It’s difficult to talk about game industry issues without discussing EA. The AAA giant seems to find itself in an unwanted spotlight at least twice a year.
Recently, it seems EA is suffering backlash from its heavy implementation of the Frostbite engine. If it were just media opinions, EA could likely just shrug if off. However, some of the complaints have come from former EA developers.
The Frostbite engine had been touted to be one of the best, but is it potentially holding EA and its sports franchises back?
A Severe Case of Frostbite
If you’re unfamiliar with Frostbite, think Battlefield and DICE. The engine was built to power a series of first-person shooters.
Back in 2006, Electronic Arts bought all outstanding shares in DICE. This included personally developed tech and more importantly, the Frostbite Engine. To minimize costs and max profits, EA began an initiative to exclusively use the Frostbite engine. This meant all of EA’s teams would be using the same software. The problem is, not all of EA’s studios make first-person shooters.
“There was the internal initiative to make sure that everybody was on the same technology, but it was an engine that was made to do first-person shooters, not third-person traversal cinematic games,” Game Designer Amy Hennig said regarding her time working with the engine.
On the same topic, she would later explain that this meant a lot of time was spent building the foundations to the games. That also meant several projects would not see daylight as too much time would be needed. Projects like Visceral’s anticipated Star Wars single player game would suffer this fate, among others.
For sports fans and communities, the wave of Frostbite driven games wouldn’t appear until a few years later. In 2017, FIFA 17 marketed its use of the Frostbite engine. Madden 18 and FIFA 18 would follow the very next year. Compared to previous games, the Frostbite-powered sequels had major improvements. Unfortunately, when comparing later Frostbite based iterations to the first, they received a less warm reception.
Call it stagnation or the simple matter of the allure surrounding Frostbite wearing off. Whatever the case, there is trouble among the camps of EA. In regards to team morale, a source from within EA noted a pool of talent has been lost due to attrition in the past year. They also noted popular game modes ‘Longshot’ and ‘The Journey’ were direct results of Frostbite implementation. The idea being these modes sold the value of Frostbite.
Despite their success, both modes were huge resource sinks for EA. This could explain the changes in the structure made in later iterations. Porting on the new engine also say the loss of resources used in aspects of creating gameplay. In EA terms, that means more money just to build a steady foundation.
No cure in sight
If you need a comparison to understand how drastic the change to Frostbite is, look no further than the recent launch of Anthem. An article by Gadgets breaks down the issues Anthem faced during development. As with other titles, it is powered by Frostbite. A portion of the article recalls a moment when the Anthem development team felt it was understaffed.
“Reason being, EA moved a large chunk of its programmers from BioWare over to fix FIFA, which makes up a massive portion of its revenue,” the article stated.
Nonetheless, there are no signs of abandoning the engine anytime soon. That begs the questions of how far will EA go before its too late? Is Frostbite, an engine built for first-person shooters, truly a good fit for EA Sports? Will community reception continue to gradually decline as time passes? Madden and FIFA continue to be top sellers, but with massive lay-offs, ever-declining morale coupled with weak launches and buggy games, one can only assume time is ticking on the EA empire.
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