The Worst Company With The Best PR

Electronic Arts needs actions, not words, to convince gamers it doesn't just see them as piles of money

As you’re no doubt aware by now, Electronic Arts “won” the Worst Company In America award from the Consumerist for the second straight year. And EA COO Peter Moore responded prematurely with is “We Can Do Better” blog post. And the Consumerist responded to that missive with one of its own.

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Got all that? Good. So, now what? What will EA actually do about it?

Hmm? … Anything?

*crickets*

Nice idea, in theory

Suppose you really screw up a project at work. I mean, royally screw it up. Your boss is livid. Your subordinates are angry. Everyone wants to hear how you’ll fix things.

Your answer: “I’ll do better.”

Your boss: “OK, great. Hey, don’t forget the company barbeque on Sunday!”

I don’t think it would work like that.

It’s noble for Moore to come out and admit many of EA’s shortcomings. More significantly, he doesn’t blame BioWare or Maxis or any other of EA’s holdings, placing the blame firmly on the mothership. And he does acknowledge that changes need to be made.

OK, like what?

There go those crickets again.

In fact, Moore pretty much thumbs his nose at many of the issues that people complain about in EA’s titles.

DRM in SimCity?

“It’s not. Period.”

Microtransactions?

“Tens of millions… are playing and loving these games.”

And the real clincher:

“We’re constantly listening to feedback from our players, through our Customer Experience group, Twitter, this blog, or other cases. The feedback is vital, and impacts the decisions we make.”

Such as… What? Hello?

True, Moore’s response is just a blog post. It’s not really appropriate or convenient for it to go into heavy detail about the company’s future plans. Even if EA does plan to take steps to be more customer-friendly in the future, the exact details on how that will happen might still be in an embryonic stage.

That said, some reassurance other than a simple patronizing pat on the head and a “Don’t worry, it’ll all get better” would be nice. Explain that you’re forming a committee. Say that you’ll look for someone more in-tune to gamers’ needs to replace John Riccitiello as CEO. Just give us some solid information to go on.

Your old slogan is “Challenge Everything.” Well, we’re doing just that.

EA Clearly Doesn’t Get It

People are passionate about video games, sometimes irrationally so. But the same could be said of virtually every other form of entertainment from comic books to professional sports to movies to action figures. People who complain about those products are going to be vociferous, caustic, and sometimes downright rude.

But they’re also your customers. You chose to work in this industry. You knew what kind of people buy your products. They’re the same kind of people who patronize Best Buy, DirecTV, and Ticketmaster, all of whom were also in the contest. You can’t just dismiss them now because it’s a convenient way to sweep some bad press under the rug.

Moore perfectly summarizes his views by mentioning 45 million users for Origin, which is “breaking records for revenue,” listing top-selling games, talking about the millions of people who are enjoying SimCity and the 900,000 players who took EA up on its free game offer.

I once worked for a man who was described to me as “managing information, not people.” I see Moore in the same light. Numbers – sales figures, revenue, and users – are what matter. Whether those users are happy or not? Whether they feel forced into purchase decisions they’d rather not make, whether it’s Mass Effect 3 on Origin or “necessary” DLC? Irrelevant. The numbers are the only thing.

That’s how business works, granted. Peter Moore and EA are in the business of making money, and I don’t begrudge them that. But that means he also has no right to begrudge us for being angry with him. You play the game your way, we’ll play it ours. And someday, we might choose not to play at all.

You can’t have it both ways

As for the contest itself? Just a piddly little thing voted on by some malcontents.

“Every day, millions of people across the globe play and love our games – literally, hundreds of millions more than will vote in this contest” – Moore

We’ll remember that the next time an EA game wins an industry award, which is voted on by a very small number of people, or possibly just the staff of a magazine or website.

Moore also pokes fun at the contest for pairing EA up against Anheuser-Busch, which:

“allegedly waters down its product. That debate takes place in bars – our audience lives on the Internet. So no surprise that we drew more votes there.”

Solid point, there. EA’s second-round opponent? Facebook. Which is 100% on the Internet and has over one billion users, about three times as many people as the 350 million Moore claims enjoy EA’s products. EA won that matchup by a score of 79.5% to 20.5%.

Sure, the whole thing’s silly. And it’s not like any of the companies in it, EA included, are likely to fail in the next year. They’re all on that list because they’re big companies with bigger revenues and boast enough satisfied – or at least not-too-dissatisfied – customers to weather any storms of bad PR or even the occasional bad products.

But video games are silly too, for the most part. Or they’re big business. Each customer is important to us. Or we’ll brag about how many we have. Pick a message and stick with it.


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Author
Jason Winter
Jason Winter is a riddle wrapped inside a burrito, smothered in hot sauce. Mmm... burrito...