Electronic Arts’ policy of requiring its users to always be online when playing their games is going to continue but with a twist, confirmed Keith Ramsdale, the general manager of EA Northern Europe.
This new version of the always online requirement will feature the implementation of “online universes,” which will emphasize an always-online connection to resources on EA’s servers.
Ramsdale explained the new vision for EA’s always online policy.
Imagine a player gets up in the morning, plays an online match on his 360 before going to work. On the bus, on his way to work, he practices his free kicks on his tablet. At lunch he looks at the transfer window on his PC. On the way home he chooses his kit on his smartphone.
Here’s the thing: when he gets home to play again on his 360 that evening, all those achievements and upgrades will be alive in his game. We’re very focused on transforming all of our brands into these online universes. That gives the consumer full control of how and when they play in a rich world of content.
The new policy will be extended to all of EA’s franchises, including FIFA, Battlefield, Medal of Honor, The Sims, Need for Speed, and Star Wars games, among others.
Ramsdale did not give a timeframe for this policy change.
Analysis: Gaming’s a big business now, and that means that the stakes of piracy are much higher. For example, Crysis 2, last year’s most pirated game, reported an estimated 3,920,000 pirated copies, resulting in approximately $235,200,000 of lost income. Of course, it’s difficult to aggregate what percentage of pirates are actual lost customers, but when you’re losing $235 million dollars on a game from piracy, it doesn’t really matter anymore. The fact of the matter is that, even if only 10% of pirates were actual lost customers, then you’re still losing a painful $23 million due to piracy.
Crysis 2 wasn’t an anomaly, either. In 2011, games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, FIFA 12, and Portal 2 all recorded estimate piracy levels of over 3 million copies, and it’s important to note that three of those games are titles that EA published.
So I think the message here is clear. Piracy is a real, veritable concern to any publisher releasing high-profile AAA games for the PC. Therefore, EA has a right and a business duty to be worried about piracy and to try and think of ways to fix this issue.
Now, before you all get your pitchforks and torches and storm my house saying that I’m pro-DRM, let me state for the record that I think, unequivocally, that EA’s always online policy is draconian, misguided, and repulsive. It’s a prime example of taking the wrong route of DRM; it’s punishing all of their players because of pirates rather than rewarding the paying customers for their patronage. It’s bad; it doesn’t work; it frustrates real customers; and I think that, ironically, it’s contributing to the piracy of their games rather than helping to correct the issue.
As such, when I hear of this new development in EA’s DRM policy, I can’t help but feel that this is one step forward and two steps back. On the one hand, EA is actually trying to ease the pain of the always online requirement by adding helpful and customer-positive features to it such as cross-platforming and cloud saving. However, in the process of doing this, EA not only misses the point again on why their DRM sucks, they also go in yet another completely misguided direction by taking away even more game ownership from customers. With this new policy, EA is not only continuing but expanding their practice of making customers jump through hoop after hoop to gain the content they paid for, and those who do brave the obstacles are being rewarded with less actual ownership of that content. You know what that means: customers are going to grow tired and frustrated with the draconian DRM and look to piracy to try and circumvent all the hassle. It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it?
The fact of the matter is that you don’t “beat piracy,” and if that’s how you approach the issue, then you’re just going to frustrate everybody and get nowhere. What you really need to do is encourage people to be legitimate customers rather than pirates, and EA’s new policy most certainly does not attempt this in any shape or form.
Ultimately, I’m disheartened to hear this news. If EA keeps up the pace with their attempts to bludgeon users into buying and using the game exactly how the company wants, then I think their future with the PC market might be pretty bleak.
EDIT – 4/24/2012: An earlier version of this article stated that Electronic Arts would have the games stored on their servers, instead of just elements. This is not accurate. We apologize for this inaccuracy. – CEB