/ Technology

EA turning off games’ online servers is turning me off EA

Game over cartoon

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’ – EA

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.

Gmaer says:
22 April 2013

Its really annoying and that stuff EA says about servers is rubbish. It’s cheap to keep servers going and many of the games that they turn off often have plenty of players still playing. The real truth is that they turn the online parts off to try and get people to buy the new version of the game. Why is it always games with sequels turned off? Go buy the new one.

Note the weasel words “typically fewer than 1% of all peak online players across all EA titles” which probably means in that it is several percent higher when non-peak” and also avoids the actual number involved which must be a significant figure. However the crime must be the taking of peoples in-game money for games given the chop.

In any event EA is best avoided especially given the SimCity debacle and the fact that it is now on version 1.8 within weeks of launch. They also have other issues as outlined here.

The US site “Consumerist” has EA as unliked – “Only days after being chosen by Consumerist voters as Worst Company In America for the second year in a row, Electronic Arts is not gaining many fans in Canada. Earlier today, it was reported that a large number of employees were laid off from one of EA’s studios in Montreal.

EA have strange ideas about games. The Android version of Scrabble is vastly better than the IOS version but isn’t available if you live in the UK. “This item cannot be installed in your device’s country.” Why?

Actually, it is because the rights to Scrabble are owned by different companies in the US and UK. That might explain it but does not make it any more sensible.

Sorry, I hit enter by mistake.

The limited availability of Scrabble is probably no bad thing. It would not be good to have teenagers spending hours in isolation, staring at screens and developing a curious knowledge of strange two-letter words.

Tom-Jodo says:
23 April 2013

Always on, always on, except when EA wants to switch you off. I’d be more confident about the less than 1% figure if EA actually published the real numbers. Otherwise I agree, this is just designed to get us to stump up for new games

Anon the mouse says:
27 April 2013

For those that are interested in such things, I did actually collect as much data on the server lifespans, including release date and Shutdown date. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AqD0wb_TVffWdE82bFhuUWtQSUVtUnAzaGNRWHhPWGc#gid=0

It’s not the number of players it’s the age of the game. Some EA game servers last 52 days, some last for 4+ years.
On average EA games last for 2 years, 3 months and 22 days, such as console yearly ones, regardless of player numbers.
Social games, EA’s next big thing, typically last for 6-8 months.
PC Exclusive games do the best and account for the upper end of server lifespans.

Looking at the data their newest game SimCity is potentially in consideration for shutdown already, and it still wouldn’t be the quickest they’ve done it.

Nice piece of work Anon. Information is so much more useful than just opinions as you can work from it.

Hectare says:
1 May 2013

Thisis typical of ea whose ide of Customer Service is to make it as difficult as possible to contact them, leave messages unanswered, bounce you between addresses, and issue a new call ref. each time you try to contcat them about the same problem. I had to change one of my credit cards when they continued to take unauthorised payments for a Warhammer game/account my son had stopped using. It was impossible to get through to a real person. Also needed a ‘chargeback’ to reclaim the funds…
Now my son is having problems with their FIFA 2013, where he has paid for a player using ‘coins’ but the server has been turned off and no player was made available despite payment being accepted. The EA approach to customers is exploitative, cynical, deliberately opaque, and in my opinion veers very close to criminal . Such a shame to have so much creativity in one area games) and so little in customer support.