EA is often portrayed as one of gaming’s biggest villains and it knows it, even if it doesn’t agree. A large number of big corporations are viewed as evil money grabbers, looking to screw over their customers. In the gaming world that role of faceless conglomerate out to get you goes to EA.
Its reputation for villainy has been built over a number of years. It comes from a combination of business decisions EA has made, as well as from reactions to its desired development direction. The biggest and most consistent gripes are with loot boxes (sorry, “surprise mechanics”) and DLC, both of which are prevalent in EA titles.
This has led to numerous memes, most along the lines of EA charging extra for everything.
So if “everyone” hates EA, why does it still make so much money?
EA Buys Our Favorite Things
Over the years EA has bought out a large number of smaller studios, gaining the rights to some popular franchises in the process, including Ultima, Command & Conquer, Battlefield, Burnout and Baldur’s Gate.
One of its earliest and biggest successes was acquiring Maxis, makers of The Sims, in 2004. While EA was always the publisher for the franchise, taking over development as well meant a bigger slice of a very profitable pie.
The Sims franchise has consistently sold very well. Even The Sims 4, which many long term fans like to slate, has sold over 10 million units. The franchise continues to expand, thanks to that much-criticized method of releasing a large amount of expansion packs.
Another high profile acquisition was when EA took over Bioware back in 2007. While Bioware retains its own branding to this day, EA is the owner. This means that all the amazing franchises Bioware have developed, including Mass Effect and Dragon Age, all fall under the EA umbrella. Just don’t mention Anthem.
Rounding out a trilogy of incredibly profitable moves by EA is the "multi-year exclusive licensing agreement to develop and publish globally new games based on Star Wars characters and storylines."
This began back in 2013 and still runs now, with EA currently developing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
Most recently EA has shown that it's still making smart choices in terms of acquisitions. Since EA’s take over of Respawn, makers of Titanfall, we’ve seen the studio go on to produce Apex Legends, which has proved itself strong competition for battle royale juggernaut Fortnite.
When EA keeps buying all our favorite franchises, how can we not give them money? These days if you want to make a stand against lining the pockets of EA then you’d better hope you aren’t a fan of Star Wars, Battlefield, Titanfall, FIFA or Need for Speed. These days even Plants Vs Zombies and Bejewelled fall under the EA brand.
The Sporting Masters
Speaking of sports games, this is one area where EA is king. EA Sports are the makers of FIFA, NHL, Madden and NBA franchises. FIFA 18 alone sold over 24 million units, making it EA’s best selling title to date.
Sports franchises are incredibly popular. They appeal to numerous casual gamers who really don’t care about the similarity of the games or the amount of micro transactions. Many sports game fans simply want to put on the game, play a few matches, then turn it off and carry on with their lives.
They will also continue to buy the games year after year, to ensure they have access to the latest players, rules, and tournaments.
Sports gamers are often heavily into the associated sports in real life and want to keep up to date. Although in some cases it goes the other way, where playing the game influences real life sports, as shown by this graphic from the EA website.
While these are sweeping generalizations, they are supported by the fact that each year millions of players flock to buy the latest FIFA, NHL or Madden game, no matter how similar it is to the last one. Sometimes even they don’t even know why they continue to do it.
The Secret To EA’s Success
The simple secret to EA’s success is in the figures. The EA Sports franchise has over 90 million active players, The Sims has 80 million and Battlefield 54 million. Those are huge figures and it’s this loyal player base who help EA continue to grow.
If we look at EA’s Q4 and Full Year FY19 Financial report we can see for ourselves. It reports more than 45 million unique players for FIFA 18 and 19 and a 35% increase in players of The Sims.
They report a net cash profit of $599 for the quarter, which includes the successful launch of Apex Legends and the not so successful launch of Anthem. The years net cash total overall is said to be $1.547 billion.
While there are still many critics of EA the simple fact is that most people just don’t care enough to boycott the company. It produces a huge number of very popular and successful games. Anyone who decides to completely avoid EA would miss out on a large number of franchises and titles.
Most people who moan actually have no intention of ever stopping buying EA games, they just like to complain. Granted, some EA haters won’t buy EA games but likely a number of them never have and never would regardless.
There’s also no alternative. If you hate Apple you can buy an Android and you’ll still have a phone, which has pretty much the same features. If you hate EA but want to play the big popular franchises there are no real alternatives. You can find games that are close but its not the same.
While EA owns so many well designed and popular franchises it will remain firmly towards the top of the games studio pile, currently falling behind only Activision Blizzard in terms of size, scale and sales.
Love it or hate it, EA is here to stay.