Video game giant EA is on the precipice of having a chance to repeat as grand champion in the Worst Company In America tournament, so one might think this would be a time for EA to make nice with the customers who feel like they are being mistreated. And in an EA.com blog post, Chief Operating Officer Peter Moore does admit to mistakes and promise to “do better.” But, for reasons we can’t even begin to fathom, he didn’t stop there.
SHRUGGING OFF CONCERNS
In his statement, Mr. Moore begins by questioning the merit of Consumerist readers’ opinions on what constitutes a “worst company.”
“This is the same poll that last year judged us as worse than companies responsible for the biggest oil spill in history,” writes Moore. He’s obviously referencing the 2011 champ BP, except BP wasn’t even in the bracket last year. In response to Moore’s statement, we’d like to take a moment to explain that our “Worst Company in America” contest exists within the context of this website, which is about consumers and their relationship to the marketplace and to businesses. Just to be clear: The point of this contest, now in its 8th year, is to enable consumers to send a message to a company that provides goods or services to them. Winning this contest means your customers are trying to tell you something. And that something is that you, out of all the companies, most deserve a plastic poop trophy.
Mr. Moore continues, “The complaints against us last year were our support of SOPA (not true), and that they didn’t like the ending to Mass Effect 3.”
Actually, our analysis of the reasons for EA’s inclusion in last year’s finale makes no mention of Mass Effect 3 or SOPA. Instead, it looks at EA’s history of buying up smaller, successful developers with the intention of milking — and arguably ruining — the intellectual properties that made these acquired companies so attractive. It also discusses EA’s exclusivity deals on popular sports games, that some say effectively sets the bar for retail prices for the rest of the gaming industry.
Then there’s the issue of microtransactions, in-game purchases that EA has made no secret are at the center of its business model. Many customers believe that EA’s view of microtransactions isn’t to simply charge customers a little bit of money for something that is additional, but not integral, to the core game, but rather to put out broken or deliberately incomplete games with the ultimate goal of selling add-on content that should have been included in the $60 price tag to begin with.
In today’s post, Moore contends that microtransactions are okey-dokey because “tens of millions” of people are enjoying EA’s free-to-play games that include microtransactions. We’d counter that just because people are allowing you to nickel-and-dime them it doesn’t mean you should be doing it.
And since Moore brought up Mass Effect 3, let’s take a brief look at that problematic title. Eager to cash in on a hugely successful franchise, EA rushed out the third and final installment of the series in 2012. Many users had spent years playing Mass Effect and developing a history and connections with other characters that carry through all three games, that is until the very end, which landed with a mammoth, unsatisfying thud for an awful lot of people who had paid nearly $200 (or more) for these games.
By all appearances, this wasn’t a case of a movie director having a different vision from his/her audience, or a novelist choosing to take a story off in an unexpected direction. For many people, it felt like having the plug pulled on a really good concert just as their favorite song was getting started, and it reeked of being a business decision on EA’s part, rather than a complete artistic disaster like, *cough* the finale of Lost.
We wonder how Moore would feel if he spent at least $180 on something that failed to deliver what it had been promising for years?
In the end, EA effectively admitted ME3 was incomplete when it released a “extended cut” ending to mollify the angry crowd.
SHIFTING THE BLAME
Moore even admits that EA has made some pretty bad boners in recent years:
I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve made plenty of mistakes. These include server shut downs too early, games that didn’t meet expectations, missteps on new pricing models and most recently, severely fumbling the launch of SimCity. We owe gamers better performance than this.
As for more recent accusations, Moore tries to shrug off the always-online requirement for SimCity 5 that not only made the game unplayable (because EA didn’t have the foresight to think people might want to play the game after they bought it), but also pissed off a lot of people who felt that it was an invasive form of digital rights management (DRM) that assumes users are trying to play pirated versions of the game.
“Many continue to claim the Always-On function in SimCity is a DRM scheme,” writes Moore. “It’s not. People still want to argue about it. We can’t be any clearer – it’s not. Period.”
Actually, you could be clearer. Make it optional and maybe people will believe you.
And then there is this:
“We’ve seen mailing lists that direct people to vote for EA because they disagree with the choice of the cover athlete on Madden NFL,” writes Moore. “Yes, really.”
Really? Show us. Because while readers certainly complained about the declining quality of Madden, not a single person griped to us about the player(s) on the box cover.
Regardless, all of these concerns are apparently not the real reason that EA is once again heading toward a possible WCIA victory. No, says Moore, it’s homophobia.
Moore contends that EA’s decision to allow users to create lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) characters in some of its games has resulted in a voting campaign orchestrated by those opposed to portrayals of LGBT characters in games:
“In the past year, we have received thousands of emails and postcards protesting against EA for allowing players to create LGBT characters in our games. This week, we’re seeing posts on conservative web sites urging people to protest our LGBT policy by voting EA the Worst Company in America.”
If there is such a campaign, the people involved in it have not reached out to us, nor have we seen evidence of this traffic to our pages. While any number of tech and video game sites and forums have been writing about and linking to the WCIA polls (here’s lookin’ at you /v/), our analytics show absolutely no incoming traffic from anything we’d label as political, let alone conservative.
EA received hundreds of nominations from Consumerist readers this year, by far the most of any contender in the bracket, but not a single one mentioned anything about sexual orientation. Consumerist does not condone homophobia or hate speech of any kind, and our readers understand the Worst Company contest and nominate businesses based on their merits.
In coming out and responding to its previous win — and possible repeat victory — EA had the opportunity to show the gaming community the respect it deserves, but instead has insulted its intelligence by asking it to accept that its quite obvious faults are really just minor problems and that the actual source of trouble are faceless, homophobic hatemongers.
A sampling of gamers’ reactions to Moore’s post indicate to us that EA has only done itself a disservice by trying to pin its own high-profile problems on homophobia and whiny gamers. These people are EA’s customers.
Writes Joystiq commenter paladriver:
I don’t dislike EA because they are pro-LGBT. In fact I am supporter of LGBT rights. I dislike EA because they have a long standing history of anti-consumer practices. Not liking EA does not make me anti-LGBT, it makes me anti-EA.
On the same story, reader HeavyAttack adds:
“Trying to claim that the people who voted for them are simply homophobes is a bit sleazy. I didn’t vote because it’s a meaningless poll, and all companies are evil, but EA has done plenty of shitty things, and it seems like voting them the worst company in America is the only way to get them to acknowledge those things. That, however, still puts them ahead of other companies. They at least acknowledged that they fucked up.”
GoodNewsJimDotCom writes on Slashdot:
“I think it is pretty sinister for him to dredge up “US vs THEM” protesting in his “apology.” Remember, one thing EA does is to hire fake protestors to get controversy for their game! Stay classy EA. Even in your apologies, you ooze evil.”
And then there’s Xdeser2 who comments on this Escapist story:
NO EA! You do not get to Spin the story and take the Moral high ground on this shit! Don’t try to fool people by lumping these intolerant assholes with the people actually making legitimate complaints against your practices. You don’t get to try to make yourself look progressive like that.
GETTING NO RESPECT
Gaming might be a multibillion-dollar industry that attracts the world’s biggest names in entertainment, music, and sports, but it is nonetheless treated by both the media and the business world with a reductionist shrug. Companies like EA are happy to foster the misinformed perception of your average “gamer” as a whiny, nitpicky loner who will complain about anything, as that image only helps to discredit those who have a valid complaint about a relatively pricey consumer product.
Here’s our question to Peter Moore: If your entire industry is engaged in the production of something so trivial as to not warrant inclusion in a contest that features a poop trophy, why do you even work in it?