Nintendo and EA: A Love/Hate History
In recent weeks, there has been a lot of tension between our beloved Nintendo and the Gaming giant Electronic Arts. With the announcement that the Wii U would not receive the new Madden, and the disappointing news about the Frostbite Engine’s incompatibility with the console. Many have wondered where this recent animosity has stemmed from, unaware that neither gaming juggernaut has ever really been the best of friends. In fact, their love/hate relationship is has had more turmoil than The Doctor and the Master.
There was a time that Electronic Arts was the underdog. In fact, there was a time that they refused to move past floppy disk gaming, thinking that it was the future and that cartridges would fail. Obviously they were wrong with the floppy disk craze and they have moved past that. However, they were also wrong about a newcomer to the gaming industry, Nintendo. According to the July 11, 2011 issue of GameInformer, Bing Gordan had the following to say about the fledgling video game comapny:
“Nintendo came out and we felt it was dirty and kind of a step backwards. We had mixed feelings in the company. There were some who said, ‘You don’t get it, this is way more fun.’ Middle school kids and suddenly presidents were playing games instead of just nerds.”
Of course, as we know today, Nintendo had something big and would become an extremely successful company that would go on to become a mainstay throughout some of the toughest days of gaming. Despite Nintendo’s success, Electronic Arts still questioned the future of Nintendo and was not entirely sold on partnering with Nintendo. However, that would soon change when EA paid a visit to Toys “R” Us and was shown the impressive sales numbers for the console. According to Gordon, EA’s response was:
“Oh my god, this is data we can’t ignore”
At the time, Nintendo was “THE” go to gaming console, and they were very particular about the companies and games that they would allow to represent their console. So, in order to release a game on the console, you had to basically audition for them. To even be considered, the developer would need to fly to Japan, present the concept/game before they were even considered for access to a development kit. Then, when it was decided that the idea was worthy, the developer would have the opportunity to buy a fairly expensive dev kit. Then, when the game was ready for release, Nintendo would review the product and make the final decision on whether or not it would finally be released.
This process was pretty upsetting to Electronic Arts. They had become a pretty big developer and felt that the process was too risky. After all the time and money spent on developing, there was no guarantee that the game would ever be approved by Nintendo. Another downside was that due to Nintendo’s nearly 95% market share in the console business, they had the power to sway the retailers to pull a game from the shelves if it was not approved by them, for their console. Sadly, this was a practice that happened when a released game was too similar to one of their own creations.
“Wait, we spend all this time and we build a game but we don’t know if we can bring it to market?” Gordon remembers asking. “They said, ‘That’s right, and if we decide to bring it to market, we manufacture it and we’ll tell you how many we’ll build. You pay us half the cost, and then we manufacture it when we feel like it. When it’s done in Japan you pay the second half of the cost and we release it and you figure out how you want to ship it.’”
Rather than join the Nintendo bandwagon, Electronic Arts decided to ditch Nintendo and approach the newly born Sega Genesis. EA used their power in an attempt to bully Sega into allowing them to develop games without the strict licensing that Nintendo was going to force them into. Sega did not appreciate the bully-like tactic, especially after EA said, “You’re coming out with this system and you’re nowhere, but we have games”, and said no. For about a year, EA and Sega went back and forth, but eventually came to an uncomfortable agreement. Although the agreement was not ideal for Sega in the beginning, a new franchise was born with an unlikely mascot by the name of Madden.
Nintendo did not seem to be affected by EA’s partnership with Sega and continued their business as normal. It wasn’t long though until Nintendo released a new console named the Nintendo 64. EA was prepared to give Nintendo’s new console a chance, but did not seem to be adamant about keeping their relationship cordial at best, while focusing on Sony’s new PlayStation console and PC gaming. In fact, they did not expect to release anything more than FIFA 64 unless Nintendo would work with them to make developing more economical for them.
By 1997, Nintendo decided to back down a bit and work with EA to bring development costs down. According to an interview in Bloomberg Business Week (1997):
“EA’s chief had long refused to create Nintendo games, saying the royalty fees and up-front costs were too high. But Lincoln went wooing, and in mid-March EA agreed to produce six N64 sports titles by Christmas, 1998. What changed? Nintendo was anxious enough to make financial concessions, and the N64 is gaining momentum.”
EA’s victory soon became defeat when their sales figures in 1999 showed very weak sales, resulting in a sell off of nearly 11 million shares the same day those figures were released. They needed to do something, and do it fast. With the dawn of a new video game era upon them, EA decided against supporting the Sega Dreamcast in lieu of Sony and Microsoft’s upcoming consoles. They decided to stick with Nintendo, on a VERY small scale, assuming that Sony and the newcomer, Microsoft, would put pressure on them to make third party titles more important to the companies future.
