Bytes & Flops 4.5.12: Is EA Truly Evil?
Posted by Vince Osorio on 04.05.2012
From Mass Effect 3 and Madden to Battlefield and more, Electronic Arts is one of the biggest video game companies out there. But with recent controversies about DLC, proprietary online services and more coming to light, are they evil? 411's Vince Osorio takes a look!
This last week has been a surprisingly busy one for myself. After working on reviews for South Park:Tenorman's Revenge and Defenders of Ardania (the former is up already, so check that out, and the latter will be ready by the weekend), stopping by at a NIS America event in San Francisco & a weekend trip, I didn't find that I had much time to finish up the games I wanted to write about. Sure, I could probably crank out 1000+ words about 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand or Call of Juarez: The Cartel, but I probably won't be too happy with the final product, and I doubt you would've been either. So instead, I decided to cover a hot-button topic (whose relevancy is red hot as of this writing) to spark a conversation.
Today, it was reported on The Consumerist's website that Electronic Arts was not only in the running for "worst company in America for 2012", but it actually won the poll by a whopping 64% (over its next closest competitor, Bank of America). Now obviously, the poll is an example of a voluntary survey, a survey would probably have been sought out from people who were more familiar with EA's practices as opposed to, you know, economical dysfunction or other pressing issues that actually affect day-to-day life. But never mind that. I legitimately wanted to find out why EA was so hated. As an avid video game enthusiast and customer, I had to know for myself why so much vitriol was thrown to one of the biggest and most prolific publishers in the market.
I found a few examples that I'll elaborate on throughout this piece. The three big ones I've found were: Proprietary online services (namely, Origin), Downloadable content and Subsidiary studio output. I'm sure people have other issues with them (the FIFA phishing scam could be up there, along with the exclusive NFL license), but these are the main three.
So let's talk about EA's online practices. Ever since I could remember, you had to create & sign into an EA account in order to play any and all EA games online. I made my account about the time that Burnout 3 was released and it has stuck with me ever since. Now there are a handful of surprisingly shady business practices that pop up when you agree with those terms of service after creating your account. First off, you're giving them the right to take away your legal rights, meaning that you can't take them to court if you wanted to. You're giving them the right to ban you or to take away access from the game you purchased depending on how they see fit. You're giving them your email address, which will allow them to send you newsletters & advertisements to you, and perhaps monitor your activity as well. Since you're signing up to use their servers, they also have the right to shut down the servers for an online game with enough notice (as is the case for EA Sports MMA, Burnout Revenge and a handful of other forgotten, obscure or otherwise abandoned games from this generation). EA accounts now are known as "Origin" accounts, tied to the downloadable game distribution service from EA which houses their titles (among other third-party games) exclusively.
Sounds pretty terrible when I list all of that stuff out there, correct? But at worst, this is all inconvenient. As much as I love EA Sports MMA, I'm totally fine with never playing that game online again, and I'm sure many of you people out there can be too. I can easily remove myself from newsletters and advertisements as I see fit. I think it's a bummer that I can't buy everything on Steam, but EA has such a huge presence on PCs that they have just about every right to sell their games through an exclusive store, and if that means playing Battlefield 3 through a separate service, so be it. The other "terms of service" stuff is in the fine print for the most popular of games. Take a closer look at the user agreement when you install an update on your PlayStation or hop online for a Modern Warfare 3 match and you'll find instances that are comparable, I can assure you. Sorry, but I doubt Origin sucks that much to make you hate Electronic Arts that bad. Let's be realistic here.
We can more or less thank EA for ridiculous additions for downloadable content. Without EA, we would not have online passes. You know those "pay to unlock items in the game faster" packs? That's EA for you. Having features or modes that were free in the game on an earlier generation and being charged for it today is shady as it gets. And that EA Season Pass for sports games? Why does that even exist?
This also kinda sucks.
