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Entries in EA (4)


Console Innovation Is Past Due

The AP posted this story today outlining the state of the video game industry - and from looking at the list things aren't going so well. Company after company, from EA to Microsoft to Nintendo to Sony, are showing decreased revenues and/or losses from core video game products and services.

I'm far from a financial or industry expert, but it seems to me that the industry (particularly the console gaming industry) has been milking the cash cows of the current platforms for far too long and it's starting to catch up with them. The Wii, PS3 and XBOX 360 are very old by video game standards and the games themselves are starting be hamstrung by their aging technology. And most people who were ever going to buy one of these consoles has probably already done so - new products like the XBOX 360 Kinect notwithstanding.

But the software companies can't lay all the blame on the consoles either. I've gone on at length about my disappointments with EA, but they aren't the only company dropping the ball. Take-Two Interactive pushed back the release of BioShock Infinite from October 2012 to the end of February 2013 and took a 6% hit in stock price. And Activision Blizzard Inc. is showing lower revenue for their games as well - which isn't surprising considering their yearly Call of Duty releases are practically indistinguishable from each other.

Add all of this to the fact that games on platforms like the new iPad are increasingly more beautiful and engaging, and the console/traditional video game industry looks like it's in trouble. I understand why in a down-economy companies like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo decided to stick with the current consoles and only make iterative improvements. But if they want to succeed in the future, the time to come up with some real innovation is now.


What the F is Going On With EA?

As an avid Battlefield 3 player, I often blame a lot of that game's shortcomings on the game studio that made it, DICE. And while DICE is far from blameless, one gets the feeling after a while that EA is equally culpable. Especially when it comes to networked (multiplayer) gameplay.

After having many issues (especially connection issues) EA pulled it's iOS version of Battlefield, "Battlefield 3: Aftershock," from the iOS App Store and permanently suspended development on it. Then yesterday they announced that they pulled another game, "The Simpsons: Tapped Out," from the App Store so they could "limit the game's server capacity...and address connectivity and lag time issues."

In some respects, this is a good thing. They're addressing issues their customers are having and are working to fix things. In fact, I wish they were half so responsive to Battlefield 3 players as they seem to be with iOS gamers. But why on earth is this happening in the first place?

EA is the king-daddy of video game companies. They're the guys who do Madden. They're the guys who, when Steve Jobs wanted a game developer to show off his new iOS devices, stepped up and made the big splash. They're the video game company that every major brand - from the NFL to, well, The Simpsons - wants to work with. So why don't their technological capabilities back up the games they release?

I can't believe it's because they're incapable. While I freely acknowledge networking thousands upon thousands of iPad gamers together across the globe to play a game against each other via the Internet isn't an easy thing to do, they must know how to do it. In fact, they seem to be able to do it with smaller number of users. It's just that they can't keep up with demand.

Which means it comes down to biting off more than you can chew. They definitely couldn't meet demand with the launch of Battlefield 3 (on PC, XBOX 360 and PS3) and with this Simpsons iOS announcement, a pattern is developing. EA needs to learn that spending a bit more time and launching a game with a bullet proof user experience is more important than being first to market, or making a big splash with a big-name title that never works right.

While it sucks if you bought Battlefield 3: Aftershock thinking you were going to get a great iOS multiplayer experience, it's actually a positive thing that they scrapped it. Hopefully they focused those resources back on games that need the help. And I can only hope that in the future they invest in the infrastructure they need before they launch the great games that they make.


Battlefield 3 Is The Worst Best Game I've Ever Played

Seriously. Is there a reason why a console gamer should have to care about ANY of this?

Battlefield 3 multiplayer is awesome. It looks awesome, the gameplay is awesome and the maps are awesome. It is also the absolute worst multiplayer experience I've ever had in a video game. And for those of us who tried playing Gears of War 2 multiplayer, that's saying something.

