Electronic Arts is one of the biggest game company’s in the world, and one of the most despised as well. Officially so with the recent The Consumerist (a subsidiary of Consumer Reports) poll that awarded EA “Worst Company in America” this past year. This makes history as it has received the award two years in a row. Digging into the history, it really is no surprise that EA earned such a dubious award. The recent SimCity catastrophe is only the tip of the iceberg and continues to unravel itself and exposes the worst in the company. With financial earnings in decline (which led to CEO John Riccitiello stepping down), game companies like THQ being dissolved, EA has to realize that changes need to be made, and now.
EA holds some of gamers most highly regarded (visible?) titles (Recently they purchased the exclusive rights to Star Wars games, read about that here). From the cash cow Madden NFL series to the Battlefield franchise and one of the most prized developers in Bioware. EA is not short on money and talent. So how did we get here? Touching on the SimCity mess, gamers are irate and deservedly so at EA’s continued war in Digital Rights Management and End User License Agreements. From install limits in PC games like Spore and Command and Conquer to the now “always online” initiative being championed in games like SimCity. The problems and backlash in their implementation is far reaching. The inability for players to enjoy their games because they cannot connect to a mandatory online server for a single player component is not cool. What added gasoline to this fire are their reactions to criticism and over exaggeration that programming for an offline experience was nigh impossible (which it isn’t).
EA is a company and every company needs to make money to stay afloat. In order to stay above water, radical changes are often adopted. New ways to make money are quickly incorporated into the infrastructure. Zynga was an instant explosion during the past couple of years in the free-to-play social game experience. Yet their profits continued to drop because other companies have adopted more gamer friendly models. The big issue Zynga faced (and EA faces currently) is that the bottom line is not what might make money, it is that the gamers and the games should be the focus.
So what can be done? It is going to be tough to swallow. And will be fought with every fiber of the corporate leaders’ being. Do away with DRM online tactics entirely. Free games, DLC, tchotchkes do not build consumer relationship and faith in the company. If someone introduced something radical that people opposed, then the company should rescind that radical movement because the people oppose it. That’s how it should be done. It won’t be a peaceful and seamless transition. There is a lot of animosity towards EA. But treating gamers as people and not thieves or internet pirates will pay off in the long run.
Regardless of how EA decides to approach the negative press moving forward. There is always one truth for video game companies. Producing good games is a way to solve ills. This means that games should be complete from the get go. No more rushed games just to meet “holiday” deadlines. Finish the game and test, re-test or triple test. Adopting a Blizzard approach to highly anticipated titles would not be a bad thing. “It’s finished when it’s finished”. Gamers do not want anymore SimCity debacles. There are some nice titles on deck this year with Battlefield 4 and Dragon Age III: Inquisition. Making sure that those games meet and exceed expectations cannot be overstated. No online DRM nonsense, or pay to win schemes. Just a solid game experience. EA’s COO said that they can do better. Gamers expect better. So do better.