It exists because people will allow it to exist. It's not like somehow other publishers aren't actively using DLC as another source of revenue or "forcing" players to upgrade to the newest and best version of the game for an optimal experience. Ask Capcom after they said that Super Street Fighter IV would be the first, last and final update for Street Fighter IV. Or having multiplayer modes being locked on the disc for Resident Evil 5, making owners purchase an unlock key in order to access it. Activision up and put a $15 premium for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 maps, up from the $10 that was charged for DLC in COD 4 and other titles. And what happened then? It became the fastest selling DLC pack in history, with 1 million sold in 24 hours. This is contrary to what the Internet wanted me to believe, saying that they'll boycott Activision & future COD titles for this outrageous price hike. Nice try, guys. Hell, Activision has their own subscription model for COD that will most likely be the basis for EA in the future. EA didn't do so much as make you pay to see the "real" ending of a game, unlike what happened for Prince of Persia or the recently released Capcom title Asura's Wrath. So is EA really acting out of the ordinary here? Are they the only ones to blame or are we by supporting these practices? Also, put yourself in EA's shoes. Yes, they're putting out sports games on a yearly basis to mixed results (at times). But when Madden sells a million copies in its first week and FIFA becomes the fastest selling sports video game worldwide, why wouldn't you want to churn out $60 games instead of charging for a cheaper update that might not be purchased by the same people? From a business perspective, it's genius, even if it's a less-than-stellar one from a consumer perspective.
Now the last topic I wanted to cover is the studio output. EA has had a history of gobbling up studios & shuttering them after disappointing sales figures. Pandemic was possibly the biggest casualty, though plenty of other development houses have seen cuts after commercial disappointment. From what I can tell, the previously untouchable Bioware has been on a supposed "downward slope" to mediocrity. Again, this is what I can gather from the Internet, because I have never played a Bioware game myself. I am aware that Mass Effect 1 & 2, Dragon Age Origins, Jade Empire & KOTOR are all highly revered in gaming circles, but the mixed responses to Dragon Age 2 and specifically the controversial ending for Mass Effect 3 have really struck a chord with gamers. Search the gaming section of Reddit or your favorite video game forum & you'll find plenty of opinions about the Mass Effect 3 ending. There's even a damn petition out there with the intent of making Bioware retcon the conclusion to the game.
What I don't understand is this- when did we, as video game enthusiasts, become so entitled? When did paying $60 for a video game give us the right to influence development and legitimately change a team's work of fiction? I don't see petitions out there for people who hated the Lost ending. I don't see petitions for the Mona Lisa to have eyebrows pasted on. We absolutely don't have the right to change a person or a team's work as consumers. We don't. Get over it. People need to understand that they belong to, what some will call, "the vocal minority". For every person who calls for EA's (hypothetical) heads for Mass Effect 3, there are thousands, if not millions, who praise Mass Effect 3 as a work of art. Those people will continue to pour money & support into a product that they feel strongly about. Complaining and acting entitled makes you no better than the spoiled 5-year-old kid who throws a temper tantrum when she doesn't get ice cream daily.
If you want to change the landscape of the business, you have the power to do so. Word of mouth & your wallet are the two strongest instruments you'll ever have. Didn't like the last Madden game and the obnoxious DLC prices? Thought that the ending of Mass Effect 3 was highly unsatisfying? Do you believe that the Need for Speed series adding and removing features as they see fit is a shady practice? Here's a thought! Don't buy the games any more until they get the hint. Support what you feel strongly about. I want to see another SSX. I think the NHL series is one of the all-time great sports franchises. The Dead Space titles are classics in my humble opinion. Battlefield hasn't let me down yet. I will continue to support these titles to the best of my abilities. I'm sure there are plenty of people like me out there who feel the same way, but we only hear about the ones who argue (loudly) against what EA (and admittedly, what most other publishers) are doing. Ignore them. Think for yourself. Support what you want to support.
Apparently EA did release a statement after their "win" today, reading: "We're sure that British Petroleum, AIG, Philip Morris, and Halliburton are all relieved they weren't nominated this year. We're going to continue making award-winning games and services played by more than 300 million people worldwide."
Sounds about right to me. Those handful of folks complaining about EA are in battle with the hundreds of millions around the world who'll gladly line up to support the company. Sounds like an unfair fight to me.