Dabe Alan

EA earned hatred with poor games, lack of vision, and contempt for the audience, not homophobia

EA earned hatred with poor games, lack of vision, and contempt for the audience, not homophobia

EA is close to once again “winning” Consumerist’s Worst Company in America poll, and this has again sparked debate over how silly it is that a video game company is even in the running. The decisions that insurance companies make on a daily basis lead to financial ruin, if not death, for many Americans. Many view our banking system as deeply corrupt. The oil companies have a terrible environmental track record.

We sort of expect that our insurance companies will be nightmares to deal with; they’re part of a faceless bureaucracy that decides the level of health care we’ll receive. There is no surprise in the fact that oil companies put profits over safety. These are unpleasant companies that are often in the news for unpleasant reasons, and we dislike them as a matter of course. We’re resigned to it.

A video game publisher, on the other hand, should at least pretend to care about what its customers think about its job, and this is where EA falls apart.

You hate us because we're so good at what we do

EA COO Peter Moore wrote a reaction to the poll, and his defense of the mighty publisher is both tone deaf and insulting. He blames homophobes who dislike EA’s push for allowing LGBT characters in games. He says that many dislike microtransactions, but you can’t argue with results! He once again says that the always-on require on SimCity isn’t DRM, as if the only thing keeping us from loving that game is a matter of semantics.

His message is simple: EA doesn’t really care what you think about it, because it’s successful.

Which is an argument that doesn’t hold up to the faintest of scrutiny. Your CEO doesn’t deploy his golden parachute due to lower than expected revenue because your games are doing well. EA is losing both the battle for gamers’ wallets as well as the battle for our hearts. They can say that they don’t mind being hated as long as we give them money, but fewer of us are giving them money. This is not the time for a victory lap.

EA has become a company that releases mediocre products created by faceless teams. There is no real vision at work, no grand design.The Consumerist has a rather damning response to Moore’s arguments about why so many people hate the publisher, and the post dismantles Moore’s arguments one by one.

“EA received hundreds of nominations from Consumerist readers this year, by far the most of any contender in the bracket, but not a single one mentioned anything about sexual orientation,” the post stated. “Consumerist does not condone homophobia or hate speech of any kind, and our readers understand the Worst Company contest and nominate businesses based on their merits.”

Moore stated that people voted for EA due to the choice of athlete on the cover of Madden, but the Consumerist isn’t buying it. “Really? Show us. Because while readers certainly complained about the declining quality of Madden, not a single person griped to us about the player(s) on the box cover.”

Where does the hate come from? The Consumerist has some thoughts “…EA’s history of buying up smaller, successful developers with the intention of milking — and arguably ruining — the intellectual properties that made these acquired companies so attractive.”

They’re also unimpressed with Moore’s argument that microtransactions make EA money, so they are good things. “We’d counter that just because people are allowing you to nickel-and-dime them it doesn’t mean you should be doing it,” The Consumerist wrote.

The fact is that this poll exists for consumers to send a message to companies, and that message is that EA is doing the wrong things. Moore refuses to acknowledge any of the real reasons gamers hate the company, and that’s bad news for gamers who are hoping for things to change.

EA has given us ample reasons to hate them

I’m going to go out on a limb here and give a very simple reason: the products they’re releasing are not very good. I remember going to see the original Dead Space and learning that it was more or less a skunkworks project, worked on for long periods of time away from EA's gaze.

The result was a dark, scary science fiction title that felt fresh and original. Once the series became a hit, EA began to remove the things that made it stand out. Dead Space 3 is a competent and enjoyable game, but it’s uninspired. There’s nothing that makes it stand out, and the addition of microtransactions adds little to the experience.

The same thing happened with Crysis 3, which is yet another fun but shapeless mess of a game. The first two games were wonderful, for very different reasons, but anything that kept the title from being yet another first-person shooter were sandblasted away to try to create a game that will appeal to everyone, while drawing in none of the series’ fans. The original games became hits because they had the strength of vision, but that vision has been replaced by a tasteless, populist mush.

SimCity not only requires an Internet connection, a decision that has led to no end of technical problems, but we can no longer create huge cities. We can’t save our game, experiment with the design, and then reload. It’s not a sandbox anymore, and the playful nature of past games in the series has been replaced by a game that forces us to play a certain way.

The gutless reaction to these issues is just as large of a problem, and after I was personally blown off by Origin PR for daring to ask about whether customers can get a refund for their non-working game, I can understand the frustration on the part of gamers trying to fight for their money back. If their official PR is comfortable giving the finger to the press and refusing to comment on refunds, I can’t imagine how customers are treated.

You know my thoughts on Real Racing 3, a game made by the remnants of two other developers EA ate up before laying off their staff and smashing them together. The company’s reaction to the vocal dismay at the microtransaction model is, once again, that they’re making money so they don’t care if you don’t like it.

EA may have the reputation of being a company run by empty suits, but blowing off the hatred of gamers due to the “market” having spoken shows just how well deserved that reputation has become. It seems that no EA executive can even pretend to care about the massive backlash the company is facing from gamers who feel ripped off.

Then there was the Battlefield 4 reveal, a dog and pony show where EA and D.I.C.E. rented out a theater to try to prove David Cage wrong: Just because they have great technology at their fingertips doesn’t mean they have to stop creating cookie cutter, soulless trailers that offer nothing new to gamers who have seen all of these tropes before.

“As artists and craftspeople, we are focused on creating a dynamic, open design that brings people together with amazing, surprising unscripted moments that they’ll talk about for days. That’s the beauty of Battlefield,” Patrick Soderlund, Executive Vice President said in a statement, as if we’re all going to forget the artistic failure of the trailer we just watched. Battlefield 4 could be a lovely game, but its reveal to the public confirmed every fear critics had of it being just another war game.

Did you know there was also a new Army of Two game released around that time? The press weren’t given review copies, and it seems to have been sent out to die. It’s currently enjoying a 55 rating on Metacritic, and has been roundly ignored by the public. It seems generic war games don’t do very well. Who would have thought? EA has already canned the Medal of Honor series after the failure of the last game in that series as well.

Can you remember the last EA title that you truly loved? Can you remember the last interview you read about that game where a developer was allowed to explain their passion for the game? Bonus points will be awarded if it wasn't a Bioware-developed game.

EA has become a company that releases mediocre products created by faceless teams. There is no real vision at work, no grand design. Just the idea that free-to-play games and microtransactions are the wave of the future, or at least they better be, because none of the company’s $60 boxed releases are finding much success with either critics or gamers. Lord knows that the latest Madden game will do well, but that’s only because gamers don’t have a choice if they want an official NFL title. FIFA will also likely remain a hit in the global market. So they have that going for them. Which is nice.

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. 

“The tallest trees catch the most wind,” Moore wrote. “At EA we remain proud and unbowed.” I have bad news for Peter Moore: Activision is the tallest tree, and people are actually buying their games. EA is fast becoming kindling, and the company ignores its customers throwing matches at its peril.