Many many moons ago, probably more than I'd like to admit Electronic Arts released Theme Park on PC. A fantastic blue box that screamed fun just from the packaging alone. Sure enough it was a good game too allowing you to build and manage your very own theme park, it was micromanagement personified right down to the smallest of details, for example; adding more salt to the fast food made visitors more thirsty so you could push the price up on soft drinks to fleece the suckers waiting in line and increase revenue.
Graphically the game was cartoon cute, bright colours, some great detail and visually the title really popped once you'd got a pretty good park set up. At the time I think it retailed for around £24.99, I shifted an incredible amount at £19.99. Fast forward a good few years, again, probably more than I'd like to admit and EA have revived the title for iOS as a freemium title.
But unfortunately according to a couple of other blogs I've read that's where the fun stops. You see apparently EA has provided the title free to play with in-game monetization and many of the game's attractions are locked based on your level, leveling up is a fairly slow process achieved by tapping on existing attractions to earn a few experience points.You can also complete missions to earn extra experience points, this helps you to level up faster, but is nothing more than a long drawn out chore which ultimately gives you a set of rides which unless you build duplicates to just to fill things out your park is going to look very dull, unless of course you're willing to shell out Tickets to upgrade. As you progress you unlock other large areas in your theme park and each area can be themed according to your choice with a selection including Knights vs. Cowboys and Pirates. However, the process of filling each area in your park is ultimately a painfully slow one, primarily due to the frustrating level-locked items and the fact that the rest of the must have items cost Tickets, or premium currency, to purchase. For instance, a Skull-Train roller coaster costs the equivalent of more than $60 to purchase.
$60!!!???, hang on a minute, so let me get this straight, EA have decided in its wisdom to charge $60 for one 'cool' ride as an in-game purchase when I may as well click on over to Amazon and buy the full original PC version for less than $5 packed with all the rides and cool stuff for a much more rewarding experience. Its these kind of decisions by the suits that tarnish brands.
Everyone knows that games cost money to develop but have EA seriously sat down at the board room table and worked it out that to generate a break even they have to set the in-game pricing for one item at 12 times the price of the original game? Games should be fun to play, they are after all a form of entertainment, they should also reward the player for the skill and time they invest. Monetization of products with in-app purchases should be transparent so that the end user knows what they are getting in to. Everyone loves free to play but players know when they are being taken for a ride, even a Theme Park one.
If you're going to catch the big fish you're going to need to be on equal terms, if you can't get a bigger boat stay the fuck out of the water.
If only Electronic Arts had heeded that advice when they launched the damp squib that was Need for Speed The Run. A game that failed to chart in the top ten despite the bucket loads of marketing push with TV and online media buy and as for that TV trailer - in all honesty did a Michael Bay directed trailer really add value to consumers perceptions that the product would be good? The reviews haven't been kind either,critics have slated the title as too heavy on the story with not enough for gamers to get their teeth into.Official Xbox Magazine who scored it a big fat 5 out of 10 summed it up with the following summary - "As it stands, we've rarely been so bored when travelling at 150 miles per hour, less inspired by a police chase or less interested in the plot of a videogame." Full review here.
I absolutely loved Hot Pursuit when it launched last year and the trailers, viral and social aspects of the marketing really propelled the title despite the fact it halved in retail price only 6 weeks after launch to devalue all that hard work somewhat.
But herein lies the problem at this time of year, EA glossed up and shoved NFSTR out to capitalize on the seasonal trade, problem is diluting a brand and trying to move what is essentiually car lovers porn into a totally new story driven direction (and one that only really had a lukewarm reception at E3 earlier in the year) was a warning sign for EA to hold the title back until Feb when retail would have been far more receptive to it. Instead it went up against the man eaters that was Skyrim, MW3, Battlefield 3 and FIFA, two of those products were from its own stable but yet all vying for market share from the same consumer. The investors would have pushed for the Christmas launch as essential, the producer probably would have liked more time for some much needed polish and no doubt the PR guys were scratching their heads trying to gain pagination in a market dominated by truly deserving games with tons more quality at even half the price.
EA need to realise that trying to combine a Mirrors Edge inspired chase story /design /bunch of bollocks to a pure driving experience that has been the mainstay of Need For Speed is only going to tarnish the brand not innovate it.
For me its not just the end product that excites me about most forms of visual entertainment, be that film or videogame but rather the processes and artistic talents that go into creating those experiences we enjoy. As much as I have enjoyed the amazing artistic talents of Jim Lee's series of comics I've collected since I was a spotty teenager I got a bigger kick out of seeing how he put the likes of Batman,Superman and Deathblow onto paper in his awesome coffee table book Icons.
At Midway I was extremely fortunate to have worked with some amazing digital artists who literally brought games to life with some truly astounding design work for titles Like Stranglehold, Mortal Kombat, Wheelman as well as other projects that never saw the light of day such as Criminal, Paladin,Hero and This is Vegas which was being developed by Surreal studios over in Seattle led by Alan Patmore.
If you love the design aspect that goes into games design and the art creation and you've checked out Parka blogs regular artbook reviews then you'll be a fool to miss the work of Gilles Beloeil who worked on Assassins Creed, check out his personal website found here.