Draft:Criticism of Electronic Arts
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Electronic Arts, an American video game developer and publisher, has been in the center of numerous criticisms and controversies since the mid-2000s. Accusations vary from acquisitions of smaller video game companies and a decrease in game quality to anti-consumer practices.
- 1 Studio acquisition and management practices
- 2 Treatment of employees
- 3 Game quality
- 4 Sports licensing and exclusivity
- 5 EULA and DRM
- 6 Advertising
- 7 Gender and LGBT controversies
- 8 The Consumerist rating as "Worst Company in America"
- 9 Loot boxes
- 10 Esports shooting lawsuit
- 11 Other
- 12 References
Studio acquisition and management practicesEdit
During its period of fastest growth, EA was often criticized for buying smaller development studios primarily for their intellectual property assets, and then producing drastically changed games of their franchises. For example, Origin-produced Ultima VIII: Pagan and Ultima IX: Ascension were developed quickly under EA's ownership, over the protests of Ultima creator Richard Garriott, and these two are widely considered to be sub-par compared to the rest of the series.
I'll admit that, if you asked me years ago, I still had thoughts that EA was the Evil Empire, the company that crushes the small studios... I'd have been surprised, if you told me a year ago that we'd end up with EA as a publisher. When we went out and talked to people, especially EA Partners people like Valve, we got almost uniformly positive responses from them.
Like other EA Partners, such as Harmonix/MTV Games, Carmack stressed that EA Partners deal "isn't really a publishing arrangement. Instead, they really offer a menu of services—Valve takes one set of things, Crytek takes a different set, and we're probably taking a third set".
EA was criticized for shutting down some of its acquired studios after they released poorly-performing games (for instance, Origin). Though, in some of the cases, the shutdown was merely a reformation of teams working at different small studios into a single studio. In the past, Magic Carpet 2 was rushed to completion over the objections of designer Peter Molyneux and it shipped during the holiday season with several major bugs. Studios such as Origin and Bullfrog Productions had previously produced games attracting significant fanbases. Many fans also became annoyed that their favorite developers were closed down, but some developers, for example the EALA studio, have stated that they try to carry on the legacy of the old studio (Westwood Studios). Once EA received criticism from labor groups for its dismissals of large groups of employees during the closure of a studio. However, later, it was confirmed that layoffs were not heavily confined to one team or another, countering early rumors that the teams were specifically targeted—countering the implication that the under performance of certain games might have been the catalyst.
EA was once criticized for the acquisition of 19.9 percent of shares of its competitor Ubisoft, a move that Ubisoft's then spokesperson initially described as a "hostile act". However, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot later indicated that a merger with EA was a possibility, stating, "The first option for us is to manage our own company and grow it. The second option is to work with the movie industry, and the third is to merge." However, in July 2010, EA elected to sell its reduced 15 percent share in Ubisoft. That share equated to roughly €94 million (US$122 million).
Treatment of employeesEdit
In 2004, Electronic Arts was criticized for employees working extraordinarily long hours, up to 100 hours per week, as a routine practice rather than occasionally to meet critical goals such as release of a major new product. The publication of the EA Spouse blog, with criticisms such as "The current mandatory hours are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.—seven days a week—with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30 PM)." The company has since settled a class action lawsuit brought by game artists to compensate for unpaid overtime. The class was awarded US$15.6 million. As a result, many of the lower-level developers (artists, programmers, producers, and designers) are now working at an hourly rate. A similar suit brought by programmers was settled for US$14.9 million.
Since these criticisms first aired, it has been reported that EA has taken steps to address work-life balance concerns by focusing on long-term project planning, compensation, and communication with employees. These efforts accelerated with the arrival of John Riccitiello as CEO in February 2007. In December 2007, an internal EA employee survey showed a 13% increase in employee morale and a 21% increase in perception of management recognition over a three-year period.
