Articles & Editorials: Electronic Arts – Blessing or Burden?

In 1997, midway through the development of Tiberian Sun, the gaming giant Electronic Arts took over our beloved Westwood Studios. Many of us thought that this would be a new beginning for Westwood. With the EA name behind it, the makers of Command & Conquer would deliver us the best gaming titles on the planet. To some, it did. Others would disagree.

The C&C community was based on two of the greatest games of all time, Command & Conquer and Red Alert. When the C&C Gold disk was released in 1996, we were treated to a brief cut scene showing us the newest Command & Conquer game under development. The C&C community exploded, and Tiberian Sun quickly became the most anticipated game to date. Many promises of cool features were made, and we, the fans, spent the next 3 years speculating and debating what was shaping up to be the best RTS of all time. Then, in 1997, EA took publishing rights from Virgin Interactive and Westwood became a subsidiary of the gaming giant. After that, it took another two years to bring us Tiberian Sun. The release was celebrated throughout the community and Westwood, and sales were strong. Reviews from game magazines and websites were good. It looked like Westwood scored another winner. But then the gamers got their say. Within the first couple of days, numerous “fan”sites were starting to bash the game’s graphics and gameplay. Those promised features didn’t make the final cut, and rumoured features were nowhere to be seen. Some fan-sites loved the game, and others hated it. Cracks began to form in the community, and some still haven’t been filled three years later. The question at the time was, “Who do we blame for TS not living up to expectations?” At the time, most of us were still fairly young and naive, and Westwood seemed like the only choice.

But now, we have grown up, and can see things a lot more clearly now than we could before. As I look back over the last five years, all the pieces of the puzzle seem to be falling into place. I, personally, enjoyed Tiberian Sun. Most gamers did not, however. Same story with Emperor: Battle for Dune. Red Alert 2 was popular, but it has several faults. If you want an explanation, e-mail C&C King. I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to enlighten you. Can you see a pattern? Since EA’s takeover of Westwood, it hasn’t been able to make a game of the calibre of Tiberian Dawn or Red Alert. It is apparent to me, that EA is source of Westwood’s woes, and a look at the current situation makes that even more clear.

Westwood used to have two campuses, one in Irvine, California, and the other in Las Vegas. Both created games under the Westwood banner. Last year, however, the Irvine campus was renamed EA Pacific. Westwood was cut in half. Now, Command & Conquer Generals is on the way, and graphically the game looks stunning and the storyline seems interesting enough. But, several key changes have been made. First, Full Motion Video have been cut from the game. This has been a trademark of Westwood’s games since Tiberian Dawn in ’95. Westwood cutscenes have starred famous faces such as James Earl Jones, Micheal Beihn, Kari Wuhrer, Udo Kier, Athena Massey, and Micheal Dorn. But, for no clear reason that I have heard, FMV’s will be replaced by pre-rendered cinematics like every other game out there. Also, the trademark sidebar controlling construction options and commands is also being replaced by a bottom bar. Once again, this is just like every other RTS on the market. The so-called “Command & Conquer” Generals is changing everything that made Command & Conquer unique from all other RTS games. Generals has become another clone of Warcraft, with the C&C logo present for marketing value. And from what I have heard, Generals won’t even mention Westwood’s name, since it is being developed by EA Pacific. Will General’s earn the right to be called Command & Conquer? I guess we will find out in November. But in my eyes, EA is still the reason Westwood has been held back from making amazing games. But is there anything we can do about it?

Nope. We, the fans, are in a catch-22 situation. E-mails won’t get anywhere, they can be deleted by the click of a button. Boycotting EA games won’t do any good either. In fact, it would probably result in EA’s firing the very people we are trying to save. Will EA bring about the end of Westwood Studios? Absolutely. Is there anything we can do about it? Not really, except to hope that the last few games Westwood makes before it dies are awesome. Westwood is about to become the next victim of large corporations. The Commander is about to become the Conquered.