The Franchise Report: Electronic Arts
Welcome to The Franchise Report, where we take a look at a 3rd party game publisher and see how their biggest franchises are doing these days.
More than Madden
Today we look at Electronic Arts, but not the modern EA. They may be most well known for their FIFA and Madden franchises, as well as their insatiable love for all things monetization like loot boxes, but back in the old days, these guys made some really creative stuff that seems to have largely fallen by the wayside. That’s what we’re focusing on here. Not the new stuff, but the old. Let’s see how things are going.
Skate or Die
A lot of people think this was a Konami game since the most popular version came to the NES by Ultra Games, Konami’s second publishing label, but the original Skate or Die was in fact a PC game published by EA, as were its various sequels with the exception of Skate or Die: Bad n Rad for Game Boy which was both developed and published by Konami themselves. These skateboarding games are so very much a product of their time, but with the resurgence of the genre in the wake of Tony Hawk, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for EA to get Skate or Die back in the game.
Health rating: Dead
But they didn’t. Instead, they launched a whole new skateboarding franchise called Skate, which was admittedly pretty darn cool, but there was a certain 80s punk attitude to Skate or Die that Skate didn’t really have. The aforementioned Bad n Rad for Game Boy was actually the last game in the series to see release, and that was back in 1991. Strangely enough, there was a second Skate or Die for Game Boy in 1991 called Tour de Thrash which was published again by EA. That's it though. Outside of the original NES game making its way to the Wii Virtual Console, as far as I can tell nobody has gone anywhere near this franchise in over 15 years. I think it skate or died.
The Sims may be the iteration of this franchise that most people know today, but it all started with Maxis’s PC hit SimCity. Created by a programmer named Will Wright, while programming a game called Raid on Bungeling Bay, he determined that the level creation tool was more fun than the actual game itself, so he made it into a city management simulation, and the rest was history. SimCity even got a high profile port to the SNES by Nintendo themselves, but as Maxis is owned by EA now, so is SimCity. So where is it now?
Health rating: Not so good
The last proper game in the series was the 2013 “reboot” called SimCity. This game had such an awful release that it basically killed the franchise. As EA is wont to do, the game required all manner of DRM stuff like a constant internet connection even to play offline. It had a bunch of other problems too, and they all resulted in some pretty unhappy fans. A mobile port with a bunch of fixes was farted out in 2014, but by then the damage was done, and there hasn’t been a SimCity release since. The studio closed as well, and that's never good. Still, EA loves money, and I’m sure if they can think of a way to revive this game’s corpse to make a buck someday, they will.
It’s everyone’s favorite game about beating up people on a motorcycle! Road Rash was a big win for Sega Genesis fans back in the day. It was full of all the attitude that Sega’s marketing campaign was all about, and it saw a number of sequels following its success. Not just on Sega platforms either! Road Rash hit 3DO, PlayStation, N64, and more. It saw steady releases all the way through 2000 with Road Rash: Jailbreak on PlayStation.
Health rating: Not so good
But that 2000 release and its subsequent GBA port in 2003 was pretty much it for the franchise. In 2009 there was a mobile game just called “Road Rash” but that didn’t exactly make waves and the series has been pretty much dead since. The original did get included in the Sega Genesis Mini a few years back, but we’re way past due for something properly new out of the series. It’s clearly not forgotten, but it’s in rough shape.
I will die on the hill that the original James Pond is actually a pretty decent game. The whole idea of this mascot character is absurd, but it gained a level of popularity that the Awesome Possums of the world could have only hoped for. It saw 2 sequels, James Pond: Codename Robocod and James Pond 3, as well as a sports spinoff called The Aquatic Games, for some reason. James Pond fever was spreading, and EA was publishing the heck out of it!
Health rating: Terrible
After 1993 though, James Pond basically went belly up. EA doesn’t seem to have any stake in the license anymore, and the few James Pond projects that have surfaced in the last few years exhibit a noticeable dip in quality, which is really saying something. Robocod was ported to the Switch in 2019 and it was… fine? Before that though was the last original game in the series, 2011’s James Pond in the Deathly Shallows which is just a miserable experience from top to bottom. If Bubsy can get a new game from Choice Provisions though, I say anything is possible for our favorite underwater agent. It’s not looking too good though.
