EA Finished with Single-Player/Offline Games [Update]

Update: September 10, 2012: In response to comments Frank Gibeau made, “I have not green lit one game to be developed as a single-player experience. Today, all of our games include online applications and digital services that make them live 24/7/365.”, he has offered a clarification to Kotaku stating that he meant EA is done with offline games:

“Let me clarify,” Gibeau began. “What I said was [about not greenlighting] anything that [doesn’t have] an online service. You can have a very deep single-player game but it has to have an ongoing content plan for keeping customers engaged beyond what’s on the initial disc. I’m not saying deathmatch must come to Mirror’s Edge.”….

“That was more where I was coming from,” Gibeau explained. “That should not be misunderstood as the death of single-player games, or single-player experiences or telling stories. Narrative is what separates good games from bad games. Or great from good, even.”

I guess it really should not be all that surprising. EA is moving away from single-player/offline games. Electronic Arts has been moving this direction for a few years, with their Origin.com launch, their move to take control of the digital distribution of their games (Such as Star Wars: the Old Republic) and in general driving everything through the EA social networking sites.

Forbes is running an article, EA Turns Its Back On Single-Player Games, Embraces The Cloud, which focuses on comments made by EA Labels President Frank Gibeau in the presentation Cloud Gaming Prospects for 2012.

The presentation is being made next week at the Cloud Gaming USA conference, and while Gibeau’s target audience were the participants in this conference, what he says applies across all of his labels, including BioWare, parent of BioWare Mythic:

Origin had a very successful first year with nearly 13 million downloads, over 50 publishing partners and over $150 million in revenue. Being able to store game data in the cloud gives Origin the flexibility to reach all platforms and create a positive experience for our users.

We are very proud of the way EA evolved with consumers. I have not green lit one game to be developed as a single player experience. Today, all of our games include online applications and digital services that make them live 24/7/365.

One of our biggest growth opportunities is Play4Free titles that allow customers to play at no cost and make purchases via microtransactions. We see this as a huge opportunity, and one that’s powered by our hybrid cloud model.

If you had dreams of a single-player Ultima in the future, then you are going to have to be happy with the GOG.com releases or attach yourself to one of the Ultima fan projects/re-makes.

I’m not surprised. EA has been moving this way. As much as they neglect the Mythic MMORPGs, Dark Age of Camelot, Warhammer Online, and Ultima Online, they put the resources into converting them to the Origin.com accounting system last year, even if they aren’t making us use the Origin.com client (yet). Ultima Forever fits into this scheme perfectly – cross-platform online play.

It’s bad news if you were an Ultima fan holding out a little bit of hope for a single-player Ultima RPG, but it opens the door for a lot of small and medium-sized studios who are more than happy to fill that void.

Game tools these days, including tools with cross-platform capabilities, are cheaper/easier/better than in past years. Thanks to digital distribution platforms like Steam, Apple’s App Store, Amazon’s download services, and yes, even Origin.com, it’s much easier for a smaller or medium-sized studio to get their product out there in front of people. For all of the Gamelofts, EAs, Zyngas, etc. the top-20 and top-50 charts of many of those distribution platforms still have a large number of independent developers. Distribution systems like the App Store, Steam, even Amazon.com’s online store, make for a much more level playing field in some ways.

Finally, thanks to the very same social networking platforms and the other technologies that are behind EA’s decisions to move everything online, indie developers can make themselves more easily heard and known, as well as keeping their distribution costs down.

22 Responses

  1. Sslaxx says:

    Shrug of indifference here. I was not very likely to be buying any of EA’s games in the near future anyway. Now I’m even less likely.

  2. Micro Magic says:

    Well, they could still make mainly single player RPGs with tacked on online combat… like The Last Story, which is the best JRPG I’ve ever played, hands down.

    I’m not very interested in new videogames either, but it’s still kinda sad news that I’ll be less interested in the future.

    • Deckard says:

      >>”Well, they could still make mainly single player RPGs with tacked on online combat”

      They could, but they make very few RPGs to begin with, and given their stance on moving everything to online distribution and that they want to drive everything through the Origin.com client, I think they will slap a lot more DLC, social networking, and online play onto future games. The day is coming where every major game they make will make it easy for you to purchase DLC in-game without a second thought, and it will encourage you to spam family and friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

      It wouldn’t surprise me if they embrace the Play4Free stuff completely as well. Imagine playing a game, we’ll call it Mass Effect 4, where you find yourself completing certain tasks, and running into a paywall where you have to pay $5 or $10 to move on. You tell yourself that it’s a free game, and that $5 or $10 is nothing, but the next thing you know, you’ve spent $80 or more. It’s the next best thing to a subscription, only you can apply it to everything.

