For a while now, I’ve had a feeling that Electronic Arts was pure evil. I first became suspicious with their willingness to send free video games to the Daily. Their liberal spending in the PR department seemed odd when compared to other companies, but I brushed it off as a good marketing tactic because no publicity is bad publicity. Then I noticed a blurb on Slashdot.org, reporting that EA had placed a “now hiring” billboard nearly 100 meters from a rival company in Vancouver. Again, I figured it was no big deal. The scheme seemed sinister, but could easily be ignored by those employees loyal enough to the other company.
Then, memos from EA’s management started leaking. Tales of 90-hour work weeks and sweatshop-like environments abound, and angry programmers everywhere weighing in on the ethical treatment of their kind. Yet, the employees know going in that they have one year to complete each iteration of “Madden” or “NBA Live” — deadlines can’t be pushed back.
But then, Gamespot.com reported an exclusive licensing agreement between Electronic Arts and the NFL. For the next five years, EA has the sole rights to the players, teams and stadiums of the NFL in video games. With this deal, EA pretty much wipes out its competitors. Let’s face it — sports games that use fake team and player names do have old-school charm (remember “RBI Baseball?”), but they can’t sell in today’s market. So say goodbye to the “ESPN NFL” series, its budget price of $20 and any sort of market competition. EA reigns as the Demon Lord of the video game domain and all they have to do to sell next year’s “Madden” title is update the rosters and get a few more quotes from dear old John Madden himself. “Biff, Whap, Doink” indeed, Johnny.
As upset as I am about this deal, I’m a little more shaken by the cold truth that I’ve been hiding from for a long time: Video games are big business now. Just like sports, we can all reflect on the times when it was a just a game, not some blazer-sporting businessman’s money-making scheme. But as websites like IGN and Gamespot start including quarterly sales figures of Nintendo and Sony in their news updates, the truth only becomes more apparent, even as I try to ignore it.
The overabundance of sequels and rehashes are an indicator of this reality. A colleague of mine at the Daily recently asked me what was the last good original game I played. I couldn’t remember. I’m looking at my collection right now and I don’t see a single new idea among them. “Mario Kart 3,” “Silent Hill 4,” “Mortal Kombat 6,” “Mega Man Anniversary Collection.” Here I am complaining about how video games are a business and how money-hungry suit guys are squashing creativity, and yet I seem to be the biggest sequel-whore of them all.
Despite the fact that I might be on my way to Video Game Hell, I’ve done good deeds by trying to push video games as an art form. They’re beautifully crafted, constantly evolving and some of them even have that mis