Two Bad Launches: Why Rockstar Is Succeeding Where EA Failed

from the post-mortem dept

Since recollections of the SimCity debacle have been re-conjured thanks to EA giving the finger to the modding community (read: mega-enormo fanbase), perhaps it’s useful to examine how a painful launch doesn’t have to turn your entire fan-base against a company. Unless you’ve been living under a rock that doesn’t get a TV signal lately, you’re probably aware that the latest iteration of Grand Theft Auto was recently released. One of the big draws of the game, the online component, wasn’t available immediately, instead reserved to a tantalizing “coming soon” tab in the game’s pause menu. Simply as disclosure, I know this because I’m a paying GTA customer.

Well, the GTA Online launch kicked off this week and it went about as smooth as Hugh Jackman’s face after he hasn’t shaved for twenty-six days. The vast majority of gamers couldn’t even get the online portion of the game to launch due to crowded server issues, and those that did faced problems with getting the game to behave correctly. So, you imagine Rockstar got the same response as EA, right? Wrong. Because Rockstar told everyone that things were going to be rocky and have since proved that it’s at least as interested in fixing the issues as it is in making money. See the following warning:

There will be the typical growing pains for an online game, including but not limited to crashes, glitches, crazy bugs, gameplay modes and mechanics that need re-balancing and other surprises! Even in GTAV Story Mode, some of you may have seen a few odd and even amusing little glitches out there last week. This sort of thing is inevitable in a massive open-world game and there’ll surely be lots more unexpected oddities like this in the Online world next week – rest assured we’ll be monitoring and actively doing all we can to smooth such things out as they happen, but we need your help to find them, as well as your feedback to help fine tune all of the game’s systems so everything is perfectly balanced.

This stands in stark contrast to EA’s launch of SimCity, which resulted in most of the same feedback they received when it announced the game and in beta: stop it with the always-online crap. EA wasn’t willing to listen to its users, where Rockstar is actively recruiting the feedback. This makes a world of difference, including creating a sense of unity between the game makers and their fans. It’s important and it’s something EA got horribly wrong.

As for how it’s handling things post-not-awesome-launch? Well, in addition to going the normal route of actively informing fans what is currently going wrong, what it’s doing to make fixes, and how it’s going to do so, Rockstar told people it doesn’t want their money until it gets things right for everyone.

For the time being and until we have been able to get everybody access to GTA Online and things are running smoothly, we have disabled the option of purchasable GTA$ cash packs. Players can however keep on earning GTA$ by pulling off Jobs and other profitable gameplay activities rather than purchasing cash packs.

Can you even imagine a fantasy world where EA refuses to sell you things until it gets the core game stable? It certainly didn’t happen with SimCity. Once again, connecting with your fans and being awesome will get you everything in the gaming world. Sure, people are frustrated with how GTA Online has performed thus far, but nobody is calling for heads to roll. Rockstar can take full credit for that.

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Companies: ea, rockstar

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Comments on “Two Bad Launches: Why Rockstar Is Succeeding Where EA Failed”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Indeed epic win. The problems EA and Rockstar faced are very common when a much anticipated service goes online. People will want to use it all at the same time. The regular load isn’t gonna be nearly as heavy and nobody should need to prepare for the cataclysm so the resources will just be left unused afterwards. It’s better to go through the rocky period, wait people to settle and there you go, smooth rides. EA gives a fuck to the customers, Rockstar understands them.

On a side note, what if they HIRED extra server capacity for the first few days from cloud services? Just my 2 cents 😉

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

EAs model is about earning money. If they can earn a lot of money, to a warm place with customers. The most important people are the big-time shareholders.

With that view on the world, what EA is doing is with the minimum amount of resources to try and keep the game selling. It is not pretty by any stretch, but it seems to be working well enough to keep the company afloat.

Rockstar has a different take on things, where they try to get customers to like their games, to hopefully exchange that goodwill into future sales when the next game hits.

Other companies have other business models, depending on the kind of games they are trying to offload. That EA is hated for their business model doesn’t seem to reflect in earnings which eventually is all it comes down to for large corporations.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Games are getting so big that you can’t properly test them in Beta.

Baloney. You can certainly run a decent Beta program with modern games. Remember, “beta” means “we think it’s ready to ship, but we’re going to have real people use it first just to be sure”.