      What really concerns me, is that even as they fight it out with Zynga in the courts, they will become more like Zynga. Zynga didn’t get to where it was at because they made good games. They got to where they were at because they understood how to use Facebook to get friends and family into the games. Taking the Mass Effect 4 example, imagine that every time you kill X amount of things, it spams your friends Facebook with your “accomplishments” and oh, by the way, Mass Effect 4 is free, why don’t you try it out and join your friends. The Origin client allows that kind of stuff to easily happen.

      These companies are embracing these payment models and the social networking because they know it can generate a lot more money. The old way of getting $50 or $60 up front, with the possibility of an expansion at some point bringing in another $10 or $20, or the new way of getting $80 or $90 or $100 spread out over a year and half a dozen transactions, along with big chunks of content that are $10 or $20 here and there. They don’t want you to play a game and then just stop after you finish, they want you to come back and plop down another $20 here, $10 there.

      Like I said though, things are ripe for a lot of small studios to do well in the void that is left.

      • Kilthan says:

        My fear as well. Free to play doesn’t have to be bad, but if they go the Zynga route… Free to play is the new Shareware. But its more like, rather than paying once for the rest of Doom, you’re paying for each level, or paying to get the BFG early. That’s fine, if the game is FUN i don’t mind paying. And I don’t mind messages saying ‘Hey, BUY ME!’ before I buy it. What I mind is having to spam family and friends to do anything, “Kilthan sent you a piece of moonstone! Click here to send him one back!”

        The U4E people have stated that the micro-transactions they’re planning are game-play shorteners (buy a boat rather than questing for it) and appearance things (buy this fancy cloak, in the eight different styles!). Those are fine. And the statement saying you can’t buy virtue, also reassuring. If they stick to those principles, then they’ll make a free to play game that is going to be worth playing

        And you’re right, Deckard, this gives small studios a chance to fill the gap and give us the type of games we want to play. Games with epic stories that don’t require us to do daily grinds, group with random people, or pay/wait for energy every ten minutes. Games that are immersive and don’t break the immersion every every ten minutes asking you to buy the latest cheese hat.

      • Micro Magic says:

        Deckard – I know… I’m just trying to be hopeful.

        Kilthan – I hope you’re right about how microtransations will work in U4E.

        My soul was just crushed when I saw CnC Generals 2 is free to play. I guess no one at EA could figure out why CnC 4 sold so crappy in comparison to SC2. I only presume this since they haven’t released official sales counts to vgchartz, which sounds like a dismal sales count.

        Guess what, it wasn’t the earning of customizing your army through play time rather than through micro-transactions. It was the fact of customizing your army and no base building. It becomes less of a game of strategy, quick reflexes, and thinking. It becomes more of… a rigged game.

        Imagine this, a grand master at chess playing someone brand new to the game. He can easily beat him without breaking a sweat, and each player technically had an equal chance. Now imagine a grand master who bought an upgrade to his pawns where they can attack moving forward. Doesn’t that ring somewhat of a hallow victory?

        Isn’t Zynga, ya know, kinda not making any money right now?

  3. Deckard says:

    I was looking up something that was unrelated, and noticed that as of last December, Bethesda had shipped over 10 million copies of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and expected sales of $620 million from Skyrim (it might include DLC). BioShock has put in really large numbers as well. Assassin’s Creed had something like 8 million copies sold. Assassin’s Creed II sold 9 million. Assassin’s Creed III is expected to exceed those numbers by a large margin based on pre-orders.

    Those are the kinds of numbers EA really likes. They made it clear last year that they would rather focus on a smaller number of games that generated a lot more revenue, which made me wonder about the future of the Mythic MMOs. This was around the time that EA announced they wanted to bring back some of their older franchises, which they were/are doing with things like SimCity.

