Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite obscure RPGs, game music, and more.
I find myself hypnotized by EA right now. Has any major publisher ever had a worse year than EA in 2017?
From March to November, EA has been hammered by one controversy after another. They've been so numerous that it's been hard to keep track of them. A quick timeline:
- In March, EA put out an early access release of Mass Effect Andromeda, which was roundly mocked for its technical problems. It was subsequently demolished by critics.
- In the wake of Mass Effect Andromeda's lukewarm sales, EA reportedly put the series on hiatus while canceling Andromeda's initial round of DLC.
- EA closed Visceral Games and canceled Amy Hennig's Star Wars title following numerous delays and internal issues.
- Star Wars Battlefront 2's open beta sparked a major debate about the emergence of loot boxes in games. The subsequent backlash eventually grew so ferocious that EA was forced to temporarily suspend in-game microtransactions. Even Hawaii joined in, condemning loot boxes as "predatory" and calling Battlefront 2 "a trap."
- While all of this was happening, Need for Speed Payback became embroiled in a loot box controversy of its own.
- And finally, FIFA fans became so fed up with balance problems that they started a petition that garnered some 27,000 signatures in 72 hours.
It's a mark of how crazy 2017 has been for EA that their biggest positive might be NBA Live-a series that has been synonymous with failure since 2010. And that's mainly because it wasn't as aggressively monetized as NBA 2K18.
Otherwise, almost every other major EA release in 2017 has suffered some kind of major controversy. They've been slow to capitalize on the success of the Switch; they've had to make major internal changes to their studio structure, and their monetization schemes have come to be seen as emblematic of everything that's wrong with triple-A development.
How has EA managed to get to this point? Some of it can seemingly be blamed on too many cooks being in the proverbial kitchen, resulting in culture clashes and missed milestones. The Frostbite Engine has also proven to be a square peg in a round hole with some games, especially FIFA
Then there are quotes like this one from Jason Schreier's massive report on the cancellation of Visceral's Star Wars game.
"She was giving these massive presentations on the story, themes," said one person who worked on Ragtag. "EA executives are like, 'FIFA Ultimate Team makes a billion dollars a year.' Where's your version of that?"
The outsized success of FIFA Ultimate Team has been a boon for EA since 2010, but it's also seemingly taught them all the wrong lessons, putting them on a quixotic quest to try and apply it to the rest of their catalog.
In order to right the ship, EA will have to take a hard look in the mirror and learn from their handful of individual successes, such as Battlefield 1 and Madden's single-player campaign. They will need to find a way to make the Frostbite Engine more flexible. They will need to abandon the use of so-called "accelerators" in their multiplayer games, and they will need to streamline their overall process. They won't regain the public's trust overnight, but they can at least earn back a bit of goodwill.
Next year will be an interesting one for EA. In the spring, they will be taking another crack at getting the UFC license right; and in the fall, BioWare will be launching Anthem-their answer to Destiny. Anthem in particular will be a massive test for EA. It's not every day that you get to launch a new franchise.
No doubt they will be eager to put all the problems of 2017 behind them and move forward. But they would do well to heed the lessons of one of their worst years ever; because if they don't, 2018 will be more of the same.
Looking Ahead to the Rest of the Week
Thanksgiving is officially finished, Black Friday has come and gone, and now we're picking through the bones of the release season. Here's what you can look forward to this week.
- Cyber Monday: Black Friday is over, but that just means that now we can all spend way too much money buying stuff online. Get your Nintendo Switch before they're gone, everyone.
- Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Following a rather odd turn with Xenoblade Chronicles X, Monolith Soft is getting back to basics with a more direct sequel to the cult favorite original. If her preview is anything to go by, Nadia seems to be digging it so far. It'll be out December 1.
- Star Ocean: The Last Hope (Steam): Like most everyone else, you probably missed Star Ocean: The Last Hope when it first came out on Xbox 360 back in 2009. Happily, a fully mastered release will be out on Steam on November 28. It's probably the weakest game in the series, but still good, solid JRPG fun on the PC.
- Resident Evil Revelations: Like so many other popular games from years past, Resident Evil Revelations 1 and 2 are both on their way to the Nintendo Switch. Think the deluge of ports is bad now? Wait until next year. RE Revelations will be out November 28.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Schwarzweiß ~Worlds Connected Beyond the Mist from Atelier Iris 3
I've never played Atelier Iris 3 for the PlayStation 2. I've barely heard about the game in passing. Going by its Metacritic score, it's a middle-of-the-road JRPG that's primarily remembered for its kick-ass opening song, "Schwarzweiß."
(That's German for "Black and White," apparently. Picture me nodding my head slowly and sagely.)
