It wasn't much of a surprise when Electronic Arts was recently voted the Worst Company in America by readers of Consumerist for the second year in a row. Though the game publisher's sins are arguably less substantial than those of their competition, nerds have soundly declared that borked SimCity servers are officially worse than the predatory housing loan tactics responsible for the current financial crisis.
Regardless of whether you agree with EA's win, it's obvious that gamers really dislike this software giant. Let's take a look at the reasons why.
Lack of creativity
Electronic Arts is terribly afraid of the word "creativity." Being creative means taking risks, trying things which haven’t been tried before. EA, meanwhile, prefers to release the same game as many times as possible, seeing just how much money they can milk out of a franchise before the public realizes they probably don’t need the “Extreme Farming” expansion for The Sims.
I've said it before, but this is still the stupidest thing ever.
For a good example of how shameless Electronic Arts is about their lack of original ideas, look no further than Goldeneye: Rogue Agent. After snatching the Bond license away from Rare and churning out an endless procession of uninspired shooters, EA finally decided to just try and trick people into thinking they'd crafted a sequel to the N64 hit. The game wasn’t even based on the movie Goldeneye, it was about a dude with an actual golden eye, which makes literally no sense whatsoever.
Worst of all, EA doesn't even have the decency to recognize when they've published another uninspired piece of crap. Medal of Honor: Warfighter was universally panned by critics, though rather than recognize their failure and learn from it, EA execs decided to loudly whine about how unfair the scores were. Is there anything more pathetic than a bunch of filthy rich executives crying because reviewers judged their game based on its merits rather than its gigantic marketing budget?
Buying out the competition
As established, EA hates coming up with new ideas, and nowhere is this more apparent than their massive lineup of cookie-cutter sports titles. Of course, who can really fault them for taking advantage of those knuckle-dragging cretins who are happy to pay $60 for the exact same game they bought last year?
Look at how excited John Madden is about his royalty check.
That being said, it’s pretty pathetic to see how terrified EA is of their competition, likely aware that any developer with even a sliver of respect for the customer could easily blow their half-assed efforts out of the water.
That’s exactly what happened in the case of Sega’s NFL 2K5, a game which was not only hailed as one of the best football games of all time, but actually sold for $10 less than EA’s latest lazy installment in the Madden franchise. Sweating profusely as they considered the idea of actually having to work for their consumer's money, the EA execs frantically called up their chums at the NFL, negotiating an exclusive contract and killing off any competing NFL game series, including NFL 2K and NFL Blitz.
Of course, Electronic Arts themselves actually brought back the NFL Blitz franchise in 2012, which is pretty disgusting when you think about it. It’s one thing to commit murder, it’s another to reanimate your victim's corpse and force it to dance for nickels.
Treating workers like Slave Labor
You might argue that EA can’t be faulted simply for being good at business, and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve got nothing against good old fashioned capitalism. Problem is, Electronic Arts is a little too old fashioned, the company clearly pining for the days when where treating your workers like slaves was just par for the course.
Ah, the good ol' days.
See, in America we have something called “overtime law,” where any employee working in excess of forty hours in a week get paid at 1.5 times their normal rate for those additional hours. It’s supposed to encourage companies to hire additional workers, rather than simply hiring a burly guy with a whip to provide encouragement.
Somehow though, EA never got the memo about not forcing your programmers to work like sweatshop laborers. In 2004, Erin Hoffman, the so-called “EA Spouse,” posted a scathing expose on how the electronic giant had treated her husband and other employees, forcing them to work as many at 84 hours a week without any overtime compensation. Her speaking out led to three separate class-action lawsuits being filed against EA, the software giant forced to shelve their plans for motivational shock-collars.
Beatings will continue until morale improves.
In the 90s Electronic Arts set about buying up every awesome PC developer they could find, with the hopes of working with these talented studios to create great software values for the consumer...
Wait, that’s wrong. What EA actually wanted was to buy up a bunch of already popular franchises, then force the developers to release an endless stream of crappy bug-laden sequels.
Remember the biblical story of Abraham, who was commanded by god to take his son Issac up to a mountain and stab the kid with the first sharp rock he could find? It was kind of like that, except Issac was the Command and Conquer series and Electronic Arts wasn't kidding around about the “murder your child” decree.
C'mon Abraham, just ship Ultima IX. Who cares if it sucks?
Not that EA cared as they helped run studios like Westwood and Origin into the ground. Once the studios were no longer profitable, they simply fired everybody and pocketed whatever cash they'd made. Everybody wins, except of course for those developers who were forced to stab their most-beloved creations to death.
Poor Richard Garriott. I hope he's happy now that he lives in space.
Though most publishers these days have resorted to a variety of tactics to earn some additional cash, Electronic Arts is perhaps the most shameless about these practices, eagerly trying to squeeze every possible dollar out of your wallet.
Countless hours of login screen fun.
- Downloadable content - You can be sure every EA release will come loaded with it, much of which probably should’ve been included in the retail release.
- Used games - Sorry buddy. If you want to play with your friends, you’re gonna need this ridiculous online pass.
- Micro-transactions - Because your favorite video games are made better when you're constantly being asked to feed them quarters
- Digital-rights management - EA promises to make sure that playing the game you bought is as frustrating as possible, either loading your computer up with DRM software, or forcing you to wait weeks for them to fix the servers before you can actually play that copy of SimCity you bought.
See, the reason gamers love companies like Valve, is because Valve makes it clear they loves the consumer. Gabe Newell has proven you don’t have to constantly shit all over your customers just to turn a profit. Every time I buy a game on Steam, I feel like I’m supporting a company which actually cares about me as a customer.
With Electronic Arts, I get the feeling my money is being used to purchase orphaned children, whose souls are used to power EA's massive fear engine, gradually opening the portal to the hellish nightmare realm where their demonic overlords plot the total enslavement of humanity.
Call it a hunch.
Non-Existent Customer Service
It’s interesting to see how different companies approach the issue of customer service. Many retailers hold by the old adage “the customer is always right,” going out of their way to please every patron. Electronic Arts goes by the motto "we hate you, give us your money," something which has unsurprisingly earned them few fans.
Hi! How can we make your life miserable today?
EA's inability to care about their consumers was less of a problem back in the retail days, though the move towards digital downloads has forced people to deal with Origin's incompetent customer service reps. Got charged twice for Battlefield 3? That's a banning. An opponent swore at you during a game session? That's another banning. You pre-ordered Command & Conquer: Generals 2 before it got announced as free-to-play and now need a refund? Sorry bro, better luck next time.
The recent SimCity debacle was excellent evidence of how little Electronic Arts cares about their customers. When you sell somebody a $60 product that doesn’t work, the right thing to do is offer them a refund. However, the idea of swimming in a slightly smaller money pool was enough to send EA executives to tears. No refunds for anybody, though you do get a free copy of whatever game EA calculated would least affect their bottom line.
So, Electronic Arts has established the precedent that they are allowed to sell you something that doesn’t work, then refuse to give you back your money, and potentially ban you for complaining about it.
If that’s not enough cause to cancel your Battlefield 4 pre-order, I don’t know what is.
Preorder your inexplicable Origin banning today!
In summary, Electronic Arts is like most American companies, their blind greedy love of money resulting in a terrible experience for the consumer. Though we can't argue that they put out some great games now and again, it's their crappy business practices which are the problem.
The Worst Company in America? Maybe not, but they're definitely working hard to keep the title.