A nice thing happened last week. EA put six great games on sale, all of which were published through their partners programme and developed by independently-run studios. We stood to make a tidy saving, EA could have enjoyed some good publicity and the developers could have made some extra scratch. Everybody went home a winner, beaming with joy and the satisfaction of taking part in something worthwhile.
Not quite. Chances are many of you heard of the EA Indie Bundle for entirely the wrong reasons, not least of which being its name. EA's casual use of the word 'Indie' was the tip of an avaricious iceberg that caught the attention of Markus "Notch" Persson, who proceeded to slam EA as a "bunch of cynical b*stards" and blame them for "methodically destroying" the games industry. These comments quickly spread through Twitter into every corner of the internet, sparking angry debate between players, journalists and even indie developers from all over the industry.
All that over a reduced price for Gatling Gears, Deathspank, Shank, Shank 2 and WARP. Depressingly, both sides were completely in the wrong in this case, overshadowing a nice little bundle with rampant greed on the one hand and massive over-reaction on the other. Sit back and relax, dear reader, while I proceed to make a molehill out of a mountain.
Oh, naughty EA. Naughty, bad EA.
You could have called that bundle anything. How about EA Heroes? The Third Party Pack? Thongs Of Value? The games would have sold themselves, but you were desperate to cash in on the goodwill surrounding the Humble Bundle and its ilk. Those indie developers worked damn hard to make those bundles work, and you've got no right to muscle in. It was transparent, mercenary and demeaned everyone involved, yourselves included.
And if that was cheeky, their attempt to poach Steam consumers over to Origin was downright greedy. All six games are already on Steam, yet EA only provided Origin download codes in order to force customers to download and use their own client. This was an idiotic move that reeked of unbridled cynicism, and one that created a lot of ill will towards the package as well as the client itself. Indeed, why couldn't the sale have been held directly on Origin?
Notch saw this, and he got angry. After all, he's lost none of the passion that made him such an important and respected pillar of the indie scene. But sadly, he did the one thing you absolutely shouldn't do when you're angry: broadcast your inner monologue on Twitter.
First of all, EA just put some games on sale. Games from independent studios. Indie studios. Trapoor, Klei, Hothead and Vanguard got their games to market with help from EA, both in terms of funding, thrashing out release windows with PSN/XBLA and dealing with the press. All without losing their creative freedom or financial independence - that's the joy of the EA Partners program. I've nothing but respect for these four studios (I've met representatives from each, and they're jolly nice people), and they deserved better than to have their bundle hijacked by a reductive agenda.
As for trying to decide who deserves to use the word "indie"? That's not helping anything whatsoever. Forgetting for one moment that his example, Polytron, are technically no more or less "indie" than some of the developers in the bundle (Trapdoor actually helped with Fez!), the word is fast becoming a redundant, meaningless label. It's sometimes used to describe bedroom and garage coders, or games made on a shoestring budget. You'll see it applied to studios like thatgamecompany and Supergiant Games, who craft their wares with publisher backing. Some people even use it to describe a meta-genre containing arty and experimental projects, regardless of who made them. As AA declines, independent development is evolving into something truly exciting and unprecedented ... and this isn't the time to have that discussion.
This also isn't the time to accuse EA of "methodically destroying" the games industry, or even launching into that debate. Do you remember when they announced Project Ten Dollar? That was the time. When the first Online Pass made its shady debut? That was the time. When Dead Space 2 advertised at minors and Dante's Inferno tried to convince people into sexism and sin? When Bullfrog was gutted and shuttered? That was definitely the time. There will doubtlessly be more opportunities to take EA to task (sadly), but seriously folks, this ain't it.
Because this time, behind all of the transparent cynicism and righteous anger, EA are actually doing something good.
That's the crux of the matter. EA had a real opportunity to score some good PR with this bundle - to show the world that their Partner program is helping get brilliant small games to retail without compromising studio independence. "Look at these six games!" they could have crowed. "We helped. We found them favourable release windows, provided capital, assisted with QA and dealt with publicity. We're doing something wholesome, something that's unequivocally good for the industry and you, the consumer. They're cheap, go enjoy them and know that there are more on the way." Sure, the publisher takes their cut, but everybody gets paid thanks to the symbiotic relationship. God knows that they could do with some decent PR after the Golden Poo scandal, and a few well-placed press releases would have had us singing their praises.
Sadly, two little words and six shortsighted, cynical codes totally eclipsed this simple message, and Notch proceeded to bury it even further.
The EA Indie Bundle ends later today, and your buying decision ought to be very simple. If you don't like Origin (for whatever reason), don't buy it. If you do like Origin - or haven't tried it - you've no reason not to get involved unless you own two or more of the games already.
Don't let greed and anger stand in the way of a nice thing. That's goes for you especially, EA and Notch.