Over the last year or so it’s dawned on me that EA must be planning to make their own console. I’m not the first to think this but even though some professional video game writers have mentioned the possibility, I haven’t seen very much deep discussion. There are four elements of EA operations that support my belief that EA is dreaming of a console, even if it hasn’t actually started developing one.
PS – If you’re unfamiliar with EA, they’re the world’s second largest games publisher, behind Nintendo and ahead of even Microsoft and Sony, and are known for many series, including Madden NFL, FIFA, NBA Live, NHL, NCAA Football, NCAA March Madness, Need For Speed, Medal of Honor, The Sims, Battlefield, Burnout, Command & Conquer, Skate, and Rock Band.
EA buys small developers and publishers at a very high rate. Occasionally, EA allows an acquired company to continue operating as is but this almost never lasts. There’s even a common sequence of events: EA buys little company, tells little company to continue operations as normal, changes company’s name to EA (ex: EA Des Moines), changes mind and ends company, absorbs company’s popular series into EA’s portfolio.
While EA has typically focused on smaller operations, they’ve really amped up their efforts in this regard over the last few years. In 2004, EA bought almost 20% of Ubisoft as part of a hostile takeover. EA hasn’t increased its shares as of yet, but the move does give EA 20% of the vote at shareholder meetings and the situation is somewhat embarrassing for Ubisoft. This move is significant because Ubisoft is one of the top ten biggest publishers in the world. Ubisoft publishes the high-selling and critically-acclaimed Rayman, Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon, and Rainbow Six series.
In a similar move, EA has spent the last year attempting a hostile takeover of Take Two Interactive. This would debatably be an even more significant acquisition than the stalled Ubisoft takeover, as Take Two holds two major subsidiaries: Rockstar Games (publisher of Grand Theft Auto, Midnight Club, Max Payne, Manhunt) and 2K (publisher of BioShock, Sid Meier’s Civilization, NBA 2K, Major League Baseball 2K, NHL 2K, All-Pro Football).
Why do I think all of these attempted acquisitions indicate plans of a console? Just imagine if a single company possessed all of those franchises and then announced that in eighteen months they would be releasing a new console to which ALL of those series would be exclusive. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that there are ten million people that would buy the system for the sports games alone. Factor in Grand Theft Auto, Splinter Cell, BioShock . . . good gravy.
Sports games have long provided the core of EA but over the last few years the company has begun to defend these series with an almost insane zeal and jealousy. As NFL 2K grew in popularity and critical regard, EA decided that instead of making their own product better, they would simply pull the rug out from under 2K by forking over warehouses of cash for the EXCLUSIVE rights to the NFL license. Oh, and before 2K could get any funny ideas about making an NCAA Football game, EA tied up the exclusive rights to that, as well. 2K gained some modicum of revenge by gaining the same exclusive rights to the Major League Baseball. This is perhaps not the great loss for EA that one might think, as the publisher has struggled for years to achieve any consistency in success concerning its baseball games.
So how does this jealous protection of major sports licenses play into my hairball hypothesis? The logic is pretty much identical to my similar point – millions of people would buy the system for the licensed sports games alone but if EA also controlled 2K they would have eliminated their only major rival in that genre (outside of Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series). It would take at least a year for the other consoles to receive quality sports games from new developers; plenty of time for EA to sew up millions of fans. And the games that did come out for the other systems would be without licenses for seven of the world’s biggest sports leagues: MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, England’s Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga, and Spain’s La Liga.
SUDDEN INTEREST IN I.P.
EA suddenly seems really interested in establishing new properties and series, much more actively than in the past. The last two years alone have seen the introduction of Crysis, Rock Band, Dead Space, Mirror’s Edge, Spore, Army of Two, Boomblox, skate., and Facebreaker. Naturally, it makes sense for a publisher to expand its portfolio but admittedly EA is doing a bang-up job of it. About half of the games from that list were very well regarded critically and the rest received at least decent notices. HOWEVER. Maybe it’s all part of a massive push to expand the portfolio of exclusives for an upcoming EA console!
COMPLAINTS ABOUT MULTIPLE PLATFORMS
My final point. EA has been well-documented in their complaints about multiple systems over the last couple of years. To date, I have been unable to understand the point of these complaints. No one is forcing EA to release Madden for every system under the sun (PS3, PS2, PSP, Wii, DS, Xbox 360, PC). This mindset plays very heavily into EA’s profit-minded approach. Basically, market diversity is bad for EA. The more consolidated everything is, the better for them. Even if they didn’t release their own console it would be easy for them to put all their weight behind a single console. If they decided to do that right now with the Xbox 360 they could single-handedly kill the PS3 in the North American market. EA’s too conservative to actually do such a thing. The only console they would throw all their resources at would be their own and the motivation for taking such a huge risk would be MONEY MONEY MONEY.