The seemingly impossible has happened. A single company has gained the notorious (and strangely impressive) distinction of having won the Consumerist “Worst Company in America” award two years in a row. That company is Electronic Arts, the game industry mega-publisher that has been confounding/annoying/underwhelming/destroying the hopes of gamers across the United States (and the rest of the world) for the past few years.
Beating the likes of Facebook, Ticketmaster, Comcast and other notably terrible capitalistic institutions, EA defied all odds and proved they are the best at something. That “something” may be pissing off consumers….but still.
Although most of what I say is in jest, and we obviously must take these kinds of awards with a large grain of salt, EA would best be served to seriously consider why they are perennially in this position. The fact that a simple game publisher beat out earth-destroying companies like BP, and morally ambiguous predatory lenders like Bank of America, proves that they are doing something very wrong. Unfortunately, from what we have seen by EA’s response to all this, they still don’t really get it.
Peter Moore, EA’s public persona following the departure of CEO John Riccitiello, acknowledged this unfortunate title by making excuses for why they are at the top (or bottom) of the class and why this poll is utterly ridiculous. He was somewhat ineffective:
“This is the same poll that last year judged us as worse than companies responsible for the biggest oil spill in history, the mortgage crisis, and bank bailouts that cost millions of taxpayer dollars,” Moore said. “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. 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. “Yes, really.” (As a point of reference, the Consumerist mentioned that EA’s win last year had nothing to do with SOPA or ME3, while consumers complained about the declining quality of the Madden franchise, as opposed to the cover athlete.)
“Are we really the “Worst Company in America?” he asked in an official blog post. “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.”
Now we are getting somewhere…until he says things like this:
“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. That last one is particularly telling. If that’s what makes us the worst company, bring it on. Because we’re not caving on that.”
This is not the way to handle negative press. You do not hide behind “causes” no matter how noble they may be. And you certainly don’t attack your user base. This “holier than thou” attitude serves as one of the reasons why gamers hate EA. What the company needs to do is own up to their mistakes, realize what industry they are in and move towards producing high-quality content. That’s it.
They are so worried about their shareholders, they forget about the fact that the gamers who use their products are the true bellwethers, creating the negative environment that causes investors to worry about the publishers future prospects. This makes those who buy EA stock tentative to purchase more, or worse, sell their shares. Keep the consumers happy, and investors will surely follow suit. This way, everyone wins.
The gaming industry is a tricky space, but it essentially boils down to one thing that all developers/publishers need to keep in mind: You all make up a very important part of our lives….our free time. It is hard to take things like the mortgage crisis or the BP oil spill personally because most of us are detached from those situations. But games are so close to our heart, and almost always within arms length, making them extremely personal.
When a publisher screws with our free time by making a mess of product launches, allowing server issues to completely stall a game out, or creating content that is so homogenized and market-tested that it turns into a mish-mash of what focus groups tell us is right, then gamers will certainly make sure their voices are heard.
Since we can only complain so much on forums that nobody except gamers read, we take to the streets and make certain that EA pays for their sins by receiving negative press. We dont want them to fail in the least (quite the opposite in fact), but we also dont want them continuing to operate their business without taking their true audience into account.
This is a perfect time for EA to stop, reflect and make the necessary moves to turn things around. There is only one way to go from here, and that is UP. Lets hope that Electronic Arts has the leadership in place that can make the tough decisions and put the publisher on a course places their consumers on equal footing with their investors. If they can effectively do this, everyone wins. If not, we will likely see EA as the early favorite to three-peat.