Two years ago, the CEO of Electronic Arts stood on stage with Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata during their Wii U unveiling to announce an “unprecedented partnership” between the two. The nature of that partnership was never fully revealed, but EA’s actual support during the Wii U launch was tepid. Then a PR rep announced that they have nothing – nothing – in development for the Wii U, although this may not actually be true. Whether EA will give nothing to Nintendo's consoles, or whether it will dribble out the occasional game, EA's actions so far suggest that they haven't simply lost interest in the Wii U, but rather that they are, for some mysterious reason, doing everything in their power to sink it.
Game publishers do not have unlimited resources, so you can probably make a case for EA not putting a lot of effort into a console that has been slow out of the gate, but EA’s behavior towards the Wii U has been downright churlish, and can only be explained as a mix of dishonesty and vindictiveness combined with a little incompetence.
If you were paying attention, you knew for sure EA had given up on the Wii U after several stories came out in early May. First off there was a tweet from EA DICE technical director Johan Andersson that said Frostbite, the engine EA is using for most of their upcoming games, does not run the Wii U. The tweet said that results with the Frostbite 2 engine were not promising on the console, so they never even tried to run the most recent version, Frostbite 3.
The was followed by an interview in Eurogamer with Patrick Bach in which he explained that Battlefield 4 was not coming to the Wii U because the console was too weak. In fact, he suggested pretty strongly that the Wii U is less powerful than the 360 and PS3; that it was lower than they were willing to go.
While EA was unwilling to do any work on getting Frostbite running on the Wii U because they said it lacked power, a few days later they announced “Frostbite Go,” a version of the engine that would run on smartphones, allowing them to scale their games way, way down.
If all that was too subtle, we finally had a series of fanboyish tweets from EA’s Bob Summerwill in which he declared that the Wii U was “crap,” insulting its power, eShop, and controller, and insisting Mario should be on the PS4.
Summerwill is not the first game programmer to complain about the Wii U’s power, and while an analysis of the Wii U suggests a machine at least on a par with current gen consoles, I have no way to determining the truth.
What’s striking about these comments, though, is how openly hostile they are. Even if EA’s employees don’t like the Wii U, why would they so vociferously attack it?
Compare a recent interview with Insomniac Game’s CEO Ted Price. When asked about the Wii U, he said that the company simply didn’t have the resources to develop for the console at present, but that he liked it and felt it just needed better support from Nintendo.
Why wouldn’t EA’s people say something more like that? Instead, every statement denigrates the Wii U.
EA’s support for the Wii U was minimal from the beginning, with a handful of ports of games more core gamers had already played. The even released the Wii U Mass Effect 3 simultaneously with a release of the entire trilogy for the 360/PS3, as though they wanted to just shout, “WE WILL GIVE YOU OUR DREGS!” Then, having done so little for the Wii U, they have complained that their games didn’t sell well enough. If you’re not even going to try, how can you expect to succeed?
Right now, it looks like EA simply hates the Wii U, and perhaps Nintendo as well. Why else refuse to put Crysis 3 on the console even though Crytek was interested in doing it? It is almost as though hating the Wii U is part of EA’s corporate culture.
The question is, why? After all, two years ago, EA knew the console that was coming out, so they can’t say it’s because it’s not as powerful as a PS4. They knew what the machine was, and they expressed enthusiasm and support for it, even though they were one of the first publishers to virtually give up on the original Wii. And while the Wii U’s weak sales could affect what publishers do now, EA’s behavior was iffy before the console was even launched.
I always find myself coming back to the rumor that EA was rebuffed when they tried to sell Nintendo on using their sketchy EA Origin as Wii U’s eShop. There may be another explanation, but it’s the only one that has ever surfaced, and would explain the vindictiveness apparent in their actions.
For whatever reason, EA appears to want to kill the Wii U. The question now is, can they do it? Their dropping sports support for the Dreamcast in 1999 is said to be one of the things that killed that console, and it was far more beloved by critics and gamers than the Wii U.
The biggest issue will be for sports gamers, because EA is huge in that genre, with IPs like Madden and Tiger Woods. Nintendo is not really a sports-sim developer, so they are unlikely to take up the slack.
But EA is not quite as all-powerful as they were in 1999, and Nintendo is in a better financial situation right now than Sega was when they put out the Dreamcast. Some say this is the final nail in the Wii U’s coffins, but others – and I count myself among these – don’t really care much about EA’s upcoming line up anyway.
I just wish someone from Nintendo or EA would come out and say what on earth happened. Because all we have seen is the smoke, and we still don’t actually know what burst into flames.