For a great overview of how EA completely messed up the multiplayer launch of Battlefield 3 (as well as all of the other multiplayer Battlefield games in the franchise), definitely check out Ben Gilbert's great editorial in Joystiq last week. The back-end server stuff clearly has issues, and although EA rolled out a server "upgrade" a couple days ago, finding a game during peak times can still be very difficult, especially if you want to play with friends.

But even if the servers were working perfectly it would still be the worst multiplayer experience I've ever had. Why? Because of the utterly baffling front-end design that users are required to navigate in order to get into a game with their friends. Battlefield 3 is a game that is so beautifully designed and well thought out in so many respects and it's hard to fathom how the user experience of matchmaking could be so terrible.

Actually, it's not hard to fathom, because it seems like it was designed by engineers who are used to playing games on the PC. For the most part console gamers aren't used to having to "browse servers" or "bookmark servers" that they might enjoy playing on later. In my opinion this is how matchmaking works best on a console:

  1. You and your friends get into a party together and decide to play the same game.
  2. One person is the leader and they initiate matchmaking.
  3. Everyone in the party is put in the same game on the same team.
  4. That game is populated with players of a similar rank, so the gameplay isn't one-sided.

This is essentially the multiplayer matchmaking experience of Bungie's Halo franchise, and compared to Battlefield 3 it was flawless.

Currently in Battlefield 3, if you want to play a game with more than four people, one person has to go to the server list, wait to find a server with a game that has enough openings for your entire party, then jump into that server and invite his friends. Then the friends have to jump into that game as quickly as possible before other people join and fill up the game. If you've got more than 5 people, someone almost always gets left out, and it's profoundly frustrating.

Without outright acknowledging the bad design, EA seems to realize the matchmaking experience is frustrating their console gamers. Yesterday on the Battlefield Blog they posted a "Quick Guide to the Battlefield 3 Server Browser" which is basically a walk-through of the completely obtuse Server Browser screens. If you've got to publish directions on how to navigate the matchmaking process, you've failed.

There are other big failures too. If you accept a game invite from a friend who isn't currently in a game, it will place you in that person's squad, but it won't send you automatically to the squad screen (the pre-game lobby). Then, once in that squad, one person (the "squad leader") has control of the matchmaking, though there is no way to know looking at the list of names who exactly is the squad leader. And then, once that player uses "Quick Match" to start a game, the squad is, more often than not, broken up.

And the concept of playing in a game with players of similar skill level seems to have been completely thrown out the window. If you want to play in a game with more than four friends, you have to pick a server with openings. In my experience those servers are full of shut-ins who have been doing nothing but playing Battlefield 3 since it launched. Players shouldn't have to choose between playing together with their friends or playing in a game that is evenly matched. It all seemed so simple in the Halo days.

I know launching a multi-million dollar video game with millions of players all demanding perfection isn't an easy thing. I get that. But if EA had just spent a fraction of all the pre-order money on a couple of user experience designers and some independent user experience testing before launching the game, things could have been a lot different. Or better yet, maybe they just should have hired someone from Bungie to explain how to do it correctly on a console.


Stats Verse Feeds Your Battlefield Addiction

If you're playing (or have played) any of the Battlefield franchise games, you really need to check out Stats Verse. It's everything the official Battlefield website on EA should be - a simple interface that keeps track of your progress during the game. In a way it's too easy, because once you check your stats after playing for a while the chances of becoming obsessed with your progress in the game grows exponentially.

There's a "community" (read: forum) that's decent, but it's really about the stats. They track XBOX 360, Windows and Playstation 3 play for all the Battlefield games, and will presumably also cover Battlefield 3. I also found the ability to check what the top players of the game were using (favorite weapons, classes etc.) really helpful in trying to figure out my own gameplay.

It would be great if it worked with all shooters, but for now it only works with the Battlefield games and Medal of Honor. You can check out the list of all the games at or you can get obsessed yourself at the Battlefield Bad Company 2 version here.