Saddle up, pardner

I don’t think enough hoopla has been made over the EA Partners program ‘round these parts…or, well, on the Internet at large, really, save for a few “that’s an awesome idea” comments thrown around from time to time. It’s annoying, because the Partners program is brilliant. So I’ll just have to make my own hoopla, I guess. That’s what blogging is for, right? Don’t take this away from me. Let me have some hoopla.

In the past twelve months, EA Partners has:

  • Published Harmonix’s Rock Band and Rock Band 2
  • Published Crytek’s Crysis
  • Published/helped port Valve’s Orange Box to consoles, and will soon be doing the same for Left 4 Dead
  • Have signed a deal to publish a new game by Grasshopper Studios’/Suda 51’s/Shinji Mikami’s new game
  • Have signed a similar publishing deal with Epic Games
  • Have (yet again) signed a publishing deal on id’s new game, RAGE
  • Possibly some other stuff I’ve forgotten

There are two reasons I like this program, and the first is pretty easy to guess: obviously, it promotes creativity. In theory, EA has little to no say in what each developer is doing, meaning developers can make the game they want to without the publisher breathing down their necks to make sure the final product is an easy sell. I’m not naïve enough to think EA doesn’t have some sort of production schedule laid out for its partners, so the “it’s done when it’s done” Holy Grail of development freedom is still a ways off for everyone who isn’t Valve or Will Wright. But this is probably the next best thing.

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The second mark in the program’s favor is a little harder to define. I’m a big fan of huge corporations using their size to actually do something, rather than simply take the easiest route to gobbling up as much money as quickly as possible. EA’s actually using its vast resources and connections to provide technical support and distribution solutions that enable these developers to put out top-tier products while remaining independent. I genuinely respect EA for recognizing its own sheer size and saying, “Y’know what? We’ve got a lot of money and manpower that you could use. Let us help you.” It seems really…I don’t know, efficient?

So developers are able to focus on what they do best, while EA fills in for whatever else they need. I can’t really see a downside to this. Things like the incredibly extensive (and probably insanely expensive) Rock Band instrument warranty program simply wouldn’t have been possible for a smaller company, and would never have flown with a stingier company (cough, Activision). I have the same kind of respect for the part of Microsoft that’s trying to unify all of their different products and services so that everything works together intuitively, because it’s going to take someone with a lot of time and money to really truly make it work and, hey, they’re Microsoft. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the usual “evil mega corporation” schtick.

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To reiterate, I’m not stupid and I know EA wouldn’t do this I they weren’t making money, but again, the easiest route to money would probably be to keep churning out licensed crap from developers they already own (aka “keeping it in the family”). I don’t doubt that the Partners program is still profitable, but I’m pretty sure it’s also a) a way to bring critically-acclaimed games under the company’s wing, and b) a push to improve EA’s public image from what it was five years ago. This post, I suppose, would be proof that it’s working. The guys running the program are visibly excited about what they’re doing, and it isn’t because of the boatloads of cash these deals are giving them. Would you have imagined somebody with as much clout as Shinji Mikami working on an EA product five years ago? That kind of stuff just doesn’t happen.

Maybe I am a little naïve, because I’m totally onboard with this new EA, and I don’t sense any sinister ulterior motive or notice them laughing maniacally every time someone new signs up. I really think EA CEO John Riccitiello’s influence has been great for the company. It’s almost…it’s almost like they love and respect games again, instead of milking them dry! Crazy, I know. If nothing else, though, EA’s partners program has been interesting because, when you’ve been watching the industry for years and years, it’s pretty exciting to see someone tinkering with the status quo occasionally.

5 thoughts on “Saddle up, pardner

  1. Great post, you took the thoughts right out of my brain. It’s funny to look back on things and remember when we were all decrying EA for being this monolithic corporation that was going to destroy creativity forever…it’s so nice that they’re exceeding our expectations.

    It was the interview Suda51 had with 1up a while ago that really drove home this point for me, when he was talking about how EA was giving them excellent marketing and development support but were otherwise letting him do his own thing with a budget bigger than anything he had before. It opened my eyes to this “new EA”. Hopefully they’ll keep it up, and hopefully other mega-publishers like Activision will follow their lead.

    Being profitable and being creative are not mutually exclusive.

    PS, here’s that interview I mentioned.

  2. I also really like how much sense this makes from a business perspective – it lets EA profit from like a third of the industry, for far less money than they’d have to spend to make top-tier games themselves, and because of this networking it’ll probably improve the 100%-owned properties that EA has.

  3. Great post. EA might still bear that stigmata of money-grubbing company, but seeing that they did publish Rock Band 2 and the upcoming Left 4 Dead along with the Suda 51 bit, they seem to be hitting their stride.

    In South-East Asia (where I’m from), gamers are still being immature and close-minded about this whole thing; simply hating the big man just because it’s cool. Hopefully posts like this make other people see the other side.

  4. Every time that EA tries to really seize control of a studio, they screw it up big time. It’s too bad that this approach may come too late for the LA and certainly too late for the Chicago studios.

  5. “Grasshopper Studios’/Suda 51’s/Shinji Mikami’s new game”
    do you see the tent in my pants? huh? do ya?

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