Command and Conquer: Rivals' Bastardization of a Classic Brand is Just Bad Business for EA

No publisher disrespects its own history more than EA.

Opinion by Kat Bailey, .

As I watched EA unveil Command and Conquer: Rivals, a bastardized mobile game based on Westwood's classic RTS series, a line from Pet Semetary popped into my head: "Sometimes, dead is better."

EA showed the new head-to-head mobile game over several interminable minutes at its press conference, holding the official title reveal until the very end. When it was confirmed to be a "new" Command and Conquer, online reaction was swift and unforgiving.

The reaction was born out of the frustration of a small but passionate fanbase who dearly miss Command and Conquer's cheesy cutscenes and wild superweapons. Along with StarCraft, Command and Conquer was one of the great pillars of real-time strategy in the mid-to-late 1990s. But while Blizzard has found new and innovative ways to keep StarCraft fresh and interesting, EA has been content to let C&C wither on the vine.

The last "proper entry" was 2010's Tiberian Twilight, which clumsily tried to remake the franchise's core gathering mechanics. EA responded by pulling the plug on C&C and rebranding EA Los Angeles as Danger Close Games—a name change that lasted for all of three years. Subsequent attempts at Command and Conquer revivals included Generals 2, which tried and failed to make the series free-to-play, and a Red Alert mobile game from Tencent.

Command and Conquer mirrors the fate of SimCity, Dungeon Keeper, and many other old-school EA sims, all of which have been rebooted in some horribly flawed way and subsequently killed. It's a bummer, because it's hard to find a game like C&C these days. It was the Mortal Kombat to StarCraft's Street Fighter, mixing high camp with just enough strategy to remain an enduring fan favorite.

Its death is a product of the ailing real-time strategy genre and EA's own single-minded quest for sustainable platforms. Command and Conquer, like Ultima and Wing Commander, is primarily a single-player game (the online was never that good), so it's relegated to the scrap heap. Or worse, turned into a terrible-looking mobile game.

It's that sort of impersonal approach to game development that has made EA so reviled. Sega, Nintendo, Capcom, and Blizzard have all succeeded in spinning their history into gold. They care about their individual IPs and tend to them in ways that keep them strong. EA treats them as disposable assets.

This shortsighted approach has a cost. It makes EA seem cold and unsentimental, removing any sort of emotional attachment to its games and turning them into products. EA's chase for lucrative online platforms is also losing its comparatively easy wins. In killing SimCity, for example, EA effectively ceded the city-building genre to Cities: Skylines, which has sold some 3.5 million copies as of early 2017.

It also makes it hard for EA to have what I would call a "Stardew Valley" moment—taking a classic franchise like Harvest Moon and refreshing it with a charming aesthetic and deep gameplay. I don't know whether C&C could ever be as successful as Stardew Valley—it doesn't have any dating component, for one thing—but it's just campy and nostalgic enough to garner an audience. And hey, if EA were willing to really put in the work from the strategy side, it could even become the esport that it so desperately desires.

Mostly, though, EA's callous disregard for its own history just strikes me as bad business. EA's graveyard is loaded with all sorts of wonderful and potentially profitable franchises, from Ultima to SimCity. In an era where name recognition counts for so much, I just don't understood EA's blatant mishandling of what should be very valuable properties.

In that light, the decision to turn C&C into a soulless mobile game is indicative of a larger strategy problem for EA. In constantly chasing new trends and profit opportunities, EA is failing to play to its strengths. And until it recognizes that, it will remain as deeply unpopular as ever.

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Comments 14

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  • Avatar for PreposterousWhitey #1 PreposterousWhitey 5 months ago
    C&C needs a real Stardew Valley moment, where an indie team comes in and makes the classic-stype game fans crave. A shame Kickstarter has sorta petered out, since a campaign to raise funds for new goofy FMV cutscenes would be killer.Edited June 2018 by PreposterousWhitey
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  • Avatar for mobichan #2 mobichan 5 months ago
    I would have put Konami ahead of EA.

