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EA’s Joke About Single Player Games-The Internet Does Not React Kindly

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Brands are now social media influencers who say things like “vibe check” and “I was today years old when,” behavior which backfired for EA this week. The publisher’s careless meme format Mad Libs led to a tweet that was taken as an attack on fans of singleplayer games and the developers who make them. Current and ex-employees of the company, including Respawn head Vince Zampella, responded publicly.

The tweet in question had such an incendiary effect that I almost dare not repeat it, but here we go:

“They’re a 10 but they only like playing single-player games.”

The marketing person who wrote that tweet is saying—if you can believe it—that the most attractive person they can imagine would be rendered unattractive if they didn’t have an interest in multiplayer games. Thousands responded to the tweet, which is generally a good thing when you’re a brand’s social media account, but the nature of the responses is probably not what EA was aiming for.

The joke has been perceived as an intentional or accidental expression of contempt for singleplayer games due to greater profit potential offered by multiplayer, live service games, as well as an embarrassing gaffe for EA, given that many of its studios produce singleplayer games or modes.

Vince Zampella, head of EA-owned studio Respawn, responded to the tweet with a relatively mellow facepalm emoji. Respawn’s biggest game is Apex Legends, a live service battle royale game, but the studio is also known for Titanfall 2’s singleplayer campaign and the recent singleplayer-only action game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

A few former BioWare developers were more explicit about their feelings.

“As usual, EA jumps on a trend, misses the point, punches itself in the face,” said Dragon Age writer David Gaider, and former Dragon Age designer Mike Laidlaw called the tweet“tone deaf.”

“You… make single-player games…” tweeted former BioWare studio manager Aaryn Flynn, who is now working on Nightingale, a solo and cooperative survival game.

The most cutting response came from former Visceral Games producer Zach Mumbach. EA shuttered Visceral in 2014 while it was working on a singleplayer Star Wars game, and the popular belief is that EA did so because it didn’t consider singleplayer games profitable enough.

“This is the company that shut down my studio and laid off ~100 great developers because we were making a single player game,” wrote Mumbach. “Also, if you break game rating scores down to a 10 point scale most EA games are a solid 6 or 7. Not because the developers are bad but because EA the corporation forces them to rush games out. EA corporate leadership wouldn’t know what a ’10’ looks like in terms of video games.”

At the time Visceral was shut down, EA CEO Andrew Wilson denied that the decision was about “singleplayer versus multiplayer.” EA did eventually release a singleplayer Star Wars game, Respawn’s Fallen Order, which is getting a sequel next year. The company is also in the process of remaking the original Dead Space, Visceral’s singleplayer horror classic. (Both Dead Space sequels notably included multiplayer elements.)

Meanwhile, BioWare failed to succeed with a Destiny-like live service game, and is currently working on new Mass Effect and Dragon Age RPGs. Although Dragon Age: Dreadwolf was once rumored to have a big live service element, it was later described as a singleplayer-focused game, and the new Mass Effect will almost definitely be a singleplayer RPG like Andromeda. (Although it certainly could have a multiplayer element, and Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer was good.)

“Roast well deserved,” EA tweeted a few hours after it posted the initial tweet. “We’ll take this L cause playing single player games actually makes them an 11.”

(Glad to know they’re taking the L, whatever that entails.)

It’s the meme format itself strikes me as a bit gauche: I wouldn’t let my kids refer to people by an objectifying attractiveness number, at least if I had kids, and not just a bunch of plants. But that’s decidedly not what’s being called out here. Other videogames have uncontroversially used the same format recently.

“They’re a 10 but they anchor to stop the ship,” tweeted Sea of Thieves on the same day, for example. (Wait, how do other people stop the ship in Sea of Thieves?)

Although big and small developers continue to produce celebrated singleplayer games, fear of corporate antagonism toward them isn’t unfounded. In 2012, EA executive Frank Gibeau boasted that he had not greenlit a single game that would be “developed as a singleplayer experience.” A little later, the always-online requirement in EA’s 2013 SimCity reboot ended up causing a Diablo 3-style launch meltdown. That possibly led EA to pull back on those live service ambitions, because it did not go the same route with The Sims 4, which released in 2014.

The messaging didn’t change—EA chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen said in 2019 that the company was “doubling down on live services,” for instance—but along with the upcoming EA singleplayer games I’ve mentioned already, a new Seattle studio is working on “expanding the narrative, storytelling, and character development opportunities in the Battlefield series,” which sure sounds like a task that involves a new singleplayer game (maybe with co-op). Under its Originals label, EA also published singleplayer games Lost in Random last year, Sea of Solitude in 2019, and Fe in 2018. Just this week, EA revealed some very early footage of the new Skate game, which will presumably have an online component, but probably not as its main attraction.

I don’t think throwaway Twitter posts mean much about EA’s actual strategy, in other words. It is the same as EA tweeting a picture of a Minion farting.

But the magnitude of grievance posting that took place after this tweet shows there’s clearly still anxiety among gamers and developers over the moneymaking potential that has drawn so many big publishers toward free-to-play monetization models—gacha, battle passes—and popular multiplayer genres like battle royale. That trend along with the growth of subscription services like Game Pass and the invention of cloud streaming have just about ended any hope for defenders of offline play, at least when it comes to big studio games. It’s notable, for instance, that even though Blizzard’s Diablo 3 is the example of an always-online game blowing up on the launch pad, Diablo 4 is also going to be always online, too.

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