EA’s “Unprecedented Partnership” with Nintendo and Other Fairy Tales
Ricard Julianti’s third opinion piece looks at the fable that is EA, and how the company is full of lies, deceit, and BS.
EA recently came out and said, “We will not be releasing a Wii U version of Madden NFL in 2013. However, we have a strong partnership with Nintendo and will continue to evaluate opportunities for developing additional Madden NFL products for Nintendo fans in the future.”
Madden is one of the biggest sports IP’s in the industry today, along with NCAA Football and FIFA, yet EA isn’t developing a version for the Wii U. We have no official word on NCAA and FIFA yet, but all signs are pointing to those not arriving on Nintendo’s console either. If you have several multi-million dollar franchises, isn’t releasing them on everything available the smart thing to do? Especially if you have a strong partnership with one of the oldest gaming companies still in existence? Something here strikes me as…..odd.
To understand this so-called “strong partnership”, we need to go back to the beginning. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2011 John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts at the time, was invited on stage by the President and CEO of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, during Nintendo’s main press conference. Riccitiello began by talking about the “breakthrough in our relationship with Nintendo based on a stunning breakthrough in game technology” and how the Wii U “speaks directly to the players of EA Sports and EA games.”
He went on to talk about the advantages Nintendo’s new console would bring to the likes of Madden, such as taking all of the play-calling off of the TV for a “more personal, more immersive HD experience.” Next up was Battlefield where he mainly discussed the power of the Frostbite engine, brought to you on a Nintendo system. Riccitiello continues by saying, “Now imagine those games with an open, online functionality, that allows you to download new content, find matches, compete on leaderboards and participate in a global community. And finally, imagine these EA games on a console with content, gameplay and community that can be extended to mobile, social networks, as well as the web.”
It was music to our ears. EA is one of the biggest third-party publishers out there with franchises such as Need for Speed, Mass Effect, Battlefield, SSX, Burnout, the entire EA Sports line and as of yesterday, Star Wars. All of these titles and more were going to be brought to the Wii U by way of an “unprecedented partnership between Nintendo and Electronic Arts.”
Considering E3 is where major game and system announcements usually take place, it wasn’t surprising that we didn’t hear much about the unprecedented partnership until the next year’s show. At E3 2012, Nintendo showed a sizzle reel of third-party titles coming to the system. One of those titles included Mass Effect 3, a franchise owned and published by Electronic Arts; the crowd applauded as they were clearly excited for the game and it showed that EA was keeping true to that partnership they announced a year prior. In post E3 interviews another EA executive, Frank Gibeau stated that, “It is the first next-generation platform coming out, so we’re really supporting it.”. At the launch of the Wii U in November, Madden 13, FIFA 13 and Mass Effect 3 were all there, with a few caveats.
The version of Madden given to Wii U owners didn’t include the new and improved physics engine that the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 had, which was chalked up to the development team only having around 6 months to build the game. It wasn’t a huge loss considering the added Gamepad functionality, such as drawing a hot route before the snap, and everything else was almost identical. FIFA 13 on the other hand, was more like FIFA 12.5. It included the major improvements made to FIFA with ‘12, but lacked the refinement of those improvements found in other versions of FIFA 13. Again this is probably due to a shorter development time for the game, and included Gamepad functionality helped balance out the negatives.
Then there is Mass Effect 3 Special Edition. EA subsidiary Bioware didn’t develop the Wii U version of the game and instead it was shipped out to Straight Right, an Australian development studio that few had heard of before. This wasn’t inherently an issue as the game was almost indistinguishable from the PS3/360 versions. The main differences came in a 20 minute interactive comic that explained the story and allowed players to make choices that would affect events in the game to a degree, and the added Gamepad elements.
With EA’s talk of an “unprecedented partnership” that would bring games that featured “online functionality, that allows you to download new content” and the title of “Special Edition”, it was presumed that the several pieces of downloadable content (DLC) released for Mass Effect 3 would either be on the disc, or provided on Nintendo’s eShop. At the time of writing, not a single piece of DLC has been released for Mass Effect 3 and it is one of the very few games not available digitally on the eShop. EA also did something rather strange before the Wii U was even released.
On September 26, EA announced that they would be releasing the Mass Effect Trilogy set on PS3, 360, and on PC but not Wii U. The Trilogy released on November 7th, a week and a half before the Wii U launched and at the same price as Mass Effect 3, $60. Depending on the platform, it also included different pieces of DLC while the rest were available for purchase online. Unless they only owned the Wii and never got to play the first two games, why would anyone buy a $60 game on a new $300 console, when they could get all three games in the series for the same price on a console they already owned? They wouldn’t, and they didn’t considering only around 50,000 copies of the game have been sold to date. Granted, VGChartz is notorious for being inaccurate, but I was not able to find NPD numbers for the Wii U version. The fact remains that EA cannibalized sales of the Wii U version by even releasing the Trilogy. Between June and September, something had changed.
There has been a rumor floating around the internet since August that EA wanted Nintendo to integrate their online system with Origin, EA’s answer to Valve’s Steam service. For those of you who didn’t read the link, this would allow EA to control all of the online functionality of the Wii U. All games put on the Wii U with online features would be run through Origin, with EA at the wheel. The story goes that Nintendo rejected this deal because it would offer an unfair advantage to one third-party over others. Allowing EA to control the online system of a major console would need to be part of a major agreement between the two, some might even call it “unprecedented.” At the time it seemed unlikely as EA had not shown any derision towards Nintendo or the Wii U, but as time went on, things got worse and it has become more and more plausible.