    But I am curious how you think Capcom and Sega have spun gold from old, beloved, classic IP?
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #3 MetManMas 5 months ago
    I'll probably at least give it(s page) a look when it hits, but I'm sure this will most likely be just another F2P scam trying to get marks to pay too much money for temporary advantages and frivolous bullshit.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #4 donkeyintheforest 5 months ago
    I loved the goofy FMV scenes in Red Alert; Ray Wise and Tim Curry! Amazing. I also loved the goofy cutscenes in EA's Need for Speed reboot (and the gameplay!), but apparently no one else did.

    To me it seemed like command and conquer games just became battles of attrition of who had more units rather that the more tactical direction starcraft 2 took. It would be awesome if every series lasted for forever (and were good always!), but if so-so F2P C&C mobile games (that I'll never play) fund Titanfall 3 then I'm fine with it.

    Also, as far as disrespecting their own history here is a REAL ad I saw on tumblr...

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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #5 Captain-Gonru 5 months ago
    Such a shame.
    Though I have to say, I don't fully agree with the "it's a primarily single player game" line. My fondest memories of the series all multiplayer. My buddy had spliced a PS1 link cable, making it about thirty feet long (up from the out of the box six). He'd be in one room, I'd be in the other, and we'd play Red Alert: Retaliation for hours. We still joke about hearing the other person's "Oh shit!" through the wall as a nuke wiped out their main base. Good times.
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  • Avatar for yuberus #6 yuberus 5 months ago
    Red Alert was so good, and this news was such a bummer. What's next? Starflight but it's a free to play card game?
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #7 SuperShinobi 5 months ago
    I'll gladly try the mobile game. It looked pretty good and well-suited to mobile devices, albeit quite simplistic compared to the desktop games. Some mobile strategy games like Clash of Clans have been very successful and I'm sure EA have taken note of that. However, if you're a fan of the desktop series, I can see why this announcement wasn't what you're looking for.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #8 Kat.Bailey 5 months ago
    @mobichan Well, have you heard of Sonic Mania and Mega Man 11?
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #9 MetManMas 5 months ago
    Thinking about this some more, really I have less of a problem with the new Command & Conquer being a mobile game and more of a problem with it being an exploitative mobile game. I have no problem with strategy and simulation games being on mobile devices in theory. In fact, I think those kinds of games are a great fit for a platform that's primarily touch-operated!

    The problem is that these kinds of games almost always go for an exploitative free to play model that's gunning for the whales. And I get why most mobile games go F2P, it's a lot easier to make money off of lots of cheap transactions for frivolous bullshit that should've been free than it is to convince the Scrooges populating the mobile gaming scene to spend even a measly three dollars to buy a game that's not trying to bankrupt them.
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  • Avatar for mobichan #10 mobichan 5 months ago
    @Kat.Bailey sorry I thought you meant as a general rule. One IP (and very tired, beaten into the ground IP at that) doesn’t seem worthy of much praise to me.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #11 Funny_Colour_Blue 5 months ago
    follow EA's development history closely - look at the interview they did for G4techTV "icons" back in 2000 - I can ensure you, they have always been in it for the money, more so than any other video game company out there.

    Once you understand who the people behind EA are, their intentions become very clear.
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  • Avatar for yuberus #12 yuberus 5 months ago
    @Funny_Colour_Blue I mean every company is absolutely in it for the money, and that's fine. EA is just leaving money on the table by ignoring all the name brand franchises it owns or putting something halfassed together with them.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #13 Funny_Colour_Blue 5 months ago
    @yuberus watch the interviews, this will make a lot more sense - EA isn't like Konami, Capcom, Namco or SquareEnix; EA doesn't care about brands. What EA cares about, is what will make the most money for that season. They'll always been like this.

    Watch the Interviews!
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  • Avatar for mitchmcintyre #14 mitchmcintyre 4 months ago
    I honestly wish EA would just sell the damn rights... if all you're gonna do is shit on the property, then just don't bother.
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