By adding Colin Kaepernick in Madden NFL 21, EA isn’t taking a stance on racism but attempting to use social issues to discredit critics.
Last week, Electronic Arts announced that Colin Kaepernick will be added to the roster of Madden NFL 21. His return to the series has been praised as a means to put pressure on the NFL while also bring greater awareness to the fight against systemic racism. With the ongoing protests around the country, Kaepernick actions is looked back upon as an early attempt to push for social change. One could praise EA for taking such a stance were it not for one minor issue, Madden NFL 21 is one of the worst games of the year.
Madden NFL 21 is the manifestation of everything that is wrong with EA having the exclusive rights to make a football game licensed by the NFL since 2005. Thanks to this monopoly, EA has had no incentive to improve the overall experience. Each title has been criticized by fans for the lack of change along with the intense monetization practice. After years of no insensitive to do better, Madden NFL 21 has been panned for its lack of visual improvements and buggy gameplay experiences while a heavy focus has been put towards microtransactions.
One could now say that move is just a PR stunt to compensate for the games lack of quality. However it’s also safe to say that adding Kaepernick could be a means to discredit criticism of the game. If the game doesn’t meet financial expectations, the failure could be blamed on racism. To have such suspicions is merited as this won’t be the first time EA has used social issues as a weapon against critics.
To understand what I mean, let’s look back at the controversy and backlash regarding Battlefield V. Specifically, how EA latched on to a social issues as a means to discredit critics.
Battlefield V: The Story You Heard
When the game was first revealed, the trailer became one of the most disliked on YouTube. The story most people know is that “gamers” got mad because it featured a women fighting in World War II. When the game was released it was review bombed and was a commercial failure. Thus the games overall failure is because of the gaming community continues to have a misogynistic problem.
There is a kernel of truth to the narrative of a sexist backlash. There were several prominent game commentators who kept bashing it as “GenderField” or “WokeField”. Then you had numerous culture warriors talking about the historical inaccuracy of the trailer or how women did not fight in World War II ( while ignoring the many women who fought in the French Resistance or the Red Army). Finally, there is always that small but vocal group of fans that loose their cool when any kind of diversity is added to a popular series.
What Really Happened
In truth, the Battlefield V reveal trailer received so much backlash because it gave the impression that the multiplayer will be cosmetic heavy – hence it will be loaded with microtransactions and loot boxes. Remember that this trailer came out seven months after the disastrous launch of Star Wars Battlefront II. The criticism of heavy cosmetics were brought up again after the games public beta ended. Fans were also concerned about the games regressive progression system. When the game was launched, it was meet with OK reviews from critics but panned by fans. The most common criticism has been a boring gameplay along with a buggy multiplayer experience.
The backlash against the trailer and blaming the games failure on misogyny was a narrative orchestrated by Electronic Arts. Most of the critique regarding the reveal trailer was that the game would be cosmetic heavy (thus a lot of microtransactions). Yet it was the leadership at EA that started pushing the narrative that the backlash was because of sexism. First you had DICE general manager Oskar Gabrielson making this claim. Fast foreword to June and EA CCO Patrick Soderlund would once again push this narrative while insulting the fandom.
This narrative also quickly falls apart when you remember the success of Battlefield 1. Its reveal trailer is one of the most like videos on YouTube and it featured a Bedouin women fighting during the Middle Eastern campaign of World War I. Battlefield 1 itself would go on to be praised by both critics and fans as one of the best games of 2016. This was due to its intense but diversified gameplay while offering an experience very few games have done. Going through the Steam reviews of Battlefield V, many have suggested that gamers should just stick to Battlefield 1.
After its release along with all that was said and done, Battlefield V was a commercial failure. EA saw one of the biggest dip in stock prices when the games sales numbers were revealed. Yet, CEO Andrew Wilson would not take any real responsibility for the failure. Instead, he blamed other factors like a heavy focus on the single player camping instead of the Battle Royale mode. Demonstrating that the company will continue its practices regardless how the community feels.
The New Gameplan
Given how Electronic Arts tried to weaponize social issues to discredit criticisms of Battlefield V, it’s safe to say they will doing it again. The addition of Colin Kaepernick in Madden NFL 21 isn’t really a stance of systemic racism. They could have made a statement at anytime in the last few years (instead of removing all references to him from the game). So it becomes very suspicious that EA will welcome him back for the worst game in the series. There is the possibility that when they announce the games finical performance, they will not take any responsibility. Instead they could easily blame it on “racist gamers and sports fans”.
One could also speculated that EA could use the move as deterrent against the NFL from ending the exclusive licensing agreement. Fans have wanted the NFL to end this partnership since EA has failed to make any improvements to the series. Madden NFL 21 is the worst game in the series. Meanwhile, the last several titles have been criticized by fans for a lack of changes or improvements. As of 2020, fans and critics still rank ESPN NFL 2K5 and Tecmo Super Bowel as the best NFL game of all time. Meanwhile the most highly ranked Madden NFL games have been ’04, ’05 and ’10. Add in how Kaepernick has been blacklisted, EA could use the move as a weapon should the NFL want to end the exclusive licensing agreement.
Don’t forget that this is EA, one of the most controversial publishers in the gaming industry. From the Battlefront II debacle to its resistance against loot boxes bans and a history of acquiring studios then gutting them, there is plenty of reasons why the community has ranked EA as one of the worst companies in America.
The Big Game
When a company takes a stance on a social issue, it sends a powerful message. However we also must hold them accountable to make sure they follow through with their vow to help make our community a better place. Given their poor reputation and history of unethical behavior, one should be suspicious of EA. Especially when they take a stance on a social issue.
Do you think EA is taking a stand against racism by adding Colin Kaepernick in Madden NFL ’21? Or do you think they will use him to suppress criticism and pressure the NFL into not ending their monopoly? Share your thoughts in the comment section.
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