They’ll turn anything into an annual franchise…
It’s official. Thousands of voters once again voted EA as the winner of The Consumerist’s Worst Company In America Awards 2013.
Regardless of whether you agree, this is arguably the culmination of months of bad press for EA, which has seen it alienate and drive further wedges between itself as a business and its customer base, who are obviously getting tired of such troubles. Video games are a huge, multi-billion dollar industry globally, and any claim from EA that their award doesn’t matter is, frankly, deliriously stubborn. It matters because it attracted 78% of the vote against the Bank of America. People see EA as worse than oil companies, worse than many large-chain supermarkets and worse than telecommunications companies dragging their feet in getting more of us into the 21’st Century.
I’ve written about EA at length before, but just once more – and hopefully for the final time – this is how I feel about them.
The games industry should be one of creativity. There’s no doubting that it is big business, but it’s also a chance for artistic expression and joyous imagination. EA’s problem comes on both fronts – their games are either lacking artistic integrity and/or joyful imagination. Dead Space 2 was a visually prettier game than the original, but it lacked… it lacked something. It was too obsessed with its new huge budget to give a damn about us, the player. Dead Space 3 by token retreated so far up The Thing’s backside that it entirely lost any identity that it might have had. The first Dead Space was indeed one of this generations highlights. It’s telling that EA and Visceral couldn’t between them continue that respectful term onwards into its sequels.
Then we have BioWare, rushing out games under EA. Dragon Age 2 was a real let-down. Last years Worst Company In America came on the back of the Mass Effect 3 furore, which might have swayed some votes. And then you have the crazy business decisions of The Old Republic, a new free-to-play game that penalises and makes it harder for those paying for individual content (often at more expense) to do things than people who have subscribed to the game. It’s a bizarre decision for a title that should have been brilliant, but never really was, and it seems unlike Square-Enix – who took Final Fantasy XIV offline to rebuild the whole game – BioWare and/or EA don’t have quite the same ambition. Not even when there’s someone setting a market precedent, and not merely Square-Enix. Darkfall is being remade, which tells you something…
Of course, this year The Consumerist’s awards came on the tail of yet another EA fail; SimCity, and it’s always online requirement that ensured that for two weeks, it was hard to play the game at all. And there’s no doubt people may be using that to swing their vote, but we pay large amounts of money for our games and our equipment; new consoles are likely to be $500/£500, games $60/£50 (Yes, the UK is getting screwed, we always get screwed…) and there’s now an expectation attached to such huge investments. The first wave of people who invest will be knowledgeable gamer types who will not tolerate such business decisions, and considering the expense of making a game for a new console – requiring new tools, new kits, more staff, more hours in less space of time – it’s dangerous to annoy them. Similarly, most average consumers also seem to be getting tired of online passes, season passes, full-price annual updates in an era when seasons could be updated cheaply and simply by a patch or two. EA’s market has been shrinking for some time, and the studios under it have mostly had their credibility in the market assaulted and violated as a result.
I can’t really say if EA are truly the worst company in America, but this clearly is never helped by its own staff. John Riccitiello was a man for whom verbal diarrhoea became a way of life, and as if to confirm that his reign was a slurry of the brown stuff, Peter Moore not long ago responded to the idea they could win this award again dismissively, accusing people of homophobia and whiny football fans. This is the sort of thing that will ALWAYS get them to win the award. This is something you do not do under any circumstances in such a position – if your consumers are looking to express their displeasure because your company is refusing refunds and abusing the grey areas of the law to get away with some of the most heinously vile anti-consumer products in many years, you do not insult them. You do not try to accuse them of something they are not. You do not aggravate the situation more than is necessary. Bank of America may be a lot of things, but there’s no question that comparing it’s PR department to that of EA’s PR department is like comparing Charlize Theron to that pile of dog doo-doo that you stepped in ten minutes ago. There’s no contest there. Comparing the two is pointless because the gulf between them is so incredibly wide it beggars belief.
It’s not merely about making “Better Games”. EA can make damned fine games – it’s subsidiaries can too – but there is no point in doing so if in the same breath they continue to remind us how they feel about us, how they want our money and how little they think of us as their customers. They could make a brilliant 10/10 game next month and right now, most people will likely ignore it. The EA logo is becoming more and more of a warning sign, and that is a huge issue EA needs to deal with before it focuses on better games. Whoever takes over sooner or later, they’ve got the challenge of taking a two-time loser/winner of a terrible award and reinventing the whole company – completely and thoroughly, which is going to involve new PR teams, new branding, new IP and new staff. If Peter Moore becomes CEO, then I think we can safely expect EA to win the same award next year. EA’s reinvention needs to be done with and by a completely new face.
And there’s no point asking if people considered other companies more deserving of the award. Fact is, people hate EA enough to vote them winners of this award. Once looks like foolishness, twice looks like carelessness.
And yes, I’m sure change will happen… although whether it will happen in time to save the company – well. That’s up to the shareholders, no?