Can EA Change the Strategy Game Genre?

Another guest article from Jonah Alexander regarding EA’s step into the OSG genre. Cheers.

Can EA Change the Strategy Game Genre?
– by Jonah Alexander

Electronic Arts, one of the largest video game companies in the world, has recently entered the online, free-to-play, browser-based strategy game market with Lord of Ultima. The company hopes that using the popular Ultima franchise, as well as their own name brand, can help expand the user base for these type of games, which are already immensely popular throughout Europe and other parts of the world.

For the most part, their attempt can only do good for fans of the strategy genre as they essentially raise the bar and will hopefully force newcomers and established publishers to improve their…well, strategies.

Gamasutra recently interviewed Ben Cousins, the general manager of EA’s free-to-play division, and I found it interesting that their talk seemed to center more about the online strategy genre’s struggle and place in English speaking countries, rather than the actual Lord of Ultima game itself. In a sense, the game is more of a means than an end for EA.

One quick look at Lord of Ultima and the colorful graphics immediately draw you in. The thorough tutorial helps people new to these types of strategy games get up to speed and not feel intimidated, and overall the title has the kind of polish you’d expect from a big name company. What does all this mean? Well, with a solid first step into a market that had been previously neglected by the big name game makers. It’s safe to assume that if EA succeeds, their rivals are likely to put out their own titles to compete which could result in a strategy game arms race. But I digress.

The addition of EA into the market, at first glance, might seem unfair to many of the smaller, low-budget teams already making strategy games, but I wouldn’t be too worried about them. Consider that many of the titles currently on the free-to-play market are essentially clones of popular games, usually with a slight graphics or theme change. Their game plan is probably something along the lines of create as many mediocre games that play like the successful games as quickly and cheaply as possible and chances are we’ll make profit.

I’ve seen games, even as Oliver has pointed out, that illegally copy graphics and art from other sources for the characters. Then when you enter the main game, the gameplay graphics are many times pretty bland. And that’s putting it nicely.

My hope is that EA’s level of quality for Lord of Ultima will force some of these quick-cash-in developers to at least put a little bit more polish into their games in order to try and keep up. I’m not knocking anyone for being not having a huge team or being restricted by a low budget, but a lack of quality is certainly something they can address.

In the end, the winners are the fans of online-strategy games, both new and old, since now that more people are finally starting to pay attention there’s only direction for the genre to go.

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