    You’d think that with all of EA’s work on their internal software tools, their deep back catalog, their love of games that have blockbuster sales, and with the other things, EA would be pushing BioWare for something on that scale. Mass Effect and Dragon Age never came close to the kinds of numbers that Bethesda, Take-Two, and Ubisoft were putting up with their RPGs.

    And speaking of The Elder Scrolls, the last couple of Elder Scrolls have felt pretty Ultima-like with so much of their worlds being an open world. They plan the same open world feeling with The Elder Scrolls Online, which, coincidentally, has as its Creative Director, a former Lead Designer for UO.

    I understand why they are moving to online/social gaming, but at the same time, in thinking about those games I just mentioned, I’m really surprised EA hasn’t pushed BioWare to do something bigger.

    • Infinitron says:

      Coincidentally, we happen to have been chatting about that here just recently: https://www.facebook.com/groups/4823328796/permalink/10151943556788797/

      • Sanctimonia says:

        Interesting discussion. Something that always bugged me was why there wasn’t this growing repository of high quality assets which had been freely-licensed over time, allowing studios on a budget to focus on gameplay and story and not piss millions away on asset creation. AAA studios keep reinventing the wheel, and to whose benefit? Fuck AAA games. Why should a studio need millions of dollars? I’m probably just naive, being a basement-coder and all.

        On the flip side I see a possible market crash approaching, as the “indie” game scene is becoming a zombie army. Tons of shitty games, flooding the market like in the early 80’s. The difference is it’s all digital distribution, so filtering mechanisms and gateways like Steam and user ratings will -hopefully- push the crap games to page 100 and the good games to the front. Strange times we’re in for sure.

  4. Sanctimonia says:

    @Deckard and Kilthan: Well spoken. I agree completely.

    This speaks to something I’ve been feeling for a while now, and ever more increasingly: the death rattle of ageing men’s (and women’s, of course) dearly beloved memories and ideals about what is good. I know that sounds cheesy as hell, but I’m serious. I think the feeling of nostalgia we get is the measure of the difference between what was good and what exists now, for better or worse.

    As an example, what do you think about software as a service or online purchases hitting your credit card? Smooth and easy, right? Now how do you feel about a golden cartridge being pushed into your system or the rattle of 3.5″ floppies and thick manuals inside a sturdy cardboard box? How about browsing the isles of colorful boxes at Babbages or Software Etc., looking for the one with great screenshots or mesmerizing cover artwork and taking it home with a parting comment or two from the clerk?

    Times, they are a changing. We’re getting older, and the newer generations don’t know any better (not their fault). Every time I hear a story like this, I feel a part of myself dying, and even worse I feel a part of history escaping the memories of those who knew it. Where have all the flower gone, etc. Sad, but this is the way of things.

    • Micro Magic says:

      Hey! I’m only 25! Why do I feel that way too! I’m far too young to be a conservative! I’ve never even been to a Babbages or Software etc. Although, I’ll never forget how cool Funco Land was. And Electronics Boutique… was basically just Gamestop under a different banner.

      If you have a Wii, pick up that game I mentioned. I’m sure you’ll be impressed with the packaging.

      • Sanctimonia says:

        That’s a good question. Apparently the industry is moving too fast for everyone’s taste and relying to heavily on a market which hasn’t been tested over the long term (random Facebook assholes). You’re right though… At work I can carry on conversations with early 20-somethings about Doom II, Duke Nuk’em and all sorts of games I didn’t think they’d even heard of. And they played the crap out of them, not just “heard” of them.

        The Last Story is what you are talking about? Funny, the Wii is the only “modern” system I own other than my PC (as in personal computer…not running Windows), and it’s jailbroken. I haven’t played a JRPG since FFVI, so I’ll have to check it out.

      • Micro Magic says:

        That’s the one! It’s a part of the whole Project Rainfall thing, where we almost didn’t see an NA release, even though it was fully translated to English.

        Same here, Wii’s the only one I’ve gotten thus far. Well I was given a broken ps3 a few years back. Let’s just say, it’s lost to the ethereal void now.

        The most recent JRPG I actually finished was Grandia 2. But the one I liked the most previous to TLS was FF6. I went into detail on why I liked it so much on one of the Random Wednesdays.

        There’s basically no level grinding in the game. The only time I needed to grind was at the climactic boss fight, and it only took 5-10 minutes of grinding. Probably the best selling point besides the amazingly well done storyline. But, ya know, I can’t say how much you’ll like the story.

