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How to remaster a timeless classic - Just do what Electronic Arts did with C&C


If you aren't familiar with C&C, you'd probably are familiar with games such as Warcraft 3, DOTA, League of Legions. Well, C&C is like the granddaddy of those games. C&C had a huge influence on the RTS genre, and became the blueprint of multiplayer RTS. This game was released by now-defunct Westwood Studios (taken over by EA) in 1995, and even after 25 years later, it is still widely loved by the community of gamers.


This year, Electronic Arts (EA) launched the C&C Remastered Collection to commerate the silver jubilee of this game. Working closely with external developers Petroglyph (comprising of ex-Westwood staff) and Lemon Sky Studios (artwork experts that bring older games into 4K).


If you have 14 minutes, this video explains how EA religiously remastered this classic and resisted attempts to remake segments of the game.

EA and partner studios did:

  1. Remaster original graphics in 4K definition and soundtrack in high fidelity.

  2. Maintain gameplay and original AI of the game.

  3. Leaned on community feedback on what the fans wanted - Created a community council of 14 hardcore C&C fans.

  4. Source code made available to the public for mods.

  5. Updated the original multiplayer mechanism to reflect modernised online experience.

  6. Lastly, they built a in-game toggle that allows you to switch between 1995/2020 graphics by pressing SPACEBAR (I especially love this because you can see how far gaming is come).

 

From a business perspective, three things that EA did right.

  • EA listened to their customers/users.

Jeff Bezos, the man behind Amazon, credits customer obsession as the No.1 reason behind his company's success. If you deliver an experience that makes your customer satisfied, chances are you will retain that customer, and build a reputation that will attract other customers. Similarly, EA knew that C&C possessed a cult-like following among gamers, and gamers love authenticity and the nostalgia. By having a council of C&C fans to provide feedback while the game is in-development is paying homage to the fans responsible for the success of the game. This provides a blueprint of how publishers should reconsider community engagement and how being "customer obsessed" in future engagements can translate to more sustainable user acquisition, and translate to profits.


  • EA learned from Blizzard's lacklustre remastering efforts with Warcraft 3: Reforged

Warcraft 3 is another RTS legend published by Blizzard. This was another game that has a massive fanbase. DOTA is a mod based on Warcraft 3 source code. When the remaster was announced, the community buzzed with excitement and hype. But the buzz started to get sour when gamers felt the remastering was subpar and lacking of effort.

The trailer revealed the introduction of cinematic-like cut scenes. The final release was a little lacklustre.. just look at the difference below.

Only some characters were remodelled, and the positioning of locations within the game were moved around. On the multiplayer aspect, a number of popular game modes were removed from the remaster version, such as clans, automated tournaments, LAN and offline play, and ranked ladder play. Another popular function was custom campaigns,. another fan favourite gone missing. Word from Blizzard is they're working to reinstate it.


Similar to business, there is always risk of not meeting customer expectations when you reveal a product that has a lot of expectation and hype attached. In the case of Blizzard, the decision not to move forward with the cinematics was an artistic decision that was made internally, but the publisher did not communicate to its fan base about these changes. What happened next was a misalignment of expectation, and this proved costly in terms of the reputation behind the product and its publisher.


To read more about Warcraft 3: Reforged, this article goes deeper into the faults of the game: https://www.pcgamer.com/warcraft-3-reforged-controversy/


  • EA kept the community alive by revitalising modern multiplayer and enabling the mod community

Every product has a lifecycle, as seen by the diagram below.

Every game has a lifespan, and because of how quickly the industry moves to produce new content, the curve gets steeper amid fierce competitition. Therefore, many publishers and developers work to "extending the product" by iterating player feedback, introducing new gameplay that will stimulate interest levels, and sustain growth/maturity levels by getting to the free-to-play (F2P) space. While the community has been harsh with Blizzard's remastering on Warcraft 3, the publisher is hitting all the right notes with its F2P strategy related to the Call of Duty (COD) franchise.


Anyway, back to C&C. Prior to the remaster, the sales of the game was already in decline because its been 25 years since its first release. EA knew there is still a massive C&C fanbase who revel in the nostalgia of 90s gaming. Similar to film, it enjoys "timeless appreciation" where gamers go back to old games to re-live joyous memories. Huge opportunity for EA to serve the fanbase, and more importantly, monetise and breathe life into an old classic by remastering! While first reviews have indicated positive reception, the question is whether EA can and wants to sustain this franchise through online play and venture into Esports. While current Esports is dominated by Gen Zs, games like C&C can target Gen Ys to get into "Nostalgic Esports." Besides this, this also opens conversations on whether publishers will start remastering popular games and introduce product extension as part of their strategy.


As a C&C fan myself (and shelling out $17.99 for the remaster), I am excited to see what comes out from this remastering and what are EA's future plans with this.


I'll just leave this quote here (you'd know this if you're a C&C fan!)


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