The real reason for the death of the beta is money. Microsoft showed that people don’t really care if the software is buggy. They’ll buy it anyway, so you might as well just ship the beta and save a lot in development costs.

It’s one of the reasons why overall software quality has been gradually falling over the years.

LCD says:

Re: Re: Re:

EA is doing just that with BF4 Beta.

I work for EA (very unofficial in the spokesman ship dept) and I can tell you there was a LOT of postmortems around SimCity and there are a LOT of people that are actively trying to prevent that fiasco from ever happening again.

IMHO from what I have gathered it was more of hubris across multiple mostly-independent groups that caused the SimCity issue and that has now been knocked down like the ending of a Shakespeare play.

Most of the internet doesn’t understand that the studios in EA mostly antonymous and have control over their games. Sure there is pressure to make money and cut costs but the Exec Board isn’t controlling every move and 2nd guessing every decision.

EA has tried a lot of new things (argument that EA is innovative) over the years and but not all of them were good for EA or for gamers (I do acknowledge EA has not always made the most gamer friendly choices).

But things at EA are getting better because of lessons from SimCity and other launches. As an example look at the Great Games Guarantee ( It isn’t easy to lead the industry with something new like that and it took a while to get it working.

Our new CEO is pretty dedicated to a good gamer experience and has proven that over his years here. Actually our old CEO JR was pretty forward thinking and invested a lot into changing the older cultural mindset and then took the bullet to appease the stockholders.

As a side note:
Gamers don’t understand how hard it is to make games, and putting them online expands that challenge. It takes a lot of hard decisions just to get at game out the door. Then the number of hoops to jump through for legal and 1st party (console) regulations is insane, and making the game run smooth is a few order of magnitudes above that. Ideally the gamers shouldn’t have to know how hard it is but sometimes it just leaks though. How the company handles the bad parts says a lot but every game launch is a very different and some go better than others.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

While it may be true that changes are in the works, what is still an aggravation to the gamers is buying a broken game with the idea it will be fixed later. They certainly don’t agree to you paying them when it is totally fixed now do they?

I would not agree to buy a car that the tires will be shipped in sometime later. Nor will I willingly buy a broken game. If it won’t work out of the box, it’s not a product worth considering. The rust to put it in the market place before it is done, does not consider the gamer at all. The idea that all this must be covered up in their gaming forum so as not to look bad, including banning members for stating there are problems that gaming houses don’t want to deal with just makes it look like what it is, a rip off.

If I spend money on a game, the gaming house has no need of my address, email, connection IP, nor anything else on line because I will have purchased it off line. The requirement of activation on line isn’t going to float for me; ever. I don’t have to do that to buy a hammer nor food. I am not going to do it for a game, much less provide a steady online connection when I have caps to deal with from my provider, not to mention a crappy connection.

As kitsune361 above mentions, when you go to buying on line through places like Steam and they don’t like what they are hearing, no matter the truth of it, they lock you out of your library of games. No matter how cheap that price, when that can be done over games you have purchased, that’s no bargain and again, one I won’t go for.

I used to buy lots of games and because of these methods of dealing with their customers, they have totally removed the reason to buy at all, at this point from nearly all of them.

Call me a very, very, dissatisfied gamer who finds he is spending a lot less on games than he used to.

LCD says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I feel that your frustration comes from the truth that games aren’t perfect.

Things do out the door incomplete and partly broken, like I suggested, there are a bazillion things to deal with to get a game out the door and there are risks to everything. At any given point dev teams are faced with “fix it, strip it, delay it or ship it”. At some point you have to determine if the quality on whole is enough so you can ship it or delay if you have to delay it (SimCity on Mac delayed twice and launched 6 months after the pc version-but you got both anyway). But when you delay it is expensive… marketing costs, sales lost because the lack of buzz of the launch. If you ship it does it ‘good enough’. Ever game team has to make that choice under different circumstances. Ahh you say that you should QA and test!… well that is very, very, very expensive and game teams do a LOT of testing… but even 1000 QA testers can’t find all the things wrong that a million users can in a shorter time. Now add the differences in PC configurations!

You show me a game that went out the door ‘truly finished’ and I will show you a game team that either cut most of their advanced/beloved features out of the release or delayed their launch, or went financially or emotionally broke trying to make it.