        I’m thinking about actually buying it again for a sealed copy since it’s just that good.

        Good to hear there are more 20 somethings out there that play good games. Oddly enough, most of my RL friends don’t even play games. The ones that do, just play things like MW3 or Madden. Which I finally got a taste of MW a few months ago. I told my friend it was a good game. The part I didn’t say was, I liked it more when it was called counter-strike and I could play it with a mouse.

        “Hey man, I’m play NBA something or other. You should totally get a ps3 so we can play online!”

        “Oh, OK, yeah, I’ll think about it.”

      • Sanctimonia says:

        Awesome. Always looking for good stuff to download.

        You inadvertently reinforced my feelings of being out of touch, as when I saw “MW3″ I thought you were talking about MechWarrior. I remember playing the first one and being like, “Holy shit, you can shoot their legs off.” Not too shabby for 1989.

  5. Sergorn says:

    I don’t want ot be an ass, but the headline feels a bit “sensationnalist” especially since that news came after Gibeau had already clarified his comments :

    http://kotaku.com/5940782/ea-says-theyre-not-killing-single+player-games

    Basically: no way they’re stopping to do big single player games, they just want all their games to have multiplayer components as well… which to be fair seems to be the policy of most AAA studios/games for the last few years and does not necesarilly imped upon the single player experience.

    Just sayin’ you know.

    • Deckard says:

      Thanks, I’ll update the article.

      In all fairness though, it wasn’t an off-the-cuff interview where he said “I have not green lit one game to be developed as a single-player experience” it was prepared materials for a talk he was giving, where he said “I have not green lit one game to be developed as a single-player experience”.

      If he hadn’t caught so much flak for it, I wonder if he would have said that he actually meant he hasn’t green lit anything that doesn’t have an online service?

    • Deckard says:

      You may find this interesting/relevant – after EA had announced there were no single-player plans for the next Command & Conquer, and the internet collectively defecated themselves, they have backtracked.

      http://www.joystiq.com/2012/09/10/command-and-conquer-generals-2-gets-single-player-after-ea-backtra/

      “Does that mean it’s not going to have single-player? No, that’s something we’ve obviously heard loud and clear that is important to people.”

      It seems that EA has a habit of floating something out there, getting a response, and then backtracking and saying “we hear you loud and clear.” We hear you loud and clear” should join the other popular EA marketing phrases like “Passionate team” and “Exciting plans”.

      • Micro Magic says:

        Well, that’s cool I guess. It’s funny though, for the first… 800 hours or so I went so far as to vow never to play single player or co-op. Then, I needed someone’s help testing some build orders and made a deal to help him in co-op. The single player isn’t so bad. The cut scenes are pretty funny.

        It’s really the nature of the f2p beast that I see fans on FB have a problem with. I’m much happier with the idea of Ultima, an RPG, being f2p with ostensibly unnecessary upgrades.

        An RTS on the other hand… well… I hope by f2p they mean watch some commercials to play rather than pay for upgrades. I’ve never seen a perfectly balanced RTS. SC is the closest one can come to perfect balance. Even that has problems. Add to it the fact you have upgrades… well then… what is balance? Why even try? Unbalance is kinda the name of the game.

      • Sergorn says:

        Actually no in both cases, it feels more to me that as always the Internet gets into a uproar over very little and tend to just read too much beyond a few select excerpt without actually bothering to reading the actual facts.

        As far as C&C Generals goes… well yeah they announced it turned into come F2P Command&Conquer platform. At no point did they say the game wouldn’t have single player. As a matter of facts the initial annoucements clearly that the game wouldn’t have a single player campain “at launch”… which is a pretty much a way of saying, it WOULD have a campain… just later.

        But heh it’s easier to join on the bandwagon and goes “OMG IT IZ F2P IT IZ GONNA BE A CRAPPY MULTIPLAYER GAME WHA WHA”

        So there was no backtracking here – but leave it to the “press” to pretend that they reported things correctly instead of admitting they did a crap job at it.

        God I hate the net sometimes.

      • Sanctimonia says:

        Substitute “the Internet”, “the press” and “the net” with “homo sapien”. Also “the goverment” (my addition) embraces gross incompetence and mischaracterization routinely.

