Opinion: EA’s Exploitative Business Practices Will Cause the Downfall of The Sims Franchise
Back in 2013, EA tried to make SimCity, a massively multiplayer online game (MMO or MMOG), and it was a colossal failure. In the words of EA’s PR piece, “this SimCity is meant to be played online, and if you can’t get a stable connection, you’re NOT having a good experience.” Basically, too many players logged in at once and all the servers crashed. As a result, EA suffered from poor sales, and eventually they had to shut down an entire studio because they couldn’t afford it anymore. Because the studio that made SimCity no longer existed, SimCity as a series also fell into demise. You’d think they’d have learned from this debacle, but sadly, this is not the case. Last April, EA’s chief studios officer Laura Miele stated in an interview that, “I think one of our biggest opportunities with The Sims is the social connection component that we need to bring to this brand and this franchise. The team is hard at work on the next generation of that experience.” But do EA really need to bring an MMO to The Sims again? The answer is no. Due to their track record, many Sims players have had their red flags hoisted upon receiving this information. For example, Katherine Locker (‘23) said, “high-end computers are the only computers that can work with multiplayer. I feel like a new phone or console [MMO] would be better because that way you have a system that can actually work online and handle all that gameplay.” This recent incident is actually indicative of a broader problem with EA: “It’s a company that doesn’t really listen, like the higher ups. The Sims team does-they listen, they care about their gamers more, but all EA cares about is money,” stated Locker. While it’s true that in a free market EA is only obligated to do whatever makes them the most money, I’d like to posit that their exploitative business practices are actively making the game worse. Listening to their players will not only make the game better, but also increase sales for them in the long run. If this new Sims MMO is any indication, The Sims franchise is due for a massive SimCity-like failure soon -- if they don’t get it together, that is.
Back in 2004, EA came under fire for what is now referred to as the infamous “EA spouse incident,” where the wife of an EA employee exposed the company’s exploitative labor practices in a blog post. She described how leading up to the release of a game, her husband was forced to work intense, unpaid hours to the point where it was affecting their home life. She called this practice “crunch.” The post sent shock waves throughout the industry, eventually leading to several class-action lawsuits against them that they lost due to the clear lack of overtime pay. Nowadays, the community knows that this process is not just relegated to EA. It is, rather, a pervasive issue that runs rampant throughout the industry. The scandal surrounding EA was just the catalyst to unleash this practice into public consciousness. Benjamin Weber, a member of both the gaming and eSports clubs on campus (‘24) put it concisely: “It’s just stupid. In my opinion, I’m willing to wait for a game if it means the employees are treated fine. That’s how you get a game like Cyberpunk  where it’s full of bugs and it just doesn’t work,” he said. This is an opinion that I vehemently agree with: if you have to push the release date back, do it. From a multi-million dollar corporation that has plenty of funds to wait around a little bit, this is completely unacceptable.
Another issue that EA should listen to their fan base about right now has to do with The Sims’s downloadable content (DLC) problem. DLC is extra content that you can pay for that is supposed to add to the base game. This concept is not wrong in and of itself, but it is frequently misused in the industry. As explained by Weber, “the main reason I have a problem with DLC is that it incentivizes companies to release products that aren’t finished.” The issue is, there is no greater paragon of this phenomenon than the diversity issues that are currently plaguing The Sims 4. For example, recently they announced a new South Korean-inspired DLC, which Locker and I both considered to be problematic. “Why not just have that be free?” She asked. And I agree: this content should have been provided in a free update, if not part of the base game. EA already set their own precedent for free, increased diversity back during the skin tone debacle of last year, when they responded to player complaints about the lack of ethnic tones by adding 100 new swatches to the base game. Frankly, nobody should have to pay to properly represent themselves in what is supposed to be a life simulator. Though it’s true, Asian Sims players can still find their proper skin tone for free, now they have to pay for clothes and other items related to their culture, which, when the base game is largely full of western-centric aesthetics, is an issue because it assumes that whiteness is the default way of living. And it’s not just this newest release, either: because of the lack of hairstyles and other minority-related items in the game in general, those who wish to make minority Sims are often relegated to buying other DLC to make up for it as well (for example, the Island Living DLC which has a Hawiian feel to its theme, or Snowy Escape which was inspired by Japan). Weber further reflected, “at a certain point, if the base game isn’t finished [DLC is] not worth it, because then people have to pay to finish the game. It’s very much a corporate, only for profit thing.” If EA was truly committed to their previous statements on inclusion and diversity, they would not be pulling this type of nonsense.
Profit oriented companies at the expense of ethical behavior aren’t a new concept, so I’m not shocked that EA does these kinds of things at all, or trying to claim that these kinds of practices are only relegated to EA. What I am saying is that as much as EA would like to pretend that solely focusing on the short term monetary rewards can only bring them benefits, they need to remember that there are people behind those dollar signs who will eventually get sick of having to pay for products that don’t work. I sincerely hope that EA proves my prediction about the downfall of The Sims wrong, but as it stands, their track record is cause for concern. From a player’s perspective, it is hard to imagine that they will pull themselves together any time soon.