The Strike Series
Back in 1992, EA released Desert Strike, a game about helicopters blowing stuff up, and it was a hit. Naturally sequels followed, and they were pretty well liked. Jungle Strike in 1993, Urban Strike in 1994, and then the jump to PlayStation brought Soviet Strike in 1996 and Nuclear Strike in 1997. That’s one game a year except 1995, which is really quite impressive.
Health rating: Basically dead
Or at least it WAS impressive. After Nuclear Strike was ported to Nintendo 64 in 1999, that was it. No more Strike games. Well, sort of. There was actually another sequel called Future Strike in the works, but that got retooled into Future Cop: LAPD in 1998, which itself was met with some pretty solid sales numbers and positive fan reactions. Obviously not enough to get EA to stick with the franchise though, as there hasn’t been so much as a whisper of reviving the Strike series since.
B.O.B. is an action platformer about a robot that shoots stuff. It’s the kind of game that seemed like it was a dime a dozen back in 1993, but was really sort of novel in that it was a mascot platformer that really wasn’t bad. In fact, B.O.B. had a pretty cool personality when all was said and done, and it was fairly well liked by those that played it.
Health rating: Basically dead
Sadly, B.O.B. rarely saw the light of day after that. It didn’t really set the world on fire, but it was a competent game with a fun personality. A sequel was apparently in the works for a time. It never materialized though, and thus B.O.B. seemed to be mostly dead. That is until EA Replay, a classic game compilation for the PSP that actually included B.O.B.! That was 2007 though, and it was also the last we heard of good ol’ B.O.B., but at least EA hasn’t completely forgotten about him. I’d be surprised if there was ever any more B.O.B. after this though.
Another PC classic series whose studio was eventually absorbed by Electronic Arts, Wing Commander put Origin on the map, and was a massive success when it was originally released in 1990. And with good reason too, as the game was really quite good! A number of sequels followed for nearly a decade, culminating in 1997’s Wing Commander: Prophecy for PC and eventually Game Boy Advance for some reason.
Health rating: Could be better
Look, Wing Commander isn’t going away. It had a feature film made out of it, and it’s just one of those names that carries so much weight it can’t be ignored forever. EA is doing a pretty good job of it though. Following Prophecy, the franchise was dormant until 2007 when Wing Commander Arena released with a resounding thud on Xbox Live. Not that the game was bad by any means, it just didn’t really do much of anything, and it’s been pretty well dead since. But again this is EA, and there’s little doubt in my mind that they will find a way to squeeze some more money out of this franchise if they feel they can someday, so I don’t imagine it’ll ever be truly dead.
Need for Speed
As far as racing games go, it’s hard to top Need for Speed in terms of name recognition. The original game was tied to Road & Track magazine, but quickly shed that license by its second entry and has been going strong ever since. It’s been reinvented time and again, but if you’re buying a game that says Need for Speed on it, chances are you’ll have a pretty good time.
Health rating: Very good
I really wanted to go out on a game that still had some life left in it because wow, EA has killed just about every brand it’s ever been involved with by this point, especially the classic stuff. Need for Speed is still around though, and has seen steady releases since its original one in 1994. The last original game was Need for Speed: Heat in 2019, which received reasonably positive reviews, followed by Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered in 2020, which seems to be pretty well loved all around. Need for Speed isn’t going anywhere, and that’s just fine by me.
And that about wraps it up for EA. They really had their hands in so many interesting franchises that have fallen by the wayside over the years, including stuff like Archon and Bard’s Tale that we didn't even get to here. They may be one of the more scummy developers out there these days, but they have a history worth celebrating, and that’s not nothing.
Join us next time when we see what Sunsoft has been up to. They have an event planned soon that promises to shed some light on a sort of brand revival for the company, so it should be fun to see what they release. Until then, enjoy some classic EA games, and seek out Henry Hatsworth for Nintendo DS. It’s from EA, and it’s really good.