Well, Electronic Arts has announced that it’s no longer going to pay to licence guns and accessories from manufacturers. Gun control advocates cheered, and most gamers didn’t care. All in all, it wasn’t so much a careful step or public relations coup so much as it was a brief pause in a seemingly endless parade of stupidity. For those not in the know, EA licensed weapons from real-life manufacturers for use in Medal of Honor: Warfighter and other games. Now, aside from the ongoing debate in the US over gun rights, why does this matter? Well, for one thing, it’s the reason your games are expensive. Let’s face it: most people don’t know a whole lot about firearms. Let’s start with something basic: the AR15 pattern rifle (more often referred to by its various manufacturers or as the M16) was invented in 1950′s as a semi-auto civilian rifle before being sold to Colt in 1959. By 1963 it was in service with US Special Forces in Vietnam. That means that this year will be its fiftieth in constant service around the world, and it’s become something a touch generic. Right now, there are well over twenty-five different companies that produce models of this particular rifle for civilian and military use, all of them virtually indistinguishable save for company stamps and performance in the field. EA, for part of its Warfighter campaign, bought the rights to use the name of Larue, one of the finest producers of the AR15 in the world. Now, let’s stop a second here. That must have been pricey, to start. EA was basically paying to advertise for Larue, a company that doesn’t need to advertise to begin with. It’s a top-tier company. A Larue is the Maserati of AR15 model rifles- anyone who knows them, wants one. I’d equate it to licencing Ferrari for a street racing game- sure, you could, but is it really a good idea given that modern-looking cars have been around for about fifty years?
Secondly, how many gamers actually know enough about firearms to tell the difference between a Larue and what the gun community refers to as an ‘M4gery’ ? The turn of phrase refers to an AR15 built from miscellaneous or cheap parts, with no discernible make or model due to the upper receiver being from one manufacturer, the lower from another, the barrel from a third, etc. It would be simple to just label the gun an M4, M16 or AR15 at no cost. They inflated the cost of the game for minor bits of realism no one expected, and did it over and over again with various weapons. EA licensed a number of big names in the firearms world, including a number of FN and Heckler and Koch weapons, Magpul furniture, ELCAN scopes… none of them could be cheap, seeing as all of those companies are industry giants.
What it breaks down to is that this isn’t a public relations move. It isn’t cowering before the outrage of gun control advocates or not having the backbone to stand up to them, depending on your perspective. It’s about saving money instead of throwing it into the wind, which is something I expect almost any game company I buy from to do, so that the costs aren’t passed on to consumers or games don’t flop due to basic budgeting failures. This should be absolutely basic stuff- not tossing money down the drain to get name-brand firearms into your game. You can use that money to make your game better, instead of simply more ‘realistic’. MacMillian, Larue, and Magpul will do fine without the spots in games, and no matter how many brand-name firearms you put in a game it won’t attract actual shooters. Actual shooters will probably go out and actually shoot, doubly so if the game in question is a steaming turd like Warfighter was. I’m not going to give EA props on this one, because it’s like cheering someone on for ceasing to pound their own feet into a pulp with a ball-peen hammer. You reward success, not a cessation of stupidity.