EA says it wants to do better, but why should we believe?

"EA is evil," or so the meme goes. You need only look at any prominent gaming community during a discussion of Electronic Arts to get a sense of the feelings surrounding this company. EA dismantles and destroys beloved franchises, EA runs popular studios into the ground after buying them out, and EA is now known for some of the scummiest microtransaction features in industry history.

Recently, however, the company's new design chief spoke to The Verge, saying that they need to "be better." But EA, we've been here before... why should we believe you this time?

"The worst company in America"

Battlefront II's pay to win systems were a hot topic last year.

Battlefront II's pay to win systems were a hot topic last year.

EA has twice earned the dubious honor of being the "worst company in America", as voted for by users of The Consumerist. These were not recent "honors" either. EA has spent the better part of its recent history pissing off gamers in various ways.

The truth is, for EA, none of this bad blood seems to have mattered a great deal. It continues to post astronomical annual profits, buoyed by its sports gaming license monopoly, predatory pay2win mobile games, and the sheer talent of its developers, artists, and writers. Perhaps that's the most heart-breaking thing about EA: it has some of the most incredible developers under its name, with companies like DICE, building some of the best shooters in history, and BioWare, building industry-leading RPGs. Both studios have suffered under EA, not due to the quality of their games, but due to the terrible decisions of upper management, who evidently care only about short term cash.

Mass Effect is now on hiatus due to the poor performance of its most recent outing "Andromeda."

Mass Effect is now on hiatus due to the poor performance of its most recent outing "Andromeda."

BioWare must have known Mass Effect Andromeda was nowhere near the level fans of the series deserved, and DICE must have known how its pay2win progression system in the $60 Star Wars Battlefront II was going to be received. It's on EA for ploughing ahead with both of these recent failings, both of which the mega-publisher emphatically "apologized" for.

I wish we could take EA's comments at face value, truly, I do. But we've been here several times before.

Speaking to The Verge, EA's new design chief and long-time exec Patrick Söderlund discussed the loot crate controversy, saying the following:

"I'd be lying to you if I said that what's happened with Battlefront and what's happened with everything surrounding loot boxes and these things haven't had an effect on EA as a company and an effect on us as management. We can shy away from it and pretend like it didn't happen, or we can act responsibly and realize that we made some mistakes, and try to rectify those mistakes and learn from them."

Additionally, BioWare's Casey Hudson recently addressed Mass Effect Andromeda, noting how the studio had left the game effectively unfinished and unresolved, with plot lines that will never see closure. Mass Effect has earned some of the most passionate fans in the world, owing to the franchise's stellar character writing.

I wish we could take EA's comments at face value, truly, I do. But we've been here several times before, and EA's repeated disregard is indicative of how little it cares about earning its fans.

The publisher who cried wolf

EA effectively killed Sim City and Maxis with its aggressive and needless online restrictions.

EA effectively killed Sim City and Maxis with its aggressive and needless online restrictions.

We shouldn't be ready or willing to forgive EA, because we've been here before, several times. EA just seems to be a company that likes apologizing. The company says it wants to do better, but it has been saying that for years, and very little has changed.

This is just a taste of how poorly EA has listened to its fans.

EA apologized in 2013 for the utterly botched launch of Sim City, which led to the closure of Maxis, one of the industry's most legendary studios. EA said it wanted to improve back in 2008 too, citing poor reception of flagship titles. As recently as 2016, EA said it wanted to put players first, which is frankly hilarious.

Putting players first would have meant listening to early feedback about Battlefront II's systems from its extensive beta tests. Putting players first would mean finishing off Andromeda's storyline rather than leaving the franchise in a decapitated state.

This is just a taste of how poorly EA has listened to its fans, and treated its franchises over the years, why should we believe it can change now?

Can companies change? Yes, says Ubisoft

Rather than groveling and seeking pity when it began falling out of favor, Ubisoft simply changed its business practices, and we're now seeing the fruits of those labors. With fairness to Ubisoft, it has never plunged the depths of murky practices to the extent EA does, though.

Rather than abandoning ill-received products, Ubisoft stuck with them, aggressively, turning them around. Rainbow Six Siege which didn't exactly light the world on fire at launch, now enjoys an incredibly healthy player base owing to repeated free updates. For Honor joined Rainbow Six Siege in receiving dedicated servers, designed to improve the online experience. Even The Division, which felt like a far cry from what was originally revealed, has also received piles of new content and other additions, making it worthy of player's expectations all those years ago. Ubisoft took Assassin's Creed back to the drawing board after its weak attempt at annualization, eventually delivering Origins, arguably the best in the entire series. Ubisoft has also been hard at work delivering Xbox One X 4K updates for its older titles too. Have we seen the same turn around in any EA game of late?