Games at least can be patched and game teams take advantage of that nowadays. Look at BF3 and Sims 3… they put out patches for a long time (you used to get 1-3 patches MAX from a dev team). And event that isn’t a given.. Recently the devs for Terraria (a game I like) publicly said at release “that was it, no more stuff”… it was only peer pressure and popularity that they came out with an update to fix some things and add also added some new content (that they probably had to leave out for launch).

And it isn’t just games that don’t get it right the first time, cars get recalled, so do strollers, Operation Systems get patches, text books go to the printer with typos and wrong data, the list goes on.

But I think the a chunk of your comment is frustration that is rooted in something even deeper than how a company handles issues on launch….

It is that how you buy and play games is changing. Many games now are dependent on a service that is kept going that could disappear anytime. It is a cultural change related to most digital goods that as a whole haven’t figured out. See streaming move services, digital books, iTunes etc. What is the expectation for how long your are

I wish you the best of luck finding a game dev that doesn’t believe in DRM and still sells discs. I encourage you to look for non-DRM games (See GOG) and keep playing something even if it isn’t the big titles. But you have to live with that trade off of not playing ‘the latest thing’.

I would also suggest that you encourage others to be good examples for why you DON’T need DRM or online services (i.e. tell people not to pirate for dumb reasons). Maybe you will be successful in bringing the game industry away from the policies you don’t like. Ford made really crappy cars for a long time but somehow survived (cough bailout).. and now they seem to have changed for the better. I think EA is in the same boat… but without the bailout.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Used to be all I ever had was an American product. Then came the day the molding wouldn’t stay on after 6 months, the mechanics couldn’t fix the thing, and the quality was crap.

I quit buying American made cars. I haven’t returned to buying American cars since then either. They are too expensive to buy one and then get an oops from the maker.

I used to do game review magazines until you couldn’t trust them anymore. For a while that worked. Then came the day the reviewers couldn’t continue without a deal with the maker about not writing a bad review. I chunked that just like I did the car business.

I’ve been burned enough times on games, some of which never, ever, put out an update or a patch, to understand well the deal with games. It’s come down to realizing that most of it is a rip off for the customer as very few deliver on their promise. I now absolutely refuse to buy a game without trying it first. It’s not just quality that is at issue. I won’t buy a game that doesn’t have replay value and I intend to find out which do and which do not. It all boils down to a lack of quality in the product and a lack of faith in gaming houses after having been burned so long and so often, and the destruction of the customers faith in actually getting what they are paying for. I am sure you would consider that $60 for a game is probably rather cheap from an insiders viewpoint of what all goes into making one. I’m on the opposite end of the scale and $60 is damn expensive for at best a few hours entertainment.

I will buy a game I like. I’ll never again buy one untried. My faith in the gaming industry has been shattered and is unlikely to be recovered given the present and past operating circumstances.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I wish you the best of luck finding a game dev that doesn’t believe in DRM and still sells discs

Not that hard to find, really, except for the “still sells discs” part — but that’s irrelevant. It’s entirely possible to ship games digitally without mandating that you have to check in with the company every so often just to play the game you bought.

I think EA is in the same boat… but without the bailout.

Once EA stopped being EA (waaaay back when), they became actively hostile to gamers. This has gone on so long that it’s part of the corporate culture now. I know they don’t think of themselves as hostile to gamers, but they are nonetheless.

This is a recent anomaly or anything. I’d be thrilled if EA decided to be a good company, but it’s been so long since they have that I don’t think they have it in them. At all.

None of this relates to the quality of the games themselves. All of it relates to their horrendous business practices. Those practices are so awful that for a lot of people, no amount of game quality can make it worth dealing with EA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

This is precisely why I am no longer a customer of EA nor Ubisoft, is extremely bad business practices that have nothing to do with a game beyond their decisions it must have this or that. Simply both gaming houses have become dirty words to a lot of gamers. I’m one.

It took years to tear down that reputation of being a good gaming maker and they worked hard at. Hard enough to become the number 1 hated game maker some years ago. Yeah, that was their reward for treating customers so badly.

But just like I quit buying American cars, so to did I become a non-customer of EA. That happens when you destroy the trust of those who buy your products.

