The Soapbox: EA Voted Worst American Company
If you’re any kind of follower of the gaming industry like I am then you got positively bombarded with new articles sourcing The Consumerist because they held some kind of vote that ended up pointing a big finger at Electronic Arts as the worst company in America for the second year in a row, a first for the publication. Of course, a lot of people see this as justified – I mean, why else would the vote go this way – as would I, until I saw the bracket in full once I started checking into it:
This is a long list and a lot of them belong on here. A lot of companies that make the big bucks, these days, incorporate strategies whose goals usually go something like “make more profits” or “spend less money”. Those often mean hiring from the lowest common denominators of people, offloading jobs overseas, cutting corners in their product lines in ways the consumer never notices, providing terrible customer service, offering services that only look great on paper… that kind of thing. There’s a couple on there that deserve the branding above all else, being accused of outright stealing, creating a human resources nightmare, and other such things.
On the other hand, though, there’s a good load of those that are on this list just because customers demand reparations for their negative experiences with the company. To be fair, I’m surprised more computer companies aren’t up there, based on that bitching-bandwagon mentality. Some people will literally jump on board once they stop feeling stupid about their insignificant problem and want to belong to a group that also unreasonably hates something or someone. Some of those people are justified, yes, but a good majority just don’t seem to be reasonable or properly equipped to communicate their problems in a way that doesn’t look like the following:
I’m going to come right out and say this: I am, in no way, defending Electronic Arts, their general practices – practices that other game companies have been putting into place for decades, mind you – or the fact that they, at times, seem to not care about the repercussions of simply doing what they feel makes profits – even if they’re right almost every single time. I will also say this, in my defense: this vote, whether you like it or not, is the direct result of SimCity and Mass Effect 3. I would even go as far to say that last years vote towards the same contest would hold Mass Effect 3 responsible. There’s that much outcry over these two games that gamers are literally pouring out of the woodwork to let Electronic Arts know that they’ve been dismayed.
I’m not here to defend EA or even their releases: they’ve been doing the same thing they’ve always done for decades. They’re an incredibly profitable company and they always have been; I don’t see any reason why they would stop doing what they’ve always done in a way that hurts nobody, especially when the power lies in the consumer base to begin with: I mean, they are the ones that spend the money to buy their products, right? Remember Desert Storm? Remember the releases that came after that were basically the same games with slight differences to build on the original’s success? That was thanks to Electronic Arts and many other companies do the exact same thing to secure profits. This isn’t about gaming, this is about business.
If companies were as touchy-feely as everyone wanted them to be there then no one would be making any money. Look at how many people bitched and complained about stable franchises getting stale and asking for big shake-ups: do you remember Final Fantasy XIII or Command and Conquer 3? Do you remember how many people complained about those games for doing exactly what people had asked for? I mean, yes, a lot of those gamers asked for the companies to shake their game franchises up in specific ways but these guys just can’t pander to each individual request, that’s just ridiculous. Let’s face it: you casuals don’t know what you want and right now you’re controlling the market direction because you spend the most money on these things. The gaming industry may be about making games but the gaming industry is still an industry: it is driven by its economy.
No, I’m here to tear apart this sham of a vote and this ridiculous waste of an article. I’ve never read the Consumerist before this precise moment so I think it’s great that I don’t have a bias going into this and it’s going to help me stay neutral.
So, how to start this? I guess I would start with one of the statements the writer, Chris Morran, makes, which should be a loaded question:
What did EA do (or not do) that it managed to achieve what none of the previous WCIA champs — Comcast, AIG, BP, Halliburton, RIAA, Countrywide — have ever been able to?
You mean to say that you’re implying that Electronic Arts participates in worse consumer practices than your former winners of “Worst Companies in America”? You mean to tell me that selling people rushed products that were later patched for free in attempts to satisfy customers is worse than dumping oil? Alright, I’ve heard everything. I’ve literally heard everything.
Of course, like a good writer, Chris goes on to tear down why Electronic Arts are the devil among devils for the year, starting with his first point: EA doesn’t provide consumers with a product that’s wanted and well-liked. He goes to briefly acknowledge the sales numbers but jumps right into a three-paragraph diatribe noting the numerous complaints that people have had. Like I’d noted, before, as I’d called it, the majority of the talk is regarding Mass Effect 3‘s ending and focus on multiplayer/micro-transactions and SimCity‘s DRM nightmare. He never once mentions any positive angles so here’s the real beef and content of this, here, giving the other side of the argument that Electronic Arts has been too “modest” to give.
Sure, Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age II, Dead Space 3, and SimCity could have benefited from additional resources and more time to release. All games could benefit from such things, in reality – imagine how much more grand a game like Super Mario 64 would have been if it had been given just one more year to polish things up and add more content. However, the truth of the matter is that games, in order to be green-lighted, are given a timeline for release. While those change, in the industry, all the time, look at all the ire that comes up from anticipated releases being pushed back and how much that could change sales across the board. This has nothing to do with Electronic Arts, in specific, but with business projects and investments in general and a great deal of projects often get abandoned, as a result. Given, for some projects, Electronic Arts does push these boundaries a little too hard, these are boundaries that all companies that succeed push. If you want more time and love given to the game being developed then why don’t you assemble a team, start a Kickstarter, and do it all yourself? Not that easy, is it? I didn’t think so.
