"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"
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.
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
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?
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.