Ubisoft worked hard to improve its recent games long after launch, supporting them with free updates and graphical improvements.

Ubisoft worked hard to improve its recent games long after launch, supporting them with free updates and graphical improvements.

Star Wars Battlefront II is an incredible game when you disregard the hell EA put its players through during its launch period, and DICE is working to rectify the game's biggest failings. Microtransactions will now be cosmetic only, with player power progression to more traditionally reward time investment, rather than cash investment. Battlefield 1 has received tons of updates, though they've been paid updates that have split the playerbase between those who have the maps and those who don't. EA also never bothered to update the game for the Xbox One X, despite continuing to sell maps.

EA: stop apologizing and prove yourself

Söderlund himself says that words aren't enough and that EA needs to take action to fix public perception, but the company has had decades to "learn" and "get things right," yet here we are, time and time again.

"We have to take action and show people that we're serious about building the best possible products, that we're serious about treating the players fair, and we're here to make the best possible entertainment that we can."

EA is responsible for some of my favorite game franchises of all time, but it feels like the company has done everything in its power to make me hate it. I've given up having any faith in this company's words, because as it shows time and time again, actions speak louder.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Well said Jez, well said.
  • Yep, best article ever. It is easy, EA can either fix and finish games like ME-A or just let studios go to other publishers or sell on the franchises EA has bought up then lost interest in so someone more able to do something useful with them can have a crack. Simply sitting on franchises in case they might decide to use them in the future just means customers will lose trust and go elsewhere (like me). If EA stop smothering franchises and studios in this way, they may not be able to go back to old franchises later but they will stand more chance of going back to old customers later with new game ideas. Customers, the place where the money comes from, are surely the most important thing to retain for any company (Microsoft excepted of course, due to their new model of shedding customers intentionally so they can do the IBM2.0 thing)?
  • I'm guessing You mean "If EA don't stop smothering franchises and studios in this way"? Lol I'm guessing EA is betting on people forgetting over time, who knows.
  • Indeed
  • "i swear babe, I can change! Just give me one more chance!" Words are wind, we shouldn't believe a word that comes out of EA's marketing department. As you basically said in the article, if they want to do better, they'll do better rather than talking about how they want to do better.
  • Well, they could always poach Ol' Nads from Microsoft. It wouldn't improve EA of course, but so many of their customers would be ecstatic he'd gone from MS they'd forgive EA quite a lot for taking that one for the team. I'd buy their games again simply out of gratitude.
  • It must be mentally taxing to put such effort into being this salty.
  • Pass some of that stuff over here. I only have pepper and cumin.
  • > I swear I can change, just give me another chance Well... he's still the popular one with or without your approval.
    tbh, I think gamers who go online talking about games / follow game news are the minority. BattleFront2 was probably the closest one for EA cause the news went main stream, broke out to every media, even to some governors, but still, the game did well.
  • EA have shown they have no interest or capability to change their behaviour. And until paragraph 6 stops happening, why would they? We are abetting their behaviour. And we all know what to do to make them take a serious stab an re-evaluing themselves. Personally, I know which way my wallet has been voting.
  • A veritable broken record..
  • It goes back a long way too. I do recall way, way back, when EA was a team of developers and created a bunch of really interesting games, including one of my all-time favorites, the original Archon (the Commodore 64 version was great but Apple and PC versions were terrible). But as soon as EA started distributing and then acquiring other studios, they've been a case study in destructive management. For those old enough or interested in the history of gaming, you no doubt recall the original epic Fantasy Role Playing Game series -- Ultima (well, you might go back to the 8+ Wizardry games too, but Ultima was the far more dominant, long lasting series). It was the Skyrim and Witcher series of the 80's and 90's, and the company that made it the Bethesda Softworks of their day, with monster hit after monster hit. Ultima was created and originally programmed, then just led by Richard Garriott (aka Lord British), one of the founders of this now forgotten team. That company, which created Ultima, the Ultima Underworld games, the Wing Commander series, plus released System Shock 1 and 2 (but those were done by outside studios), plus many, many other incredible games was Origin Systems. At the time, Origin was credited as one of the key driving factors to the market pressure to more advanced CPU's to handle the graphics in their Wing Commander and Ultima series. Each new game pushed the envelope of technology, and they were such great games, that they drove PC upgrades and sales. EA came on the scene, offered to buy them out, promising