typically, for EA, if a game “under-performs”, it gets swept under the rug. No more public announcements post-release, no boasting. It’s very unusual then that EA would choose to boast about Fallen Order, given its “low” release sales compared to Battlefront II. Star Wars is a massive franchise and any game within its universe is guaranteed a degree of success, regardless of its quality. In other words, any Star Wars game release would likely have record breaking sales metrics somewhere if you dug for them from the right angle. EA could have just as easily made a big announcement, stating what a failure Fallen Order sales figures have turned out to be.
Remember those investors earlier? It’s worth bearing in mind that such announcements are as much for them as they are for us, if not more so. In the world of video game investing, these public announcements all fall into the analytics game. Positive or negative, they feed into a giant game of prediction to figure out if “the next big thing” will be just that – worth investing in. In bigging up Fallen Order when it made comparatively less money, EA is effectively saying “This single player stuff is alright! Look, it’s successful. The next time we do one, it’ll be worth investing in”. That, ladies and gentlemen, is where my hope comes in.
Jedi: Fallen Order Has Steered Clear of EA Plotting
Given the complexity of all this theorising, let’s just make sure I’m not blowing a load of hot air. Let’s take a look at how EA used to treat ol’ Vince Zampella where microtransactions were nowhere to be seen…
Titanfall 2 was one of the most under-appreciated shooters this generation. With Vince Zampella at the helm, Respawn proved itself adept in many areas. The campaign was top of its class and exquisite movement mechanics played wonderfully into a multiplayer that offered a crazy high skill ceiling. The whole package added up to a product that would later prove Respawn worthy of being bought out by EA. Worrying as that may be, this remains to be seen as a good or bad thing.
What EA probably didn’t like was Titanfall 2’s lack of microtransactions. Sharing many similarities with Call of Duty (a franchise Zampella had previously worked on), both Zampella and EA knew how easily the game could have been monetised. Yet it wasn’t. In Respawn’s eyes, an honest “what you see is what you get” kind of product was enough. I may be reaching for the tin foil hat a little, but it may be the reason hardly anyone knew Titanfall 2 released when it did. EA being the game’s publisher of the time threw far more marketing chops behind their own in-house project – Battlefield 1.
When you dig into it enough, Titanfall 2 was dealt a really bad hand. It was up against another popular and long time franchise. It was also offering a similar multiplayer heavy experience. EA forced gamers on a budget to choose by releasing the two within a week of each other. Naturally the majority went for Battlefield 1 and EA’s in-house baby got the guaranteed success that was no doubt pitched to investors months earlier.
Jedi: Fallen Order Touted Sales Figures May Be A Sign of Things To Come
EA’s current behaviour surrounding their new Star Wars title has therefore been delightfully unpredictable. They have experience in making sure one product under their umbrella enjoys more success than the other. Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1 could have released one or two months apart, but as it was their release dates were clearly engineered. Now, we have a single player title that, by their typical standards, has “under-performed”. But that’s not how EA are framing it.
The main takeaway of all this is that EA could be taking the first step in a drastic policy shift. Many reading today will feel cynical and rightly so. After all, we’ve had around a decade of EA employing insulting monetisation plans against us. They’ve hedged around certain terminologies like loot boxes, preferring to instead call them “surprise mechanics”. In six years of having a Disney-given Star Wars licence, we’ve had four games, one of which was a mobile release. They’ve given us plenty of reasons to be sceptical.
But a small grain of hope can be found in Jedi: Fallen Order and how EA are approaching its sales figures. Everything discussed here has to be taken with a pinch of salt, though. After all, we have yet to see what EA does next. There is a slim chance that they have finally buckled under the weight of negative public opinion. A slim chance that, finally, things might just change.