Remember how EA Label President Frank Gibeau stated that the Wii U “…is the first next-generation platform coming out” and they were “really supporting it?” In January Riccitiello, the same guy who got on stage at E3 and announced the “unprecedented partnership”, now had a different tune to sing. He stated, “Ours is an industry where a lot of devices come in and represent themselves as the next generation, or the next generation after that. In many ways we would argue that what we’re describing as ‘Gen 4′ is yet to come. It’s that we’re excited about, and that’s what we’re investing in.” By saying that “Gen 4” is yet to come, he is referring to the Playstation 4 and whatever Microsoft’s next console will be named as they have not been released yet.
He effectively calls the Wii U “last-gen” while also saying they aren’t focused on it in one fell swoop. Pay no mind to the fact that the Wii U is the start of the 8th generation of consoles, going back even before the original NES; EA only considers the time since the original Playstation and in the same breath ignores time as the Wii U is literally the next generation of Nintendo consoles. It isn’t as if one of the biggest publishers in the industry didn’t have development kits from Sony or Microsoft before June of last year either. Details inside may change with different revisions to the kit but even now, neither the PS4 or the next Xbox will be able to do anything inherently impossible on the Wii U without cutbacks in certain areas for years, if ever.
Things were pushed a little further when Crytek revealed that their critically acclaimed FPS Crysis 3 was “very close” to launching on Wii U, but a “lack of business support between Nintendo and EA” prevented it from releasing. Twenty-five days later, EA revealed Battlefield 4. It is only officially announced for the PS3 and 360, but it will likely be on the PS4 and the next Xbox. The Wii U however, will not be receiving the game at all despite all of the talk by Riccitiello in 2011. DICE, subsidiary of EA and developer of Battlefield 4, stated that it would be risky to release on Nintendo’s system. If the Wii U is risky with 3.45 million units sold, what does that make the next Xbox and PS4 which have exactly zero units sold?
Battlefield 4 runs on the Frostbite 3 engine which is an updated version of the Frostbite 2 engine that powered Battlefield 3. Both of these engines run on the PS3 and 360, yet the Technical Director for the engine had this to say on Twitter, “FB3 has never been running on Wii U. We did some tests with not too promising results with FB2 & chose not to go down that path” Here’s where things get pretty technical, I apologize and will try to explain it as best I can.
The Xbox 360 uses a 3.2Ghz Tri-core, multi-threaded CPU that uses in-order execution and has long pipelines while the Wii U has a 1.24 Ghz Tri-core, single-threaded CPU that uses out-of-order execution with short pipelines. On the surface this looks bad, but really it is the exact opposite. Yes, the clock speed is slower but it uses newer chip, so it is more efficient at handling tasks. A longer pipeline means that if there is a fault early on, all of the data is wasted and it must finish its way through before the task can be started over. A shorter pipeline means that if there is a fault, it doesn’t take as long to start over regardless of where it happens.
Think of the in-order and out-of-order execution like lines at the grocery store. With in-order there is one line and even if you have less stuff, you have to wait for the person in front of you. With out-of-order, an employee sees you standing there with a basket of items rather than a cart, opens up the express lane so you are able to leave your line and check out. This is a heavily simplified explanation, but you get the general idea. Out-of-order is more efficient and eliminates the need for multithreading, which is why it only has a single thread. This is also why some launch ports on the Wii U run a little bit worse as out-of-order execution can only do so much when the game is specifically coded to utilize multithreading.
That was just the CPU, now on to the GPU. The 360 GPU is capable of Directx 9, and has 10mb of DRAM available to it elsewhere on the motherboard. The Wii U GPU is heavily customized to the point that “tech-heads” and people who analyze die shots for a living can’t tell what chip it is derived from, much less what 30% of it actually does. That being said, it is heavily rumored to contain Directx 11 equivalent functions, and has 32mb of eDRAM available. eDRAM allows for faster access than DRAM and at a higher bandwidth since it is embedded right onto the GPU. The system also utilizes GPGPU processing which allows the GPU to handle functions that would normally be executed by the CPU, reducing the strain all-around. There are far more technical aspects I could get into, but my point has been made.
So what does this have to do with Frostbite 3, EA, Battlefield and so on? If the 360 can run the Frostbite 3 engine, there is absolutely no technical reason the Wii U couldn’t run it. I suspect that DICE “tested” the Frostbite 2 engine on the Wii U using non-finalized dev kits, and treated it the same as the 360. This would explain the “not too promising results” they experienced due to the fact that the systems have two completely different architectures and cannot be programmed in the same manner. What is most baffling to me is that they didn’t get one engine to work, so they didn’t even try to get the next one running. If at first you don’t succeed; try, try again right?
The amount of hypocrisy Electronic Arts has shown is absolutely stunning. Aside from their beef with Nintendo, they claimed the need for Sim City to have an internet connection to play was because a “significant amount of calculations” were done over the server and not because it was some sort of DRM. The modding community was not only able to get the game to play offline, handling those same calculations locally since they were never off-loaded to servers in the first place; but were able to do so in just over one week.. EA still maintains their stance regarding the issue.
EA having a “strong partnership with Nintendo” is an utter fallacy. A strong partnership indicates cooperation, compromises, and a mutual respect for one another. Electronic Arts has actively cannibalized sales, failed to support their games after launch, prevented the release of a finished game, did a perfect 180 regarding their stance on the Wii U in several ways, all for seemingly no reason; and blatantly lied to customers to save face all in the span of six months. All things considered, does this sound like a company that deserves your money and support?
Yeah, I don’t think so either.
–By Jonathan Suedmeyer a.k.a. “Ricard Julianti”
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