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.
Struggling to find words for Command & Conquer Rivals. It’s not what the community wants and Engadget preview confirms that units can be bought instead of grinding.— Joseph Scott (@jo3scott) June 10, 2018
Hopefully Microsoft's presser tonight will be a bit more entertaining compared to what EA showed yesterday. Man, what they did with Command & Conquer is simply unacceptable. This has Dungeon Keeper Mobile written all over it.— Christian Mutig (@Ductos) June 10, 2018
I knew EA hated Command & Conquer and it’s fans, but damn... #E32018— Michael Miller (@Bigboss_here) June 10, 2018
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.