While I'm not overly fond of the pop-ish Japanese bridge that serves as the filling for this piece, that intro and outro is just crazy energetic. If said energy seems familiar, it's because Schwarzweiß is composed by Rezo, the composer behind Bravely Default for the Nintendo 3DS. In case you need reminding, Bravely Default's soundtrack is mad incredible.
I don't want to say Rezo is too good for Atelier Iris 3; again, I've never played the game. But I just think it's telling how the game's intro tries to emulate SuikoGaiden's artful opening cinema, but with, uh, limited success.
Anyway. Schwarzweiß. Great song for an OK game.
Mike's Media Minute
At this point, I'm just watching Justice League continue to underperform in metrics. It's not even really noteworthy at this point, outside of the fact that Justice League might struggle to make $650 million worldwide. With Thanksgiving weekend behind us, Justice League has made $482 million worldwide so far. That's two weeks worth of box office, including a lengthy holiday season, that is only $60 million above Batman v Superman's opening weekend in March 2016.
Final intl wknd for #JusticeLeague came in at $71.5M boosting cume to $311M & global tally to $482.9M. Last yr #BatmanVSuperman absorbed 78% of its worldwide final by end of 2nd wknd. A similar path ahead for JL puts it on course for a final of about $650M.— Gitesh Pandya (@GiteshPandya) November 27, 2017
Bright side: Warner Bros can keep trucking and treat Justice League as an unfortunate speed bump. People like these characters, they just don't like some of these versions of these characters. Ignore what doesn't work, play up what does, and make good films. The latter is the key, but sometimes in the rush to build a cinematic universe empire, executives forget that.
Coco hit with unexpected force. Some were predicting another The Good Dinosaur for Pixar, given the muted marketing campaign for Coco. Instead, the film outperformed expectations with a $72 million draw for the Thanksgiving 5-day reporting period. All told, it's in the running to perform somewhere between Tangled ($591 million worldwide) and Moana ($643 million). We're mostly waiting for the second weekend to see how that shakes out.
One place DC is winning is on television, and the CW superhero shows will be crossing over tonight with the first two episodes of Crisis on Earth-X, before finishing tomorrow. The premise is pretty straightforward, with the DC heroes fighting against versions of themselves from Earth-X, which is controlled by Nazis. Yep, DC heroes versus Nazi is pretty straightforward.
Marvel's Agents of SHIELD returns for Season 5, after Inhumans bombed out in the time slot earlier this season. SHIELD has been an uneven show overall, but last season marked a high point in the writing and characterization, so I'm looking forward to seeing where Season 5 takes us. (Other than space.) The show returns with a two-hour season premiere this Friday and if you need to catch up, the entire thing is up on Netflix.
Oh, and I've been reading Giant Days over the weekend, which is a cute comic from Boom Studios by webcomic artist John Allison. It's a slice-of-life about folks in college, so the premise isn't out there, but I found it funny and endearing, so I'm recommending it here.
Caty’s AltGame Corner
I'm always fishing for good iOS games. This past week, I found one: Corporate Salmon, a game about climbing the greedy corporate ladder as a big ol' salmon. Designed by game designer Alex Johansson, with music by Will Bedford and graphic design by Katy Marshall, Corporate Salmon is a game where you tap the screen, make a singular pink salmon in a nice suit jump up a staircase while collecting money.
In motion, it looks silly. But in practice, it's actually pretty fun. You can try out Corporate Salmon for yourself here on iOS for free.
This Week's News and Notes
- I finally managed to wrap up Pokemon Ultra Sun and Moon's main story over the long weekend, quickly knocking out Team Rainbow Rocket in the process. Was it worth it? Well, Team Rainbow Rocket is a fun nostalgia trip, and the Battle Agency is a decent challenge, but otherwise the pickings are pretty slim for hardcore Pokemon fans. As I said last week, there's not much reason for Game Freak to continue releasing what amounts to glorified DLC for full price.
- While we were enjoying a well-deserved break on Friday, the Destiny 2 community was roiled by reports that Bungie was intentionally throttling XP. But as Caty observes, Destiny 2 has broader problems heading into its first first major batch of DLC.
- After years of extensions, Sony and Atlus are finally turning off the servers for Demon's Souls. It will still be playable, but a large part of what originally made Demon's Souls so special will be gone. Matt wrote a nice little tribute earlier today.
- People are seemingly having way too much fun with Animal Crossing Pocket Camp, which launched late last week.
- As we head into the final month of 2017, Caty is busy tackling her backlog. First up: Gravity Rush 2.
- The Switch sure is having a nice first year for itself, isn't it?
- This week should be somewhat quieter than the last few, but we've still got lots to cover this week. We'll be all over Xenoblade Chronicles; we'll be streaming PUBG (and maybe Mario Kart 8, too) on Twitch, and our two podcasts will be continuing as normal. As always, thank you for supporting USgamer, and we look forward to another week of gaming with you.