EA is the big bad of the gaming industry. It’s the two-time winner of The Consumerist‘s “Worst Company in America” contest and has had some of the most disastrous launches in recent history, including Battlefield 4 and SimCity, and it doesn’t end there. Lately, an exclusive game deal with Microsoft has gamers up in arms. Dragon Age: Inquisition, one of the most beloved games of last year, finally announced Downloadable Content (DLC) several months after release.
The announcement lacked something significant: there was a mysterious absence of any information for PS4, PS3, or Xbox 360 release. BioWare confirmed the lack of information was due to an exclusivity deal, but still doesn’t have a set release date for other systems beyond sometime in May.
EA isn’t the only company to engage in these blatantly exploitative exclusivity deals—they’re a pretty common way of milking extra money out of consumers—but what they aren’t realizing is that these deals hurt everyone.
Exclusive Game Deals Frustrate Gamers
It’s pretty obvious how exclusive game deals impact gamers—not buying a console may mean you can’t play a certain game, like Bloodborne or Sunset Overdrive. Or it might mean shelling out over $300 for a second console on top of the $60 game price. It’s an outrageous way of getting more money out of gamers, particularly since exclusive games have a tendency to be good; the Uncharted series has been heaped with praise since its creation and shows no intention of moving to Xbox or PC any time soon.
Companies are within their rights to develop games for specific systems—it’s Nintendo’s entire business practice. If they want to make exclusive game deals, that’s their prerogative. It’s annoying for gamers, but at least there’s a flimsy case to be made for hardware specifications or other concerns.
The timed exclusivity deal EA has with Microsoft, on the other hand, is bizarre. It’s unclear exactly what their aim is—do they expect PS4 users to go out and purchase an Xbox One and a fresh copy of Dragon Age: Inquisition for the sole purpose of playing Jaws of Hakkon at the same time as Xbox and PC players? If even one person does that, it’s a win for EA and Microsoft, but there’s an entire other side to this—the loss of loyalty that comes when consumers feel that brands are screwing them over.
Moneymaking Schemes Can Backfire
EA is already in hot water with many gamers for their failed launches and restrictive DRM, and this timed exclusivity deal is just the icing on the cake. If die-hard Playstation and Xbox 360 Dragon Age fans have to wait months for the same things already given to Xbox players, what incentive do they have to keep supporting the company?
There’s the obvious draw of the content they produce—it’s not like Dragon Age is a game with a small following—but releasing DLC several months after the launch and then another two months after it’s been released for two systems doesn’t seem like the best business strategy. Sure, they’ll promote it when it’s finally released and plenty of people will still buy it, but how many people are still going to be heavily invested in Dragon Age at that point versus how many people will have moved on to another intensive game like The Witcher 3 or Bloodborne?
If the DLC had been released at the same time, the number of people still gunning for 100 percent completion and platinum trophies (or just those who play through games a little slower) might be more inclined to pick up Jaws of Hakkon on release.
There’s also the problem of brand loyalty. There are plenty of hardcore BioWare fans out there, but very few EA fans. And while some of the BioWare fans will still be willing to pick up the DLC in May, they’ll likely have lost a good chunk of them to annoyance and other games.
Making Money Takes Priority
So what’s the endgame here? What purpose does this serve in the long run?
Exploiting gamers is the only answer. If only one person goes out and buys an Xbox and a copy of Dragon Age: Inquisition, it looks like they’ve won, whether that person already owns a PS4 or not. It’s impossible to tell how much money they might have made if they’d released both at the same time, but considering one Xbox One sale is equivalent to about 23 sales of Jaws of Hakkon, it’s Microsoft and EA that are really benefiting.
Moneymaking is the purpose of any big company, but it doesn’t have to feel like a deliberate exploitation. Withholding DLC for some customers is alienating and hurts relationships between brands and customers, but when companies like EA make as much money as they do with their frustrating business practices, even their apologies sound hollow.
And there’s really nothing to be done about it, either. Exclusive game deals are, unfortunately, part of the gaming industry at this point. Short of boycotting every game and console that participates—which would mean boycotting beloved developers like From Software, Naughty Dog, and 343 Industries. Short of quitting AAA games entirely, all we can do is hope that companies like EA start thinking a little more about their consumer base, something that’s not liable to happen anytime soon.