Now I am not pointing this at LCD. This is not meant to be something that he is blamed for because it isn’t in his hands. It’s the corporate culture of EA and that’s the reason I don’t buy their products anymore. I simply can not trust the products they put out as worth the time, aggravation, and money.

LCD says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Like I said there was a lot of hubris with the SimCity launch.

There is a huge push now to have Customer Service involved at all stages (sometimes they were left out) so they can actively put out info in FAQ’s, forums and social media etc.

It is true that not everything is put out there… just like any business you have to hold your cards carefully… but overall the gamer experience is considered at all stages.

T Teshima (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You make some good points, but the decisions that were made with simcity were such BS, and the response of EA to the problems were so badly done, it was a textbook example of how not to design a game. But the fact remains, that the decisions made in the design of simcity were made purely to insert online drm into the game. It is an anti consumer attitude that pisses off people about EA.

LCD says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I am not saying they weren’t BS, A lot of bad things happened during the launch.

But I wasn’t in the room when they were made and I don’t think you either. So if you want to assert your opinion of the Online DRM being the only reason for always online as fact I can’t stop you. I think it had something to do with it but I honestly believe there were a lot of other factors that went into it around trying to keep the gamer engaged. Did they work out… well not so much.

What I am trying to say to you is that it had an affect and things are changing here for the better. I have noted in the years I have been here there it has always been that most if not all the people at EA want to make good games and have them work well for gamers. But we also still want to get paid decently and there end up being trade offs. But the majority of people that make games here are gamers and are passionate about games.

As a re-disclosure… I work somewhere in the EA org and am in no ways an official source for information… these are my opinions from what I have seen.

David Muir (profile) says:

Attitude Breeds Success

With GTA V, Rockstar had a game launch day that was apparently unprecedented in the history of entertainment. They have connected with fans in a substantial way over many years and many titles. Some may say that Rockstar can afford to be so magnanimous about online cash packs because they made so much money on the game already. But I believe their overall attitude is what drives their success, not any one particular action.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Attitude Breeds Success

I see the cash packs as something small and simple they can do to connect with the fans.

Our game is broken, to ask you to pour more cash in would make us look like giant dicks. While there will be a “loss” of profits in the early days, that loss is nothing compared to screwing the brand.

While there are always some diehard fans who will buy it no matter what, there are more gamers out there who wait to see if its actually worth their money. A company actively refusing an easy revenue stream because the game isn’t quite right makes a good impression.

Something that people might be missing is without cash to leapfrog ahead, people will need to do every little mission and thing to get more cash… leading to more people discovering where there might be a glitch/bug that needs to be fixed.

PaulT (profile) says:

The disabling of sales is a nice touch, albeit one probably rooted in self preservation rather than altruism (nobody can sue them for selling product nobody can use if they can’t buy it…)

But realistically this all boils down to the game design. Even if a few bugs were introduced by the update, nobody was prevented from enjoying the single player mode while the problems were fixed. Games like SimCity and Diablo 3 were designed so nobody could use them offline. As has been said many, many times, there’s the problem. GTAV neither looked like it was calling you a thief or preventing you from accessing your own game. Therefore, less complaints.

Customers understand there will be teething problems with something this big, but any restrictions in the meantime need to be reasonable.

Ben says:

In my opinion, GTAO’s launch is MUCH worse than SimCity’s. When RS announced there would be issues with the launch, most people expected problems connecting–which is totally fair, since EVERY online game faces that.

The actual issues have been worse than just problems connecting, however, as people are losing hours and hours of progress, cash, and more commonly (lately), entire characters. Hell, IGN had to suspend their review-in-progress because the reviewer’s character vanished.

Could you imagine the storm it would have been if they DIDN’T disable cash cards? People would be spending money on property and vehicles that would inexplicably disappear.

I know that GTA5 has a single-player option while SimCity didn’t, but EA at least tried to make amends by offering a free game to people affected by the SimCity launch. Not saying they’re perfect by any means, but I don’t exactly think it’s fair to say that Rockstar is succeeding with the online launch.

Anonymous Coward says:

After all the years that EA pulled crap on their customers if you got burnt in anyway from SimCity, it’s your own damn fault for continuing to fund the company by buying its games. I never consider a game made by EA, mainly because of it’s well known practices being anticustomer as well as their franchise games are expensive for a very short play time. One of their franchise games has no legs for longevity play.

