A Look Back at EA’s “Unprecedented Partnership” With Nintendo

A lot can happen in two years…

I think both Nintendo and EA would like to wish E3 2011 never happened, or at least part of it. It was then that John Ricitiello, Electronics Arts CEO, told the audience at Nokia Theater about EA’s support for Nintendo’s Wii U console. “This is a breakthrough in our relationship based on a breakthrough in games development,” he said. “We look forward to seeing great EA content on this innovative new platform. Nintendo’s next console is truly transformational, a better platform than we’ve ever been offered by them before.”

Almost two years later, and that relationship is no where to be seen.

This is a post about all the facts and rumors that have been floating around these past two years. I want to get to the bottom of what happened, to understand what exactly took place behind the scenes. We’ve seen our fair share of surprises and disappointments, but few are much bigger than the falling out between EA and Nintendo. What exactly happened to EA’s “unprecedented partnership” with Nintendo?

Let’s go back to E3 2011. It is the final moments of Nintendo’s E3 press conference. They have just finished revealing the Wii U to the public for the first time, but they weren’t done quite yet. Enter John Ricitiello.

“Imagine a shooter like Battlefield with jaw-dropping graphics,” he said. “Imagine those games with an open online functionality.” Yes, let us imagine these things, because they likely will never come to the console… ever. But at the time, the announcement was met with huge applause. Having a huge publisher as EA pour out all support for Nintendo’s new console seemed to show that Nintendo is indeed trying to win back the core gamer.

In the months following E3 2011, EA wouldn’t stop praising the Wii U. “People will start talking about it being a transitional platform,” said Peter Moore, COO for Electronics Arts. “I don’t think that’s going to be the case, and here’s why. I think the [tablet] controller [is huge]. This is not about specs anymore.” EA’s European boss Jens Uwe Intat also gave the following statement: “The Wii U is certainly a platform we like and will support going forward.”

For a moment, it seemed that EA and Nintendo’s partnership would last forever. “It’s a very exciting machine and I’m glad to see it out there,” said Peter Moore later in an interview with 1up.com. “I mean, a hi-def Nintendo platform! There’s nothing that could make me happier.” He promised “key franchises” for the platform, and later told reporters that he planned to visit Nintendo Japan (NCL) himself later in the year.

Then, things began to fall apart.

No one knows why Moore wanted to visit Nintendo in person nor what he ended up accomplishing while there, but that didn’t stop rumors from popping up all over the internet. According to several “inside sources,” EA was trying to get Nintendo to make Origin the exclusive online service provider for Wii U. For those who don’t know, Origin is EA’s online multiplayer network and has been criticized lately for being needlessly shoehorned into games that don’t even need it. The rumor also states that Nintendo was also talking to Valve about this deal as well, but by now we can infer that neither of these deals went through.

Things went silent for the longest time afterward, but EA still claimed to be supporting the Wii U. When E3 2012 rolled around, they announced Mass Effect 3 for the console. In regards to what was next, EA games label president Frank Gibeau said “We’ve got a couple of more games in development for Wii U and we’ll have a bigger line-up for Wii U than we did on the Wii. We’ll have more announcements this summer on the rest of the Wii U line-up.”

And so summer came, and so did FIFA and Madden. But the announcements didn’t come without some negativity. Madden 13 lacked the new physics engine that the PS3 and X360 versions had. Mass Effect 3 was confirmed to be worked on by a side team. Rumors of game cancellations and Frostbite Engine incompatibility arose. So while EA still claimed to be supporting the Wii U – and their official announcements would indicate that they were – there were other things that make it seem like they weren’t.

And so things kept on falling apart.

Late 2012, and the “inside sources” say Nintendo and EA’s relationship was dead. Origin had been the key factor for EA support on the Wii U, and apparently Nintendo refused. Rumors were flying about how EA doesn’t believe Mass Effect 3 will sell at all on Wii U. When asked how much EA was investing in Nintendo’s new console, EA’s Patrick Soderlund replied “We try to make games that are ideal for each platform as much as possible.” Of course, that doesn’t really answer anything, and perhaps for good reason too, because afterwards things just went dead.

Aside from Need for Speed: Most Wanted, no other Electronic Arts game made it to the console. Crysis 3 was apparently running on Wii U, but EA simply told the developers “no.” Other games, like Dead Space and Fuse aren’t even coming. Even worse, EA had recently announced that they were developing zero games (zero games!) for Wii U, a statement later retracted by EA CFO Blake Jorgensen. Even so, it has already been confirmed that Madden and Fifa, two games that were so strongly supported by EA in their 2012 summer showcase, won’t be coming to Wii U.

In many cases, EA’s cancellations of such titles, however disappointing, seemed reasonable considering they claimed the Wii U could not run their latest Frostbite 3 engine. But when they announced that Frostbite would run on tablets and smartphones, the internet went aflame. Rumors began to rise about how EA didn’t even try to test Frostbite 3 on the console because they simply didn’t want to support it.

It seems that EA’s attitude toward Wii U as a whole has changed completely. After years of defending the Wii U as a next-gen system, EA has recently come out and stated that they don’t consider Nintendo’s latest console as part of the next generation. Senior SE and Architect of EA Sports Bob Summerwill didn’t even hesitate to attack Nintendo on Twitter, calling the Wii U a “awful console” and “crap,” claiming they “should have ‘done a Sega'”.

So yeah, EA is supposedly working on something for Wii U, but what? It’s not Battlefield 4. It’s not Madden 25. It’s not Need For Speed Rivals. It’s not FIFA. Then what? What’s going on?

Electronic Arts recently announced that their partnership with Nintendo is over. The four titles they released on the system – Mass Effect 3, FIFA, Madden, and Need for Speed – represented the “unprecedented partnership” EA was referring to at E3 2011. They are now moving to other things, like their “new partnership” with Microsoft and their Xbox One. Funny thing is that EA has only announced four games to that platform as well.

Four games. Four games and its an “unprecedented partnership.” For the record, the Wii also had 4 EA games in its first 6 months of existence. Yeah. Unprecedented partnership my a**.

What do you think led to the downfall of EA’s partnership with Nintendo? Sound off in the comments below!


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