to take care of all the boring details of distribution and promotion so Origin could focus on building amazing games. Sounded great and the team took the deal. Well, EA was such an overbearing and destructive owner that the Origin team, after trying to make things work for years, eventually just gave up and disbanded. The final Ultima, Ultima IX, was released without Richard Garriott's participation for the latter part of its development. Like the latest Mass Effect, it was released partially incomplete. As the final game in a trilogy of trilogies, with an epic conclusion to a tremendous story arc, this was a tragedy beyond words for fans. This is EA's legacy. This was far enough in the past that if they had learned from their mistakes and changed, I could embrace a new EA, but they have not changed. They were the same in 2017 as twenty years earlier in 1997. That reflects a culture instilled from the top, and unlikely to move much in the future. As Jez says, it would take far more than an apology to undo decades of destroying great game studios and franchises. It would take multiple years of proven commitment to supporting those things to reverse that history, and perseverance at the expense of short term profits (and as an entrepreneur who must answer to shareholders, I fully support and respect a focus on profit, but I also support customers avoiding companies that don't treat them well, which is the best way to ensure they change or go out of business -- fewer customers means lost profit). To perhaps end on a more upbeat note, the final outcome with Star Wars Battlefront II does seem positive. Maybe that is the first action in a series that will begin to win some of us back.
  • Nah. If they sort out ME-A and provide a decent (and complete) remake of Ultima 9 I will try them again. I never bought 9 so I still need to find a sequel to 8. They only changed SWBF2 after huge international pressure, and they fought against that very hard even then. Making such a small tweak whilst whinging all the way means nothing. Let's see them actually make some effort, then I might believe.
  • Good points. I must say, I actually still enjoyed Ultima IX and played it all the way through (which I didn't do with 8, because I found the game control a bit odd), but it lacked the finish and depth of the others. But I don't credit EA with any of the enjoyment I got out of IX. That was all the dedication of the people at Origin who stuck around to get it out the door to the best of their ability with a limited team.
  • And then they twisted the good name of Origin into a digital distribution system that we hate. That's a massive insult if I've ever seen one.
  • I've often wondered if that was coincidence and chosen independently or if they figured, "Hey, we still own this 'Origin' trademark. What can we do with it?" and then named that system. Speaking of that, you reminded me of another reason to resent EA. I believe they own PopCap too. Among Casual Games, Plants vs. Zombies is almost up there with Angry Birds as a cultural phenomenon. But it's a casual game and perfect for the Microsoft Store. Not only has EA not put it on the Microsoft Store, unless you're on Origin member, it's sure hard to find it for sale (for Windows). And even if you find it for sale, you have to have an account with their Origin game network to be able to install and play the only legal version I could find. Read the review for the installable version (as opposed to the online version) of PvZ on Amazon -- they are all complaining about how after buying it, they couldn't install. Well, you can (at least I did), but it's a pain and all because EA is trying to force players through their network. You also can't get it on the newer Kindle Fires. It's listed as not compatible. I can't imagine there's much work required to make it compatible -- it worked on the previous Kindle Fire which almost identical hardware, so again, seems like EA is actively trying to discourage its play. I suspect that's because PvZ does not include any microtransactions. So does EA take the view that it's a great classic that they're proud to have in their library? No, they take the view that it's a distraction to potential game players who would otherwise play their games that have an ongoing pay-to-play facet. Grr.... Man, EA really does suck.
  • Found PvZ on Steam. http://store.steampowered.com/app/3590/Plants_vs_Zombies_GOTY_Edition/
  • This all makes me sad about Anthem. The initial trailers look so beautiful and fun I have such high hopes. However, those same trailers hint at mechanisms for such horrid pay to win and micro transactions that I really worry about the game.
  • I wasn't aware of any of this on EA's perspective and gamers'...very informative, Jez. Thank you :)
  • I wish EA would publish a Skate 4 game. Either than or sell it off and let someone else do it. Sitting on a franchise game really stinks. Hopefully, Project: Sessions will replace the Skate series as the premier skateboarding game.
  • Great article Jez, thanks. Come to think of it, back in the days, I stopped buying many games after the studio have been bought by EA. Only FIFA is the game I like from them. Now, that maybe a coincident since I did not think about the things Jez is writing much, just went after my instinct. Oh, well.
  • Most people buy Fifa or rather bought Fifa games cause Pro Evo games didn't have the licenses for player names so they were odd and funny. But that didn't matter to many gamers like myself, just turned the names off / used the option file. But it's been awhile since I've played any sports games.
  • Even after all the mess with SWBF2, I still can't help but feel they got away from it scott free.