EA joined Ubisoft on that list.

Gavin says:

Re: EA Is Better Than Rockstar Games

EA made good games, like battlefield, fight night, fifa, etc. With good graphics and smooth gameplay on good pc’s with HD Graphics. Since I play battlefield, and fifa 14, i never seen any glitches, like the morphing glitch, freezing and other crazy shit. I was waiting for gta v, but they delayed it, so fuck rockstar games, i really dont get their point. EA is the best ever.

kitsune361 (profile) says:

Apples to Apples, DRM by another name...

So, a friend of mine who is a long time fan of Rockstar & the GTA franchise is staying away from GTA5 because of the online component Rockstar Social Club is just that terrible.

He’s owned Max Payne 3 since launch. Bought it on Steam. Hasn’t been able to play it for the last several months due to having to sign on to that online component. Contacted Rockstar’s tech support, they asked him for a photo of his CD & box… for a game bought on Steam. Whatever they do to try and fix it wipes all his saves and stats… and it still won’t let him play.

That said, it’s not like EA is any better. They actually got a game they had put on sale on Steam over the holidays YANKED because it didn’t work with out the online component… that EA can’t fix.

Honestly, IMHO, the sooner this plague of “always online” games and “cloud only” saves die, the better.

sehlat (profile) says:

"The value you give."

“The bottom line is the gain you get. The top line is the gain you deliver in return. If you provide the customer with a buy well worth having, you’ve taken care of the top line. That doesn’t guarantee a profit, but Ford, Edison, Bell, Land, and a host of others have done right by the top line, and everyone was better off because of it. Naturally, the bottom line is important. But there needs to be something on the top line first!”

Rockstar is clearly a top-line and a top-of-the-line company.

Anonymous Coward says:

Honestly, this isn’t a very good article.

Because Rockstar told everyone that things were going to be rocky and have since proved that it’s at least as interested in fixing the issues as it is in making money. See the following warning:

What they’re talking about are basically bug fixes. It doesn’t make them particularly brave or honest to say that there will be bugs in the online game and that they are going to release patches to fix them.

This stands in stark contrast to EA’s launch of SimCity, which resulted in most of the same feedback they received when it announced the game and in beta: stop it with the always-online crap. EA wasn’t willing to listen to its users, where Rockstar is actively recruiting the feedback. This makes a world of difference, including creating a sense of unity between the game makers and their fans. It’s important and it’s something EA got horribly wrong.

Again, the feedback that they’re “actively recruiting” is just bug reports. They aren’t asking for feedback about their business model: the decision to let people buy GTA$ cash packs. Hell, even EA talks about how much they love listening to bug reports and feature requests.

There is a lot of feedback and there is a clear passion for SimCity. That?s great to see. And while we appreciate positive feedback, we take very seriously the players who have criticisms. Players have high expectations of what goes into our games and we have an obligation to deliver. We continuously review this feedback alongside in-game telemetry to help us decide where to focus our game tuning and development efforts. We?ve formed dedicated teams to explore specific features. Some player requests, such as a tool to raise and lower roads, were straightforward challenges.

The real reason people aren’t as angry at Rockstar as they were at EA is because the single player game works just fine even if the online component is broken.

… Rockstar told people it doesn’t want their money until it gets things right for everyone. Can you even imagine a fantasy world where EA refuses to sell you things until it gets the core game stable?

As other people have pointed out, the reason they stopped selling cash is because it’s disappearing from people’s accounts. If you interviewed any of the people who lost all of their money and character progress I doubt they would praise Rockstar for being such a great listener. Rockstar could have either stopped selling the cash packs or continue to have thousands of customers calling them demanding restorations or refunds.

rummeltje says:

As someone who owns + has played all GTA games (and quite a few other R* titles), except GTA LONDON :

So they launched with 3 different versions (normal, special, collectors edition), the game has not enough real missions, they cheat the offline player out of half of the stock market profits, because bawsaq doesn’t work when you are offline, and sell in-game money (!)
and still get a positive review like this ???

I’m personally considering selling my GTA V to the local pawnshop.

Bad R*, bad !

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