Over the last few years, Electronic Arts has managed to make a name for itself as the true douchebag of the videogames industry. And to a large extent, I mean that literally! They have forced gambling mechanisms into games and ended up covered in shit. EA is the company that has been repeatedly voted the worst company in America. They are one of the main reasons that there is legislation under consideration in many countries to restrict their monetisation practices in games. It’s the company that has (so far) wasted the exclusive use of the Star Wars License. This is the company that celebrated making $4.95 billion profit by firing 350 members of staff.
In a recent interview with gamesindustry.biz, Matt Bilbey, EVP of strategic growth at EA, said: “I struggle with the perception that we’re just a bunch of bad guys.” Let’s move past the corporate terminology of “strategic growth” and the fact that vice president of this wing isn’t strong enough, so he has to be an “executive vice president.” I have some advice for you, Mr. Bilbey. If you don’t want to be thought of as “a bunch of bad guys,” stop giving us cause to think that you are a bunch of bad guys! In fact, EA needs to stop talking with words and let their games do the talking for once.
Games doing the talking
Of course, their reputation is down to the fact that the games have been talking. These games have been saying that they don’t give a damn about gamers and are only interested in the almighty dollar. Now, don’t think I’m some extreme hippy socialist. I’m all for companies making profits. If you create a great product, then you deserve to reap great rewards. However, if you make a good product and then crap all over it with corporate bullshit, then you deserve to be tarnished in excrement in the same way you did to your product. What’s more, if you promise us the equivalent of a fantastic, tasty, nutritious meal and serve up a standard McDonalds hamburger that has dropped on the floor and stood on . . . twice, then you deserve to be referred to as bad guys.
Here’s another suggestion for Electronic Arts. If you go before the UK government and lie, you deserve to be referred to as bad guys. Who now can forget Kerry Hopkins? She’s the VP of legal and government affairs for EA. (Obviously not important enough to be an executive VP.) However, when a videogames company needs a department with ‘government affairs’ in the title, something’s more than a little messed up. Anyway, she’s the glorious linguist who brought the phrase ‘surprise mechanics’ into the gaming lexicon. Just a quick tip for you, Kerry. When telling politicians that your company doesn’t refer to loot boxes as loot boxes, make sure everyone gets the memo. If EA representatives refer to loot boxes ten days earlier during E3, it really undermines you. When your CEO(!) talks and refers to loot boxes the day after you testify, it shows how full of lies you are.
Does the truth hurt?
If you’re not going to keep your mouth shut, how about you tell us the truth? Stop trying to justify loot boxes by saying that they offer choice, value, and fun to gamers. Just be honest and say that it earns you a ton of money! In 2017, Electronic Arts’ CFO (ooh, chief, not executive) Blake Jorgensen announced that the Ultimate Team mode in EA Sports titles brings in $800 million a year! This isn’t for new content added to the game; it’s from items already available in the game. I suppose this doesn’t specifically make you “bad guys,” but it does make you greedy bastards! It gets worse though; you can’t just purchase the player you want. You have to gamble to get the player you want. The flashy presentation and random nature of drops are done to specifically affect people’s brains the same way as fruit machines do. Now that’s not just greedy, that’s reprehensible!
I don’t believe that all of the employees at Electronic Arts are “bad guys.” However, there’s no denying they have some tasteless business practices and will say whatever they can to justify them. When your company’s mouthpieces are behaving badly, it leads people to think you are a bunch of “bad guys.” If you want to change that opinion, then you need to correct your business practices, create some great games, and stop talking shit. They have the resources and personnel to make good games. The bigger question is whether they will allow them.
The next few years will shape the future of EA. If they carry on as they are, there is likely to be a backlash from gamers. These predatory monetisation practices may make money now, but it could quickly turn into a real hindrance. Who knows how far the industry can go in this direction, before it breaks itself. No one wants any of the big publishers to collapse, but it does feel like they’re on the verge of eating themselves. I do hope that Electronic Arts turns themselves around and become a force for good in gaming, but for risk of suffocation, I won’t be holding my breath.
What do you think about EA? Do you think the statements they make are fair and accurately reflect their behaviour? Do you see them as “bad guys”? Are there other publishers that you think are worse? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.