It hasn’t been a fun year for Electronic Arts. Things kicked off with the terrible launch of SimCity, which suffered from crippling server issues and other bugs and left many customers unable to play the game due to the always-online DRM, and EA executives were recently forced to apologize once more when both Battlefield 4 and NBA Live 14 stumbled into the new generation with a host of issues and – in NBA Live 14‘s case – to a chorus of boos from critics and gamers alike.
In the middle of all this, The Consumerist carried out its annual Worst Company in America poll and, for the second consecutive year, EA came out on top and claimed the not-very-coveted Golden Poo award. It could definitely be argued that there are far more morally reprehensible companies in America to choose from, but from a consumer standpoint EA had trodden on a lot of toes due to business moves like micro-transactions and online passes. Also, there was the controversy over the ending of Mass Effect 3 – that didn’t help matters.
The poll results ruffled a lot of feathers at EA, with CEO Peter Moore reaching out almost immediately to challenge the results in a blog post titled “The tallest trees catch the most wind.” You can probably guess the general tone of the response from that title alone. Moore began by pointing the finger at other companies who he felt deserved the title more and, while admitting that EA had perhaps made a few mistakes, dismissed a lot of the criticisms by way of ad populum defenses and straw man arguments.
Now that the wounds of harsh (too harsh?) criticism have had a little time to heal over, however, EA has apparently opened up a little to the idea that the people who voted in the poll may have had legitimate complaints. EA’s EVP Patrick SÃ¶derlund has described the company’s response to the poll in an interview with MCV:
“I don’t believe for a second that we are the worst company in America, but I do believe when something like that happens, you have to sit down and ask yourselves ‘Why are people saying these things?’ We did that and we started to realise that we are doing things that people don’t like.”
That’s why they get paid the big bucks. In fairness to EA, however, the company has repeatedly pledged to do better and to try to avoid the practices that their customers find most aggravating, and it looks hopeful that some positive effects will come out of the two Golden Poos. Earlier this month, SÃ¶derlund said in an interview that the company had taken the second award “very seriously,” and that one of the ways it had attempted to change was through the removal of Online Passes. SÃ¶derlund isn’t ready to stop there, however:
“If we continue to do those types of things, then we will earn people’s trust and respect. We don’t want to be bad, we have no desire to be voted the worst company in America. On the contrary we want to be voted the best.”
It’s a very promising attitude, but gamers will probably need more than promises to go on before voting EA the best company in America (especially since The Consumerist doesn’t actually run that poll). Moore also promised to “do better” in the immediate wake of the last poll results, but seven months later Battlefield 4 launched with a host of glitches, errors, connection problems, freezes and crashes. It wasn’t as bad as SimCity‘s launch, though, which is something.
Much of the remaining interview merely involves outlining the many ways in which running a video game company is difficult, but SÃ¶derlund does offer a couple of specifics regarding plans for the future. He says that he felt the last console generation went on too long and he expects the Xbox One and PS4 to have a cycle of around five to six years. He also says that one of the observations that can be gleaned from the customers’ response is, “gamers don’t want to play the same game every year.” Which is true, if a little surface level. From this SÃ¶derlund deduces, “We have to make sure we keep on innovating or people won’t give us their money.”
While it’s gratifying to see a company responding to consumer discontent, much of what has been said by EA’s executives (and a lot has been said) is very vague, and ultimately the company’s efforts to improve will be best reflected in the decisions made throughout this current generation of gaming. After all, actions speak louder than PR.