        The article was a victim of first hand misrepresentation (EA) and subsequent clarification (EA again), though. The idea went from “no more single player games” to “all games will have the potential for DLC”, basically. Maybe the dude from EA did that on purpose to juice the PR distribution a bit. Free PR by deliberately making ambiguous statements which could be interpreted as (a) obvious or (b) inflammatory. If so, WHAT AN ASSHOLE. If not, he should learn how to effectively communicate ideas without going off the rails of his team’s vision and causing a near PR disaster.

      • Micro Magic says:

        Again, single player isn’t my concern. Never has been. But judging solely by the article’s headline and the Gibeau quote, “we can adjust and adapt to what we’re hearing.” Maybe it was just deceptive, oh well.

        This whole single player thing reminds me of Mike Krahulik saying, “At least tell me you love me after you slap me.”

        Insofar, you’re right. I shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that this game will suck based on f2p.

        It’s just much more likely to suck due to f2p. I’m really not sure why they would go this route since other RTS F2Ps have gotten terrible reviews, had terrible balance, microtransactions for unit upgrades, and hasn’t made much money.

        Who was it that said, gamers don’t want innovation, we want games with less suck? It’s true, I’m on that bandwagon for sure.

        I -really- want to play a new CnC, I do! I want to spend my money on it up front! I promise! I actually do! I just want -less- suck, rather than more chance of suck.

        It would be more reassuring if Gibeau or Bioware Victory games would came out and say, “We’re not going to milk you for unit upgrades, that would destroy the game balance. We get it. This is what we plan for microtransactions.”

  6. Deckard says:

    There is the Blizzard aspect. Blizzard didn’t originate it, but they polished it With Diablo 3, it requires an always-on Internet connection to play. Blizzard has said it was for copy protections and social reasons, that players wanted it.

    I don’t buy the copy protection reason one bit. Not because I’m a cynic, although I am. It’s because Diablo 3 comes with something else. A real-money auction house. I can spend real life money on things other players are selling or I can sell my virtual loot for real life cash.

    With the always on Internet connection I am always a few clicks away from the real money auction house. Oh, and by the way, Blizzard gets a part of all real money transactions.

    Here is where the social networking comes in. If I am playing Diablo 3 or World of Warcraft and a friend logs into D3, I get a notification on my screen that they are playing D3 and Blizzard makes it easy to meet up with them if I am in D3. Guess what happens when you meet up with friends in online games? You spend a lot more time playing. What happens the longer I play D3? I will have more loot to dispose of or I will want to buy some items to save time so i can play with friends, rather than farm them.

    I ultimately spend a little more time in the auction house and the chances of me either selling or buying something on the real money side of the auction house goes way up, which means Blizzard’s chances of making a little more money off of me increases. I am not complaining, I’ve actually made enough money to have nearly paid for my game twice.

    Anyways , sorry for the derail, I just see this stuff (like adding multiplayer/online to every game they can) as a way to keep you within a few clicks of making more purchases, or micro-transactions if you prefer.

    • Micro Magic says:

      I read at penny-arcade some guy made about 10k since D3’s launch. That’s not too shabby if you ask me. He claims he isn’t gold farming or anything, which is encouraging.

      The whole, online auction house, really caters to both types of players. Players who like to save, earn, and make vs players who like to overindulge. Personally, I don’t see why it makes a difference whether you’re always online or not. Very, very few people have computers with no internet.

      Although, SC2 isn’t perfect by a long shot. It was still a good game, I got my 60 bucks or more out of it… I just wish EA looked at Blizzard for their RTS inspiration rather than Zynga. Again, Zynga ain’t doin’ so hot.

      It’s funny though, I talked so much about RA3 I got a couple of friends to buy it. My hyper gamer buddy bought it and wanted me to teach him everything from the ground up. Which isn’t really possible.

      My exgirlfriend refused to figure it out, to which I said, “Ya know, it’s ok if you don’t like Sonic the Hedgehog, it’s ok if you like Kingdom Hearts, it’s even ok if you don’t like Ultima 7; I get it, most people play games for the graphics. But if you can’t even beat easy Oleg as Japan, well then, I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

      Ok, there was more behind that story, but RA3 really helped me to get out of that destructive relationship. It’s true, videogames can break up relationships. But I think it’s usually for the better anyway. At least, it was for me.

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