The whole thing about DRM, however, was likely a bad idea – on that point, I would agree with Chris here. However, his reasoning isn’t sound: while DRM is a crappy way to insist people stay online, nobody can force your hand in making purchases that you don’t want to make. If you make purchases based only on hype when you really don’t know anything or don’t want to purchase anything in the first place, you’re gullible, need to prioritize, and probably shouldn’t be in charge of your own money in the first place. This is why my other never allowed me to spend my allowance on video games but rather wanted me to get a small paper route for that so I could learn the value of money early on. Trust me, I got burned by making bad purchases, and, hell, I still do – the market allows for the chance for the common consumer to make much smarter choices nowadays. I remember starting out without so much help – I went to the video store to rent my video games and that told me exactly what I wanted to buy. No biased magazines, no half-assed blogs telling me what I should hate, no casuals to muddy up the waters; just me and my decision to buy what I enjoyed. Nowadays, you have reviews – even if most of the professional ones seemed to be skewed, these days – demos, previews, the internet, promotional material; all things to help you make an informed purchase decision.
This being said, you can’t go through an entire game, singing its praises and screaming from the rooftops about how awesome it is, only to call it shitty because you ran into one thing that, by all intents and purposes, does its job well, just in a way you don’t like.
In any case, let’s move on to Chris’ next point, shall we? He claims, next, that Electronic Arts doesn’t sell their products to their customers at a reasonable price, citing monopolizing a branch of gaming – that being sports gaming; though I think he’s pulling this one out of his ass because I’ve seen plenty of other league-represented games in the past that overlapped with EA Sports’ – and forcing product placement on the common gamer. He also complains that some of their offerings are made free-to-play to encourage micro-transactions.
Like I’d mentioned before, I’m not entirely sure EA Sports, Electronic Arts’ sports label, is cornering everyone out of the sports gaming market. To EA’s credit, they’ve been doing it better and longer than damn near anyone in the industry, so even if this was true, this is less about monopolizing and more to do with intimidation: if you have such a stranglehold on a market, why relinquish it? Why let anyone step up? To be fair? Come on, people, if this was your company, you wouldn’t be caught dead doing this if you wanted to make it in this day and age.
Secondly, product placement has been large and in charge in gaming for a while, now. A lot of projects spanning over many mediums get needed funding from product placement. You can’t deny that it’s annoying: I noticed about eight different Sony products in Skyfall but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the movie. While SimCity does, apparently, shove ads down your throat, all it does is break up the action, which only flows as fast as you want it, to begin with, so it’s not breaking much up. Product placement is a thing, has been a thing, and will continue to be a thing.
I return, again, to follow that up with a point I made earlier: no one can force you to do anything. No one can force you to play or buy anything you don’t want to. So, all these efforts to persuade you can easily be brushed off if you teach yourself a little willpower and fortitude.
The next point Chris brings up is a touchy one for a lot of people: customer support. The problem with customer support is that the very people that have a problem with customer support are, very often, the people that give customer support or, simply, don’t know how to give customer support. Chris spouted, yet again, only negative rhetoric but, on this angle, I’m sure there’s a million horror stories to drive from as horrible customer service representatives who don’t know jack and don’t care work in all companies, not just Electronic Arts.
Their response to major published issues is the big problem, here: Electronic Arts should have known how things were going to turn out in the cases of Mass Effect 3 and SimCity. For the former, one should have known that the problem with the game series as a whole was that of choice and to reflect each and every “important” decision was impossible; it should have been limited to one defined ending which changed based on the important decisions you made. I don’t have a problem with it as it is but someone up there must have known the reaction this would have caused. For the latter, someone should have done their research regarding DRM and testing it extensively before implementing it into a hugely anticipated release. They should have known.
Their responses, however, were mixed – they tried a little too hard, a little too late, but they made good by their decisions in giving customers, outright, free content which they were well within their right to never give in the first place. They could have continually milked the gaming public but decided against it because that would have been a horrible business decision. They tried to gain favor by pushing free stuff in people’s faces – in all fairness, yes, they are trying to cover up their mistakes, but some companies don’t even bother with that and, instead, deny that there was ever a problem in the first place.
Yes, they should have done right, in the first place, but they tried to make up for their mistakes. That’s a lot more than I can say than I can about a lot of companies, let alone people – more than I can say than a lot of these whiners, too, I bet.
“Until EA stops sucking the blood out of games in order to make uninspiring sequels, or at least until they begin caring about how much gamers hate their lack of respect for our money and intelligence, this is going to continue. We don’t hate them because we’re homophobes, we hate them because they destroy companies we love. We hate them because they release poor games. We hate them because they claim our hate doesn’t matter as long as we give them our money.”
– Penny Arcade’s Ben Kuchera
This little bit here is a reference Chris uses to try and sum things up for us by using someone closely tied to the gaming industry, which makes this utter nonsense he’s spewing kind of disappointing. EA does not release swill across the board and everyone knows it. Also, a fool and his money part – that’s the facts and, in business, money talks louder than any words you can ever say. If you don’t like it, don’t spend your money. Simple as that. If they release such poor games, why is everyone buying them?
When we live in an era marked by massive oil spills, faulty foreclosures by bad banks, and rampant consolidation in the airline and telecom industry, what does it say about EA’s business practices that so many people have — for the second year in a row — come out to hand it the title of Worst Company In America?
This very statement shows the problem with this article, the writer, the vote, and the ones voting EA to the top of the bracket: you consider EA more evil than those exploiting the government, your environment, and your economy? You done goofed, people.