You love Electronic Arts.
Maybe you did vote it the worst company in America. But I know that was just so your online “friends” (who you commiserate with over EA’s evilness while you snipe each other in a game of Battlefield 3 on your rented server) won’t suspect your secret love. Oh, you can deny it—like an anti-gay-rights congressman looking for his next date in a subway men’s public restroom—but you know it’s true. And it’s okay. Because your friends feel the same way.
Maybe you’ll see them on the subway.
It must be true. How do you explain all the record game sales, all the DLC sales, all the online passes, and all the server rentals leading to $4.4 billion in (non-GAAP) revenues for 2011, and another $1.3 billion for the 4th quarter of fiscal year 2012? Either you love EA, or you have an incredible lack of self control.
After the initial furor of the Worst Company in America vote subsided, a whole new tidal wave of nerd rage began when IGN did an interview with EA chief operating officer Peter Moore to address the gaming community’s issues with EA business practices. By address, I mean cry about how much the employees’ feelings were hurt and then completely blow off the complaints. The internet is once again atwitter with the evils of EA. Youtube has an amazing variety of anti-EA skits and musicals. My favorite can be found at the Escapist. (But don’t click until you’re done here!)
I don’t think a reasonable person blames the hard working employees of EA for management’s policies, any more than a reasonable person would blame a hard working, starving collective farmhand for Joseph Stalin’s policies. But like politics and religion, the emotionally charged and passionate gaming community isn’t exactly a beacon of reason. So I’ve appointed myself Supreme Impartial Moderator between the Embodiment of All Evil and The Whiny Masses.
Qualifications? I don’t give a damn about EA one way or another. I own four EA products: Dragon Age, Mass Effect 2 and 3, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. I logged onto Origin once and bought a Dragon Age DLC. I’m emotionally detached from the subject. So, after slogging through the interwebs, I compiled a short list (don’t want to be here all day) of gamer gripes presented in random order for a 10 round heavy weight match. EA in one corner. The People in the other.
Round 1: Online passes (Even for single player games) – The one and only reason I don’t own Diablo 3 is because you have to be online to play it. (I laughed at all you suckers standing in line at midnight to buy it.) Although I could play Mass Effect 2 offline, I noticed if I tried to play a saved game with downloaded content in it I couldn’t access the game. It’s downloaded. I see it taking up space on my hard drive. Seriously? I have to be online to play it? I wanted to play multi-player for Mass Effect 3 with my son. When we play Halo we just throw it in and play it. ME3? Nope. Have to buy an online pass. Apparently the passes expire! So if you buy a single player game like Dragon Age II a couple years from now, sorry can’t play it. This might be a shock to you EA, but some people can’t always be online. Some people still don’t even have internet. Yes. It sounds incredible, but it’s true. Not a good start. Early knockdown for the people.
ROUND 1 ADVANTAGE: The People
Round 2: The Origin two year entitlement clause – What is that? It’s Origin’s policy that if you don’t use their service for two years they have right to delete your account and everything in it you purchased. So if you, for example, spent six months in intense combat training then went to Iraq for 18 months, you could come back to see all your hard earned dollars from terrorist killing gone. (Wonder how that Dragon Age DLC I downloaded is looking now.) Supposedly this was just some misunderstanding from interesting wording in their end user license agreement. We’ll see.
ROUND 2 ADVANTAGE: The People
Round 3: Tacked on multiplayer for wider appeal – I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a company to make their product appealing to a broader audience so it sells better. This complaint sounds a little like whining to me. However, I do believe if a game is primarily single player, co-op, or multiplayer, then the focus of its design should be on that element, so if something is “tacked on” it doesn’t noticeably impact the game’s primary direction. I can go either way with this.
ROUND 3 ADVANTAGE: The People
Round 4: Origin forum bans result in Origin account bans – If you say something which breaks forum etiquette/rules and get banned from the forums, you are also banned from your account and are unable to access your purchased games. I had to step back from this one. I don’t frequent forums. I went to the World of Warcraft forum when the game first came out and found it was a den of mouth-breathing, trolling ass-hats. The next time I went to a forum was when I went to Bioware to investigate the catastrophe that is Mass Effect 3 and to get a feel for gaming community’s thoughts on the ME3 Extended Cut ending. My opinion was reaffirmed. So I asked myself: “Is there precedence for this action in other entertainment venues?” Yes, there is. If you go to a sporting event or a concert and you run onto the stage or throw a beer at a player, you are escorted out of said venue. You do not get a refund for your purchase. Is cutting you off from gaming purchases because you said something stupid on the forum a bit harsh? Yes, it is. But here’s a simple solution. Don’t be a mouth-breathing ass-hat who says stupid shit on the forums.
ROUND 4 ADVANTAGE: Electronic Arts
Round 5: Buying out studios and gutting them – There are many reasons a smaller studio is bought by a larger one. Perhaps the business is struggling, about to go under. Perhaps the owners are impressed with the money offered and take it. EA doesn’t just go up to Pandemic and say, “We’re buying you out,” causing Pandemic owners to say “Oh my god, we’ve just been bought!” anymore than I can go to my neighbor and tell him I just bought his house. I understand the frustration, but isn’t the person who sold out to EA more (or at least equally) culpable? Shouldn’t you be angry at the company who sold out their employees to EA? Isn’t it their right to do so? Doesn’t that make them just as greedy as the corporate stockholders since they cashed their golden ticket? Bioware has been around a long time. They’ve seen what EA does to companies, but they chose whore themselves to EA.
