Electronic Arts (EA) has shut down online servers for a number of its games. But some gamers are losing more than just the chance to trade punches with opponents around the world…
Since I’ve owned the ice hockey game NHL 2011 on the PlayStation 3, I’ve assembled a star squad of players. It hasn’t been easy. The EA Sports’ ‘Ultimate Team’ online mode is where you earn points by winning tournaments – you can then spend those points on better players in an online marketplace.
I’m not a great player. I’m an even worse player when pitched against a nimble-thumbed teenager from Iowa. So it took me a long time to collect enough points to cobble together a half-decent team. Consequently, when I fired up NHL 2011 last week and found a notice from EA saying the ‘Ultimate Team’ mode was no longer supported, I was more than a little annoyed.
However, I doubt I was as upset as the thousands of players who had used real money to purchase these points.
Points mean (time-limited) prizes
If you didn’t have the patience to win points through winning tournaments – and it took a lot of patience – you could unfold your wallet and purchase points instead.
All that money has now been lost. You can’t access the team or the players you spent your money on, and EA won’t let you carry the players you bought across into NHL 2012.
I don’t think that’s fair. Gamers are already paying a good £40 for new titles. Then, not only are they often being asked to pay more to play certain modes and access online features, but they may lose those features in the future.
I think it’s a stretch to say that these online modes are just added extras. Gamers expect to play online and expect to be able to play all modes of the game whenever they want. And rightly so. These modes are often touted as a (or the) reason to buy a game in the first place. The website for the new NHL game features a cavalcade of NHL stars lined up to exhort the brilliance of Ultimate Team, for example.
NHL 11 isn’t the only game affected, nor is EA the only culprit, but it is arguably the worst. EA’s website lists more than 100 games that have had their online servers shut down – including big hitters such as FIFA 11, Battlefield 2 and Madden NFL 2011. You can see the trend.
‘No longer feasible to keep these games up and running’
What does EA have to say about turning off online support for its games? I was directed to a holding page, which says:
‘As games get replaced with newer titles, the number of players still enjoying the older games dwindles to a level – typically fewer than 1% of all peak online players across all EA titles – where it’s no longer feasible to continue the behind-the-scenes work involved with keeping these games up and running.’
I don’t think EA should have to keep all its games online forever, but I do think fewer flagship features should be reliant on in-game purchases. And I personally think those that are reliant on this should be supported for longer than a couple of years. Publishers also need to make it clearer to gamers making in-game purchases that they aren’t really buying these things, they’re renting them. And when they do, I’ll make a point of not ‘buying’ them.