  • They did mate, and because it happened to be Star Wars, a significant amount of people were and are still willing to forget what EA did and carry on playing. We, the customers, are also to blame for this, we buy the FIFA, Madden, Battlefront, Mass Effect, Need For Speed games. Year after year. If we keep giving them money we only give one impression, that no matter how bad EA are we are totally happy to continue buying their games. They have no incentive to improve because bad practices are going unpunished.
  • Very good article, I don't know if I can add anything to it. You even mentioned Ubisoft, and that's true, I really think they have been improving. For me, their E3 conference was great and the best of 2017. Far cry 5 was actually very good and even though it had problems it was an improvement from recent far cry games. The sad part is that there were people supporting the bs even though now EA themselves admitted making mistakes. Criticism is what helps improve a product and without the backlash EA would have probably continued the bs and trying more and more anti-gamers/anti-consumers policies on future games like Anthem...
    When people defend or damage control anti-gamers/anti-gaming policies they only hurt gaming and also possibly that company... I think the backlash is a clear warning sign to EA and ALL other publisher who tries the bs. The thing is they'll need to change and improve. But does this mean they'll just make games: "bad but not as bad as Battlefront 2"? Anyway great quality article...
  • This article is hilarious
  • EA is the abusive boyfriend of the Games industry.
  • It isn't just EA, they are just the most egregious. Ever since the rise of mobile it has been micro transaction and dlc hell.
  • This. Completely agree. Whenever I have a talk about the state of gaming and where it really began to go wrong, it always comes back to mobile games. Thing is I can half understand free mobile games having microtransactions, because they have to monetize. I don't get it with full price games, greedy bastards.
  • There are very few publisher's who don't do this kind of after sales price gouging, Remedy, CD Projekt RED and Sony are a few that come to mind.
  • Bring NBA 2K16 online back and other previous releases. Other companies support they games since ages. EA NOT.
  • I don't see why people are so up in arms about EA. The fact is, EA is a company that exists because we allow it. If you do not like the company and its products, vote with your wallet and do not buy their games.
  • Agreed.
  • The problem isn't their products. The problem is that they destroy good game series and betray their fanbase. They only cater to new fans and dont care about loyal fans. No one likes to be slapped in the face.
  • Well, because voting with the wallet isn't enough. Sure we can just let it go and not buy it. But would EA have done anything if no one said a word? Would Anthem, SoT and so many future games all be the same if this didn't happen?
    As a consumer and a gamer it's important to fight for gaming. EA and these companies are trying to force mobile style free2play elements in full price game and call it "games as a service" as if they are doing a service to us. When we voice our opinion and how upset we are about their policies it sends them and ALL other publisher a clear message. It also helps inform fellow gamers (and even casual gamers) about the problem it is and how we as a community should unite and fight the bs.
    The PC community is good at that and avoided a lot of bs.
  • Whatever EA , just don't screw with Need For Speed Most Wanted... one reboot already ruined it, instead of giving the series a proper sequel it was just destroyed, thanks a lot for that and I'll pass on every game you ever make from that point onward. i was a big fan of the original Most Wanted.. until they shutdown the servers that is.. but i guess all good things have to go, so **** off EA , time to shutdown the company and go home : ) i remember the NFS World debacle as well cause i was there too and experienced the ****** optimization in it, way to make a MMO that sucks up internet faster than windows updates; GOOD ******* JOB
  • I think this is a pretty good article but I think you sort of let gamers off the hook too easily. Ultimately, gamers wallets have aided and abetted this insanity from EA. The outrage over BFII is really the first time gamers have struck back at EA. (Unless they really have wanted to create some sort of “update” service for Madden using microtranactions and the response to those rumors on a number of occasions killed it.) The exclusive license from the NFL has really not helped the situation, but gamers ultimately still control their own wallets. People have to just bite the bullet and not buy a game. I also think there’s an unanswered question in the section on Ubisoft. Just how did Ubisoft learn it was falling out of favor with gamers? Years of poor sales? One AAA game like The Division being received poorly? Fans who complain on Ubisoft’s message boards louder and more forcefully than EA’s? Or was it something internal that’s missing from within EA? This might make a great follow up column. IMO Ubisoft isn’t necessarily a great comparison because they’re not the financial behemouth that EA is. IMO The Division being received so poorly hurt them more than BFII could have ever hurt EA. There used to be rumors somebody was going to acquire Ubisoft on nearly an annual basis. The only corporations with enough cash to acquire EA are top tech companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple and Amazon.