Here we go again. Despite not having even opened the polls, The Consumerist has already tipped EA for being a strong contender in this year's Golden Poo competition: an internet-wide survey to crown the "Worst Company In America." This would be their third in three years, seeing as the controversial publisher picked up the dubious demerit in both 2012 and 2013.
The joke is wearing a bit thin, to be honest. Oh how we laughed and applauded when EA won their first Golden Poo. We smiled thinly and nodded sagely when they received their second. But, to our knowledge, EA has never forced a single mother out onto the streets by repossessing her house. Or sold armaments around the world. Or perpetrated environmental damage on an epic scale. They deserve to be taken to task for any number of things, yet the very idea of an entertainment software peddler being ranked as 'worse' than banks, arms manufacturers, drug laboratories or loansharks is outrageous. We're a UK site with no real say in the matter, but even we can see that this is unreasonable - and that there are definitely other companies who deserve to be thrust into the public limelight.
It's understandable, though, given that EA has arguably done little to clean up their image beyond declawing the Online Pass; sleepwalking when they should have received a clarion wake-up call. This is a public poll won through internet voting power - something that armies of forum-dwellers and rightfully disgruntled gamers are bound to dominate. It's therefore up to EA to shape up and change their ways... and the sad fact of the matter is that it wouldn't be all that difficult.
Or, in other words, here's how EA can avoid getting golden poo on their faces for a third time running. Ugh.
EA have made some strides over the past twelve months. Online Passes went the way of the Dodo. Origin has become much more convenient to use, and dabbled in some competitive sales on an occasional basis. Plus, they've brought us some great games. Yeah, Dead Space 3 was full of micro-transactions, but why exactly are gamers still up in arms over Electronic Arts?
Horrifically rushed product launches, for one. Over the last year, EA cocked up not one but two major online launches, crippling both SimCity and Battlefield 4. Both games were nigh-unplayable on release, still contain numerous issues and - just to rub salt in the wound - retailed at exorbitant, grasping markups. Neither game was ready nor fit for task, releasing when some more months of development could have secured a smoother launch, and let more players actually get some bang for their buck.
Sixty bucks, that is, if not £60 over here. It's not hard to see why legions of gamers are outraged at spending top dollar for broken product - even though Battlefield 4 is a superb game (shame about SimCity). Going forward, EA needs to ensure that games are released when they're ready, not pushed out to satisfy a concrete release date, in order to inspire confidence in the finished article. After all, we applauded the decision to delay Mass Effect 3 and secure extra development time. Those RRPs need addressing too; in the case of Battlefield 4, releasing it as a cheaper multiplayer-only game might have helped to ease the sting... while £60 downloadable RRPs for the likes of Army Of Two: The Devil's Cartel were met with shock and horror. We'd like to see more realistic pricing and varying levels of investment going into the next few years.
Plus, more investment in the partner scheme and backing more small independent projects - something they tried to do with the likes of Warp, Shank, Gatling Gears before overstepping the mark - would be a lovely thing do to.
This was bad enough, but it's harder to sympathise with EA when their management appears to be engaged in shady dealings. Class action lawsuits allege (with compelling if context-less evidence) that Patrick Söderlund and other high-ranking staffers offloaded millions of Dollars' worth of shares when Battlefield 4's hype campaign reached its zenith... then swam around in the resulting swimming pool full of money as stock prices plummeted post-launch. It's hard to prove one way or another, but it doesn't look great to put things mildly. We can't root for fat cats. It's not in our nature.
EA needs to be seen to be acting honestly and transparently, communicating effectively with both its fans and investors while putting quality game development above all else.
And that's the big one, really. Communication. Going back to Battlefield 4, a type example, EA and DICE didn't apologise for the state of the release, instead trying to suggest that they were doing players a favour by addressing a tiny minority of issues. As opposed to holding their hands up and admitting that they'd cocked up, while scuttling desperately to fix something that they simply hadn't finished. Official releases and wording seemed to blame players and their hardware for launch issues, saying that "millions of people around the world are playing the game," but that they'd deign to address the issues of a tiny minority off their own back. How nice of them. Releasing broken wares, then acting like they're somehow absolute heroes for agreeing to put things right.
For the record, Battlefield 4 works perfectly for me now (and is magnificent), but the standard of communication is sorely lacking; alienating and enraging when it should be including all players in an open and honest discussion about their wares. Going forward, EA has the opportunity to foster a new relationship with us - thanks to a new CEO - a relationship built on mutual trust and engaging us as equals. Earning our money and loyalty in process, not assuming it.
As I said at the very beginning, it's not at all difficult to accomplish. Release games when they're ready. Improve communication. Ensure transparency and public relations. Own their mistakes. Sort out some of the more ruinous RRPs. EA delivers some of our favourite games year-on-year, after all, and should be a much-loved pillar of the industry. You know, like they were back in the day.
Here's hoping that 2014 will see EA repair the rift between us and them... and the Golden Poo eventually smeared on someone rather more deserving.