Every once in a while, a company comes along whose actions and morals are so strongly disputed, it is almost entertaining just to watch how the populace reacts. In this day and age, with the entire “economic downfall” and conservative versus liberal mumbo jumbo going on, you’d expect one of the most hotly contested companies of the year to be some warmonger or a faceless, heartless bank.
Nope, it’s a video game company.
Electronic Arts – commonly known as EA – is one of those super-massive companies that seems to have a hand and influence in everything. Not only is it a developer, but it’s also a publisher and marketer. It’s been around since the early ’80s and is one of the big three in gaming names – coming in third after Activision Blizzard and Nintendo.
EA has been involved in some of the biggest series and franchises to date: “Battlefield,” “The Sims,” “Mass Effect” and all those EA Sports games like “Madden” and “FIFA.” Oh, and “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic,” which is one of my all-time favorite games.
For a developer who works on such awesome titles, you’d think they’d be well loved – a business that is nestled in the soft spot of all gamers.
Turns out that’s not the case – they’re pretty well hated.
Why is this corporation hated so much? Well, EA has made a series of increasingly bad decisions over the years. Instead of being forgotten, these little gaffes have just been compounded. A lot of it, of course, has to do with money.
Companies exist to make a profit. In some strange parallel-universe, there may be a world of happiness and fluff, where everyone works together for the greater good; unfortunately, we live in the real world. Haven’t you heard the saying, ‘money talks’? Well, EA has.
One thing it’s known for – and strongly disliked for – is buying out small, independent gaming studios and destroying them. The great thing about small studios is that they don’t have big brother watching their back. The unfortunate thing about these small studios is their cash flow. When they’re not struggling for money, they’re just getting by. So it’s not all that surprising that, whenever a sustainable buyout is offered, many jump at the chance.
Pandemic Studios was one such small studio. Started in 1998, it was responsible for such hits as “Destroy All Humans!” and “Star Wars: Battlefront,” in addition to a handful of others. It was a little guy and it was putting out quirky games that players enjoyed.
In 2007 EA purchased the studio. In 2009 Pandemic Studios was closed.
Now, there have been many extenuating circumstances surrounding the closure of Pandemic Studios that most may not be aware of. It could have been bleeding out funds, but to the average person looking at the news, Pandemic Studios was just another little guy purchased, gutted and destroyed by EA.
OK, so EA shut down a small-but-popular studio a handful of years ago, but what does that have to do with what’s going on today?
Well, it sets up this money-grubbing association. You know how I said earlier that companies need money to survive? Everyone knows that. Sometimes, however, these companies get a little too greedy. Sometimes it may seem like they’re actively trying to weasel cash out of people.
These sound like mad ramblings of a conspiracy theorist. Surely I’m looking too much into EA’s actions?
Enter the newest “SimCity” installment.
Back in middle school, “SimCity” was the go-to game for our technology class. You’d spend most of the class working, and then, when there was about 10 minutes left, you’d stop and save the game.
Then you would show the citizens of your city how angry of a god you were. Fires, tornadoes, monster attacks and tsunamis – you would eradicate your city just for the hell of it.
In “SimCity,” you can’t do that. It auto saves. You need to be connected to servers in order to play, and you can’t play your own game if you don’t have Internet connection.
For about a week, almost two weeks after its launch, “SimCity” was almost unplayable. Players couldn’t connect to the servers, because they were overloaded. Unable to play their games, they angrily asked for refunds. Most requests through EA’s Origin service were denied.
Amazon issued a warning on the SimCity page, noting that due to server issues, you might not be able to play the game you just purchased. To pour salt in the wound, a hacker revealed that only one line of code needed to be changed to play the game offline, so being connected to the servers wasn’t a necessity after all.
These bad decisions did have consequences. EA’s stock, which has been incrementally dropping for years, was once again slated to decrease. John Riccitiello, who had been EA’s CEO since 2007, turned in his resignation.
Riccitiello’s departure does open up the door for a new head of EA, someone who values the consumer.
But do I honestly think EA is going to change? No, I don’t think it will, at least not anytime soon. It’s nice to know, however, that a majority of consumers out there are beginning to scrutinize EA’s decisions.
Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.