EA's Wii U Vendetta

EA's Statements Could Best Be Summed Up as "DIE LOATHSOME CREATURE!"

Need for Speed: Most Wanted
Need for Speed: Most Wanted was the last and best thing EA released for the Wii U. Electronic Arts

In 2011, 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. Less than a year after the Wii U's 2012 launch, a PR rep announced that they have nothing – nothing in development for the Wii U. After releasing four games, only one of which showed any real commitment to making something special for the console, EA washed its hands of the Wii U. After which they seemed to, for some mysterious reason, do everything in their power to sink it.

The Signs: EA Talks Down the Wii U

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 was been slow out of the gate, but EA’s behavior towards the Wii U was downright churlish, appearing to be 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, 2016. First off there was a tweet from EA DICE technical director Johan Andersson that said Frostbite, the engine EA planned using for most of their upcoming games, did 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 was 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.

The Ramp Up: EA's Trash Talk 

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, although the Wii U is generally considered at least on a par with the PS3 and Xbox 360.

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 denigrated the Wii U.

EA’s support for the Wii U was minimal from the beginning, with a handful of ports of games most core gamers had already played. They 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 complained that their games didn’t sell well enough. If you’re not even going to try, how can you expect to succeed?

It seemed EA simply hated 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 was as though hating the Wii U was 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.

The Theory: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Publisher Scorned

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 seemed to want to kill the Wii U. They had done it before; their dropping sports support for the Dreamcast in 1999 is said to be one of the things that killed that console. But while the Wii U was never as critically beloved as the Dreamcast, Nintendo was stronger company than 1999 SEGA, and in spite of pundits who declared EA's actions as the last nail in the Wii U's coffin, many amazing, non-EA titles kept the console afloat. 

I hope someday someone from Nintendo or EA will come forth and say what on earth happened. All we have seen is the smoke; we still don’t actually know what burst into flames.