Earlier this year, video game publisher and developer Electronic Arts was named Worst Company in America for the second year in a row. Although the company might not be the actual “worst” — as that is a very subjective term — it was clear from the nomination and win that EA has fallen drastically out of favor with gamers.
Thankfully, Electronic Arts took the repeat win to heart, and has set out to do better in the eyes of the gamer. As newly appointed CEO Andrew Wilson explains, EA has to put a focus on quality over quantity, so that gamers feel like they are “stealing” content from EA rather than them stealing money from the consumer.
In a recent interview with Kotaku, Wilson and Head of PC and Console Game Development, Patrick Soderlund, talked about “winning” Worst Company in America, and what sort of impact that has had on the publisher. Specifically, it was an eye-opening moment for EA and an opportunity for them to evaluate why exactly gamers perceive the company that way.
“When we got this the second time around, if you don’t think about it as an executive in the company, you probably are not doing the right thing. We started thinking about how we don’t want to be viewed as the worst company in America. I personally don’t think we’ve ever been the worst company in America, but it says something. The consumers out there are telling us something. And we actually took it very seriously. This was before Andrew was the CEO. We and [EA chief operating officer] Peter Moore and a couple of other guys in the executive company got together to try to understand what caused people to say these things. And there were some things out there that…consumers told us they didn’t like. Online pass was one thing.”
Willing to prove their commitment to reinventing their image, Electronic Arts spearheaded a movement to remove the Online Pass requirement for multiplayer games, a policy that Sony and later Ubisoft adopted as well. Although they may not have been the first, EA was certainly one of the strongest proponents of the online pass, and therefore their willingness to do away with it spoke volumes.
Of course, a policy like the online pass is only one of the reasons EA was voted worst in America, and it’s likely not the major reason. EA is, after all, a game publisher, so the quality of the games they put out is presumably in correlation with their public perception (i.e. the better the games, the better the publisher is perceived). Although EA doesn’t necessarily make the worst games, they might not strive for the type of innovation or quality that other publishers do, but Wilson would like to change that.
“What I would say is that we create fun. Fun is a tough thing to create. It’s subjective. It’s an emotional calculation of enjoyment over time. That’s what fun is. By its nature it’s subjective. That’s why we get bad albums and bad films and bad books because sometimes you just don’t quite get it right. What I would like to believe is that we will never look back on games, from this point forward, and say, ‘We should have killed that one.’ There might be games that don’t hit like we would want them to or don’t reach the critical acclaim that we want to, but I want to feel like these we did it for the right reasons.”
It might not be as obvious at the moment, but we’d suspect EA’s decision to bring back the Mirror’s Edge franchise for Mirror’s Edge 2 is one of the earliest signs of this new dedication to quality. The first Mirror’s Edge was certainly a critical success, but it struggled to find an audience.
“Whether it’s games that succeeded critically, I want to feel like we had the right motivation when we built that game, we had the right creative engine and that I’m proud that we did it irrespective of the result. Again, I would like them all to be hugely successful and reach huge consumer and critical acclaim. That won’t always be the case, but I want us to always do that in the belief that it has potential.”
Whether it’s cancelling the online pass program or setting out to make better quality games, Electronic Arts clearly took winning Worst Company in America for the second year to heart. They certainly have the potential to re-enter gamers’ good graces now that the Star Wars franchise is under their banner, but we’ll have to see how steadfastly they stick to their new credo when sales don’t meet expectations.
Do you think that EA is making strides to change their public perception? How could they ensure they won’t win Worst Company in America three years in a row?
Follow Anthony on Twitter @ANTaormina