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My Bad Company Big Mouth

Written By mista sense on Wednesday, April 9, 2008 | 1:17 PM

While I do feel that small charges for premium content are a viable way for developers to offset rising costs without continuing to inflate price points, it was pretty rude of me to insult the community behind the large-scale boycott of EA's Bad Company. Calling them names instead of aiming for dialog and fair discussion of issues kinda flies in the face of my principles, and I regret that. This is why I ought not to post on my vacation!

So firstly, I want to publicly apologize to that community. I reached out to the folks at Sarcastic Gamer to try and better understand their concerns -- not because some angry people left comments on my original post, because that type of behavior actually proves my negative points, but because I figure that if what I'd said was a bit unfair, it was best to amend it by allowing these folks to explain their point of view.

One interesting point that I gleaned from my discussions with Lono, the editor of Sarcastic Gamer, is that part of the concern for the boycotters lies in the fact that Bad Company is an FPS. While premium content might work well in open-world multiplayer games, I can definitely understand the fear that separating the haves from the have-nots in a genre where equipment is king might create sincere and possibly viable concerns about game balance.

I'm all for developers exploring new revenue streams with the aim of developing alternatives to the wallet-crushing retail price points, but this might not have been the right sort of introduction. I wonder -- might it have been better received if EA had released the game with 20 guns and then released bonus weapons as DLC further down the line? Who knows?

Anyway, though, while I stand by my opinion, there was no need for me to insult people when their viewpoint is certainly as viable as my own, and that was rather wrongheaded of me. So, to present the other side of the coin, here's my interview with Lono from Sarcastic Gamer, who the site's director of operation tells me is the brains behind the boycott:

Under EA's proposed model for Bad Company, users could pay for extra content as an enhancement to their gaming experience, or decline to buy extras if they're not as into the game. Why do you think this is wrong?
I think the model exploits gamers by first selling them an incomplete game at full price and then charging them additionally to make them whole. Let me explain. Battlefield: Bad Company is a shooter, right? Well, one of the draws of the game is its multiplayer experience. However, the game is shipping to retail with only five guns per faction. This is unheard of. EA has already playtested the additional 10 weapons, but are refusing to include them in the retail version. Why? To sell them for an additional fee. As a result, in my opinion, the retail version is gimped. It's not what it should be by design in order to make more money off of the rabid gamers that are eager to play the game. Just because you can charge for the additional content, doesn't always make it right.

We also believe that the additional weapons that are only available for a fee will unbalance the game, regardless of what EA's PR people say. Anytime you introduce a new "something" to a competitive multiplayer game, that is only available to those that can afford it, the balance will be upset. That's why we think this is wrong.

Why do you think the community feels so strongly about this? Why pick this particular issue as an opportunity to make your voice heard to a large game company?

We feel strongly about this because of our past experience with other video games of the same type. We were all very interested in Battlefield: Bad Company and our prior coverage of the game on our site showed it. When we found out that EA had chosen to gimp the game to resell it back to gamers, well, we'd had enough. We are not interested in EA testing this somewhat new model of increasing their revenue. We believe that when video game companies sell their wares to the public, that the buyer get the full product. That's not happening here, and a lot of people agree with us.

Would you prefer that everyone gets the same version of the game for a higher price than the common $60 price point -- i.e, premium version is the only version?
That is certainly an option, however, EA doesn't really believe that it's viable, and I don't either. Look, video games are expensive and to charge more than 60 bucks for a video game is too much in my opinion. For EA to charge 70 bucks for a game that pales in comparison to Call of Duty 4, that's being sold for $60 with twice as many maps and play types, would mean death for BF:BC.

My (maybe naive) theory is that if a pay-for-extras business model takes off, it could lower the costs of "basic games", and then users could add value as they like with add-ons. Would the community be more amenable to this as an alternative payment model if the cost of basic games was lowered as a result?

People thought the same thing of in-game advertising. That hasn't happened and there's no reason to believe that it would happen here too. But that's not what EA is doing. There taking the model you've described, but charging full price. If BF:BC was 30 bucks instead, we probably wouldn't have as big of a problem with it. We have no problem with Battlefield: Heroes, because it's free.

If you believe players should all have access to the same equipment regardless of money, what would you say, though, to players who don't want extras and want to be able to pay a price that reflects only the content they will use?

We don't represent those players, and personally, I don't believe that they exist. If they do exist, they represent a small minority of players. God love 'em.

Do you think the format of the game -- in this case, FPS -- has any effect on what business models the community is willing to accept? Do you think that paid extras or tiered subscriptions or any other situation in which players pay for more than basics would work in a game where the range of equipment, special items and what have you, is more diverse, like something more MMO-like?

I think that because the game is an FPS there is such a strong reaction. FPS games are much , much more competitive than the other game types you've described.

How do you hope EA will respond to the community?
Anything else you want to say?

I just want to thank you for the opportunity to answer a few of your questions and allowing us at Sarcastic gamer the opportunity to reach out those fans of your blog that may not have otherwise known of our boycott.

As for EA, please understand that I am personally a HUGE Battlefield fanboy. That's probably why I got so amped up about this. I just can't let it slide, when I know I can, at least try to do something about it.

In the end, I hope they respond and decide to ship all 15 weapons in the $60 retail box. Charging for maps is one thing, charging for weapons, we feel, is another. Look, we don't "hate" EA, I mean, it's a video game for chrissakes. We're not trying to cure cancer here or anything and we realize that. We just don't believe in what they're doing and we're just trying to make our issues known. Who'd have known that so many people agreed with us?

Thanks Leigh! Say hi to Peter Moore at the Christmas party for us. Let me know what new tatoo's he's sporting at the party... Kidding.


For the record, I don't know Peter Moore nor do I have any relationship with EA beyond dealing with their public relations staff for my job. If you feel strongly against this monetization strategy by EA, I would encourage you to join Sarcastic Gamer's boycott, as even where I don't agree, I can always respect the power of the gaming community to unify as a single voice on issues they care about.

More effective, though? Just don't buy it. I guarantee you that'll send the message you want.

[Update: Apparently, it worked?]

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