“When you have single platform environments like Nintendo 8-bit, basically all you do is what Nintendo tells you to do, back then at least. When you have a multi platform world, that increases the leverage of the third party publishing companies, because you can take your goods from one place to the other.” ` Frank Gibeau, EVP at Electronic Arts.
When sales figures were released in 2003, Electronic Arts noticed that Nintendo was only a small percentage of their sales. In fact, they decided to provide only a few sports games for the upcoming GameCube console. The games that were released on the GameCube were allowed to incorporate characters such as Mario into them, hoping that the icons would l increase sales to the hardcore Nintendo Audience. Sadly, it did not work as planned.
Over time, EA and Nintendo seemed to just tolerate each others cockiness in the market, only playing together to keep lines of communication open in case something within the industry would change and require them to team up on a bigger scale. Like they say, Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. Despite their uneasy friendship, Electronic Arts’ slogan, “Challenge Everything” seems to be directed towards Nintendo.
When Nintendo released the Wii, EA decided to increase their support of the unique console and ecstatically their titles jumped to the top of the charts. Finally, both companies were playing nicely and sales were rising. In fact, EA sports decided to put most of their focus on the Wii. With the success of the Sports games on the Wii, EA decided to “experiment” with Dead Space Extraction after noticing that other third party developers were struggling on the console. Their theory was that many gamers owned a Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 and those gamers would play more mature games on the more powerful consoles, instead of the Wii. So, they released Dead Space Extraction on all three consoles. However, the Wii version would be advertised more and the version would be very different/improved from the other two console versions. Sadly, the Wii version of the game only sold 9000 copies in its first week. The experiment proved to EA that the Wii was not a good platform for mature games, and they pulled the plug on titles such as Godfather II.
EA’s sales on the Wii slowly declined and EA placed more focus on Sony and Microsoft. However, with the announcement of the Wii U, EA decided to give Nintendo its full support in the next gen console. Rumors quickly surfaced that EA tried to convince Nintendo to use Origin for its online service (as though they are the expert in online gaming-despite Origin’s less than ethical practices), and Nintendo declined to do so. It wasn’t long after that EA’s ecstatic partnership dwindled. It seemed that once again, the two were fighting. The bickering was further escalated when EA updated their Origin T0S to incorporate the Wii U:
If you sign up to play EA games through a Nintendo Wii U console, your Nintendo account information will be provided to EA so that we can establish an Origin Account for you. You need an Origin Account to play EA’s titles online. By signing up to play EA’s titles, you agree that limited user account information can be transferred to EA. Information transferred to EA includes your Mii information, email address, Nintendo Network ID, friend list, country, language and date of birth but does not include credit card number or other financial account information.
It is worth noting that this policy is very similar to the ToS regarding Xbox 360 and PS3. However, it is a slight slap in the face to Nintendo, as it does still require use of the Origin engine on their console, just not on the scale that was desired.
The spat between Nintendo and EA hit another peak when a practically complete Crysis 3 was pulled from the Wii U line-up.
“We did have Crysis 3 running on the Wii U. We were very close to launching it. But there was a lack of business support between Nintendo and EA on that. Since we as a company couldn’t launch on the Wii U ourselves — we don’t have a publishing license — Crysis 3 on Wii U had to die.” ~Yerli
In the end, I am not sure if the rocky relationship will ever fully heal between the two juggernauts. But I think one thing is clear, neither EA nor Nintendo needs each other to survive in the gaming marketplace. However, if the two did reconcile their differences, work together on common ground, they would be an unstoppable force. With the retirement of John Riccitiello, it is unknown how the two companies will play together in the future, although some think it will get worse as John was one of the few allies within EA.
In my opinion, Nintendo should do all it can to mend its relationship wit EA in an attempt to bring some closure to the feud. EA is a powerful company, and their vocal tirades against Wii U’s slow start are heard by many in the gaming industry and could feed many rumors that are out there. However, I also feel that in response to Electronic Arts unwillingness to step down from their pedestal, Nintendo should embrace the Indie developers and other small developers and provide them the tools to step up to the bully and show EA that they are not the only company out there that can do what they do.
What are your thoughts? Will EA start playing nice with new leadership under their roof, or will the feud get more out of control than the Hatfields and McCoys?
Sources: Game informer, business weekly, Bloomberg, Venturebeat,