Like many of us, Lorne Lanning is not such a big fan of EA and some of their business practices. He went into this in considerable detail in a recent interview with GamesIndustry International, where he basically claimed that EA’s handling of Stranger’s Wrath was carefully orchestrated in such a way that the game would underperform, making Oddworld Inhabitants an easy target for acquisition by EA.
Looking at the details given in the interview regarding the game’s development, there is certainly some ground for making such an accusation. Stranger’s Wrath was originally planned for both an Xbox and PS2 release, with Oddworld Inhabitants handling the Xbox and EA in charge of getting a PS2 port made. But then EA cancelled the PS2 version, and then proceeded to withdraw marketing and promotional support because it was no longer a multiplatform title. With next to no advertising, Stranger’s Wrath went on to sell a measly 600,000 units ”on a title that really needed to do 1.6 million to break even.”
Was canceling the PS2 port and then cutting the marketing budget as a direct result of their own actions careful manipulation aimed at putting Oddworld Inhabitants in position for a takeover? Or was this just a case of two different departments of EA having no idea what the other is up to? Lanning claims that EA was determined to acquire his team in the aftermath of Stranger’s Wrath‘s poor sales.
“When you say that to us we go ‘fuck you very much’, quite frankly. That’s not a sustainable model, that’s a hostile acquisition,” he says. “That’s why we had to strive to get independent. Rather than get into bed with someone we knew was a horrible bed partner we said ‘let’s stay virgins for longer’.
Seven years later, the Oddworld franchise is making its slow return with the aid of digital distribution. HD rereleases of previous games have been a modest success for Oddworld Inhabitants, allowing them to survive as a fully independent studio without a publisher expecting a majority share of the pie.
“Rather than having to have 1.5 million units in the opening week or suffer death, now if we have 50,000 sales and we’re still in business. People are still employed and we’re able to keep making content. When we released box product we would get 20 per cent of the revenue. After that 20 per cent paid back the entire development budget, if it was still selling at $60 we would start seeing $7 a unit. Because of the bricks and mortar, the plastic, the manufacturing, the gas involved in taking games to the store, the store itself and all those extra costs – not one of those costs makes a better game for the player.”
Lanning admits within the interview to a general dislike for the publisher model in general, feeling that the majority of profits made off of games go into executive’s pockets rather than being invested into future projects.
“How do we not get in bed with the IMF? That’s your big publishing landscape. The owners are flying jets, do you think they care about the customers just one fucking per cent? Not at all.”
EA didn’t exactly appreciate Lanning’s comments about them. In a response by Jeff Brown, corporate spokesman for EA, they refuted everything he said and went on to suggest he must be mentally ill to think poorly of them. “We wish Lorne luck on the game and recommend Lithium for the paranoia and Tourette Syndrome. Nobody here remembers a jet, a Ferrari or an offer to buy his company,” he said.
EA sure is good at PR.