ROUND 5 ADVANTAGE: Even
Round 6: Massive marketing campaigns, boated budgets, small profits – I have five kids, which is like having a small business. I have schedules to maintain, overhead expenses, personnel management. Name anything a business does, I do it. If I multiplied that by 1 million I might know what it’s like to run EA. I believe most of the people I’ve seen complaining about the size of EA’s “unnecessary” $747 million marketing budget would run the company into the ground the first month. I don’t know how much advertising they actually need to do. Hardcore gamers know when games are coming out. Maybe it costs that much to expand their audience. What’s wrong with that? And it works. I bought Black Ops (Activision) because (as a former commercial advert creator) I admired their “Soldier in Everyone” campaign. If it was good enough for Kobe, it must be good enough for me. (Damn. Maybe hardcore gamers abandoned large corporate game companies already and it’s assholes like me feeding the beast.) Ford spends $1 billion a year on advertising. If they cut back to $500 million would they sell less F-150s? I don’t know. I’ve done some work in marketing. If you believe a company doesn’t need to spend a significant amount in advertising you’re not being realistic. Although I capitulate $50 million to promote Battlefield 3 seems to be pretty damn excessive. But still…
ROUND 6 ADVANTAGE: Electronic Arts
Round 7: Misleading/dishonest marketing – Seems the previously mentioned marketing budget included fake protests. There was also some bitching about a fundraising drive with Child’ Play being shutdown – but seems to be much ado about nothing. (As a side note there are also a lot of complaints EA hires people to spin complaints on forums positively toward them. To that I say boo-fucking-hoo). But a fake protest insulting and stereotyping a segment of American society is more than enough for me.
ROUND 7 ADVANTAGE: The People
Round 8: Pushing out re-hashed content too fast – This complaint centers around releasing products like the Need for Speed and the Battlefield series as fast as humanly possible with almost no significant updates to the games, or re-doing games that are relatively new. Well… it’s a car racing game. How different can it be if it came out every five years? This one falls squarely under the category of personal responsibility. Don’t buy the damn game.
ROUND 8 ADVANTAGE: Electronic Arts
Round 9: Shutting down servers early, renting servers – I’m not really clear what “early” is. Seems like a judgment call. How many people need to be playing before it’s not really cost effective or worth maintaining? It does seem maintaining those servers would be worth the cost in good will and establishing brand loyalty. Especially since the consumer not only paid for the game, but probably bought a bunch of DLC as well. To top it off, after shutting down servers, they offer them to rent for people who want to keep playing. Is Battlefield really that good? I think you’re a tool if you rent a server. In related complaints, some of the servers are not very reliable. I found several complaints from people in FIFA tournaments getting kicked off their servers constantly during rated matches resulting in forfeiture. Damn it, EA. Now I’m hating you because you’re making me side with people who like soccer.
ROUND 9 ADVANTAGE: The People
Round 10: Day-One DLC – This is interesting, because if I had played Mass Effect 3, then got a new companion after I was done, I would have been pissed. On the other hand, you had game content ready to go and be integrated into the game, why the hell wasn’t it on the disk? Well, apparently it was on the disk!
ROUND 10 ADVANTAGE: The People
Final post fight tally: 6-3-1, advantage The People.
Why does EA do this? Because they can. Because you keep buying their games, downloading their DLCs, and renting their servers. And you line up outside stores at midnight for the privilege of being kicked in the quad. Like voters, consumers seem to have forgotten that they have the power. Public traded entities only respect the bottom line, and you, The People, have a huge say on what that bottom line is. (Just ask Marvel Comics.) It’s curious EA doesn’t understand that if you’re good to your consumer, they’ll be good to you. Good will goes a long way to building brand loyalty. They could have people begging to give them their money (even more so than now). Crazy concept.
They don’t even have to be great either. As an example, my phone carrier isn’t that wonderful, and I’ve thought often of leaving them, but they did me a big solid once, waiving a $1,000 phone bill, which resulted from me accidentally butt-dialing the internet while I was flying to Iraq. It’s like dating an ugly girl who’s great in bed. I’m not going to show her to my friends, but I’m not going to stop seeing her either.
There are a lot of reasons to hate EA, whether you’re a gamer or not. Hell, this is the company that was dismissive of their selection and thinks making more money selling cheaper games is not as important as making less money selling expensive games. (Wonder if that’s in the stockholder report.) Still, worst company? The opponent was Bank of America, a company that is literally ruining lives through fraudulent foreclosures (and that’s just to start.) EA is offering products and services people choose to buy. That gamers rallied around EA as the worst company, shows how out of touch with the responsibilities of real life they are. Might be time to pull your heads out of your asses, stop sexting your “girlfriend from Canada,” crawl out of that fantasy dungeon you’ve built in mom’s basement and into the light. I’m reminded of the teenage girl I saw on TV who weighed 300 pounds. Was the unrelenting teasing and ass kicking throughout her life enough to motivate her to lose weight? No. She had to get one of those freaky operations in which they cut out half her stomach. Maybe gamers need some sort of finger-removal operation to keep them from clicking that Origin download button.
I’m pretty big on personal responsibility. Does EA suck donkey sacs? Pretty much. But if you want to act like a beaten woman who keeps going back to her abusive boyfriend, that’s a you problem, not an EA problem.
Until next time,
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