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The Life & Times of an Adventurous EA
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on January 30, 2006   |   Episode 91 (Show Archive)  

   

Ever wonder what company founder Trip Hawkins would think of the EA of today?
Ask somebody what they think of Electronic Arts and you're going to be in for a lot of complaining. Critics of America's biggest publisher are vocal and plentiful, they gripe about their size, unimaginative games, yearly franchises, and the importance that seems to lie on their sports line-up. Somebody who doesn't like EA will complain about how they buy up all of the competition, how they have monopolized football, and how their games don't change much from sequel to sequel. To somebody that hates Electronic Arts we are talking about the Devil, and the Devil can't be stopped with roses and reverse psychology.

But Electronic Arts wasn't always this way. Before they became locked to this pattern of sequels and ports EA was actually a pretty adventurous publisher. These days we are looking at a company who always takes the safe road, a company that is more interested in their bottom line than they are in creating new and interesting games. But this hasn't always been

These days Electronic Arts is all about popular franchises, like the overused Need for Speed series!
the case and we invite you to take a trip back in time with us to look at the life and times of an adventurous Electronic Arts!

If you were one of the millions of people who owned a Sega Genesis then you had a front row seat to Electronic Arts more adventurous era. Games like Road Rash showed the direction EA would eventually take but were still innovative enough to be considered adventurous. Road Rash was less of a race and more of a battle between you and anybody that got in your way. In a lot of ways it inspired other combat racers, including EA's own Burnout 3: Takedown and Burnout Revenge.

General Chaos was another solid title released by Electronic Arts. Now here's a game that wouldn't fit in their modern-day game strategy. General Chaos was a four-player action/strategy game where funny (and well animated) army men fought against opposing forces. Electronic Arts was so proud of games like General Chaos that they ended up air dropping one of the few Genesis four-player multi-taps on an unsuspecting world.


General Chaos was one of EA's very first four-player games!
The EA of the 1990s was not afraid to publish adventure games, no matter if they were deathly serious or kind of quirky. The Immortal is one game that could not be any more serious, it's one of their first forays into RPGs and was considered (at the time) to be a pretty good one. Haunting Starring Polterguy, on the other hand, was not well-received. This was a game where you played Polterguy, a pissed off (teenage) ghost who is doing whatever he can to creep the current residents out. Haunting was panned by fans and critics alike, which might explain why EA teamed up with Polterguy again. But despite the bad reviews, Haunting was a fantastic idea that could have been something real special if they got the right people to work on it.

But while EA was more adventurous in the 1990s they weren't against shamelessly reusing ideas to make a few extra bucks. Even back then Electronic Arts realized that they could make a lot of money simply by giving consumers the sequels they didn't know they wanted. The Strike series is a perfect example of EA going a little too far with a good thing. Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf was the first appearance, but soon after

The cars in EA's racers aren't the only things that look good!
came Jungle Strike, Urban Strike, Soviet Strike, and even Nuclear Strike. This was a franchise people really liked, but even the most die-hard strike fan could only take so much helicopter combat. Perhaps if Electronic Arts had slowed down the sequel mill we would still be talking about the Strike series as we get ready to play our Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Revolution.

Perhaps the difference is EA's emphasis. When games like the Immortal and Road Rash were being released it was before John Madden, Tiger Woods, and all of the other sports superstars signed with Electronic Arts. Licensed sports weren't as big of a deal for EA back in the early 1990s which might explain why there was such a spurt in creative softs coming out of that company.

Of course, Electronic Arts wasn't completely without their sports titles. Throughout their history they have always had at least one or two sports titles to show, even if a lot of them were nothing more than a match up between Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. This was the era where EA released Mutant

You can't tell me that Mutant League Football (and Hockey) wouldn't look AMAZING in 3D!!
League Football (as well as the Mutant League Hockey game I have no interest in talking about). The Mutant League was EA's line of arcade-style sports games with unique characters with ultra-violent tendencies. But Mutant League Football only had a one-season run (like the XFL). It wasn't until a decade later that Electronic Arts decided to go back and revisit their arcade-style sports games with titles like NFL Street and NBA Street. The world continues to wait for a new (and much-improved) Mutant League Football game.

The Electronic Arts of today is a company that stands by its successes and is afraid to innovate or actually try anything brand new. These days all you can expect is a heavy dose of their trademark sports titles (Madden, Tiger Woods, NBA Live, etc.), a new Need for Speed game, and a whole slew of their movie titles (James Bond, The Godfather, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc.). There's not a heck of a lot of diversity in that line-up, which turns a lot of us life-long gamers off of their brand. You won't see a game like Katamari Damacy or Indigo Prophecy being released by Electronic Arts, these are not proven genres that can easily be explained on the back of their box (or in their 9-page long instruction manual).


SSX is one of EA's best games, even if you have to put up from Mario from time to time!
Of course, Electronic Arts does release good games from time to time. SSX 3 is easily one of the best alternative-sports titles you can buy, a game that still feels fresh and original all these years later. The NBA Street series has certainly proven itself as the successor to Midway's NBA Jam series. Nobody can dispute how great the Burnout series is. And hey, EA was the first company to make a Bond game worth playing since GoldenEye 007 (of course, they were the ONLY company making Bond games). EA does do some good work, but that doesn't stop the criticism that they aren't introducing new concepts to the industry, but only rehashing the ideas they've already had.

So where did Electronic Arts go wrong?? Why is EA so safe while all of the companies around it seem to be ready to take chances and truly

EA has released a number of Road Rash games, just not in the last ten years!
innovate? What happened to games like Road Rash, General Chaos, The Immortal, and Mutant League Football?? These days it feels like everything at EA is voted on and come up with in a committee, there's no sense of individual talent anymore. Where did that spirit of adventure go and how can we get it back?

Perhaps the answers lie in EA's failed franchises, those games they have decided never to talk about again. So far in this Feud we've only looked at the good things that come out of being an adventurous company, but this is a two-sided sword that can (and has) cut Electronic Arts in a number of painful ways. We don't need to look very hard to see an example of EA's creativity getting the best of them, I submit into evidence Shaq Fu.

I'm not sure the idea of a basketball player fighting other-dimensional combatants is really that "creative" or "innovative" but it was "stupid" and a big "bomb." The same can be said

This is all Shaq's fault?? Nah, I'd rather blame a very tiny X-Tina!
about Michael Jordan in Chaos in the Windy City, a 2D side scroller where you controlled Air Jordan as he threw basketballs at the forces invading Chicago. Neither of these games were big hits and even now you see critics and magazines berating them as some of the worst games ever made.

We probably can't put all of the blame on EA's mishandling of some of basketball's greatest stars, but it certainly seemed like a lot of their adventurous spirit was let go right after these two disasters. The EA of today is a company void of any real creativity, a company that seems to be more interested in its profits than publishing a unique game that people will be talking about for years to come. Does it have to be one way or the other; is there no middle ground for the mighty EA?

Now that Electronic Arts knows how to sell a lot of games and make a lot of money it stands to reason that they will continue on this track until it stops working for them. But no matter how many Madden games they put out I still plan on begging them for new versions of their classic games. I think EA would be amazed at how successful an updated Mutant League Football game would be, and I know it would certainly make me happy.
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