In May 2008, "EA Spouse" blog author Erin Hoffman, speaking to videogame industry news site Gamasutra, stated that EA had made significant progress, but may now be falling into old patterns again. Hoffman said that "I think EA is tremendously reformed, having made some real strong efforts to get the right people into their human resources department", and "I've been hearing from people who have gotten overtime pay there and I think that makes a great deal of difference. In fact, I've actually recommended to a few people I know to apply for jobs there", but she also said she has begun to hear "horror stories" once again.
For 2006, the games review aggregation site Metacritic gives the average of EA games as 72.0 (out of 100); 2.5 points behind Nintendo (74.5) but ahead of the other first-party publishers Microsoft (71.6) and Sony (71.2). The closest third-party publisher is Take-Two Interactive (publishing as 2K Games and Rockstar Games) at 70.3. The remaining top 10 publishers (Sega, THQ, Ubisoft, Activision, Square Enix) all rate in the mid 60s. Since 2005, EA has published eight games that received "Universal Acclaim" in at least one platform (Metacritic score 90 or greater): Battlefield 2, Crysis, Rock Band, FIFA 12, FIFA 13, Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3, and Dragon Age: Origins.
EA's aggregate review performance had shown a downward trend in quality over recent years and was expected to affect market shares during competitive seasons. Pacific Crest Securities analyst Evan Wilson had said, "Poor reviews and quality are beginning to tarnish the EA brand. According to our ongoing survey of GameRankings.com aggregated review data, Electronic Arts' overall game quality continues to fall... Although market share has not declined dramatically to date, in years such as 2007, which promises to have tremendous competition, it seems likely if quality does not improve."
EA had also received criticism for developing games that lack innovation vis-à-vis the number of gaming titles produced under the EA brand that show a history of yearly updates, particularly in their sporting franchises. These typically retail as new games at full market price and feature only updated team rosters in addition to incremental changes to game mechanics, the user interface, and graphics. One critique compared EA to companies like Ubisoft and concluded that EA's innovation in new and old IPs "Crawls along at a snail's pace," while even the company's own CEO, John Riccitiello, acknowledged the lack of innovation seen in the industry generally, saying, "We're boring people to death and making games that are harder and harder to play. For the most part, the industry has been rinse-and-repeat. There's been lots of product that looked like last year's product, that looked a lot like the year before." EA has announced that it is turning its attention to creating new game IPs in order to stem this trend, with recently acquired and critically acclaimed studios BioWare and Pandemic would be contributing to this process. In 2012, EA’s games were ranked highest of all large publishers in the industry, according to Metacritic.
On December 19, 2013, EA was hit with a class action lawsuit over the bugs in the Battlefield 4 DLC. EA issued a statement regarding the various issues and bugs of the game and promised players that these issues would be fixed before the launch of the next generation consoles. This was not the case as players on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One had the same problems. The problems were so severe that they made certain parts of the game unplayable due to campaign save files being corrupted and players being unable to start or join multiplayer servers. Players expressed their outrage on the forums of Battlelog, EA Answers HQ and social news sites such as Reddit. EA DICE responded by apologizing for the bugs and promising that they would halt all production of the release of new DLC packages until they fixed the various problems.
Sports licensing and exclusivityEdit
On June 5, 2008, a lawsuit was filed in Oakland, California alleging Electronic Arts is breaking United States anti-trust laws by signing exclusive contracts with the NFL Players Association, the NCAA and Arena Football League, to use players' names, likenesses and team logos. This keeps other companies from being able to sign the same agreements. The suit further accuses EA of raising the price of games associated with these licenses as a result of this action. In an interview with GameTap, Peter Moore said it was the NFL that sought the deal. "To be clear, the NFL was the entity that wanted the exclusive relationship. EA bid, as did a number of other companies, for the exclusive relationship", Moore said. "It wasn't on our behest that this went exclusive... We bid and we were very fortunate and lucky and delighted to be the winning licensee." While EA argued the player's likenesses was incidentally used, this was rejected by the United States Courts of Appeals in 2015. A further appeal to the US Supreme Court was unsuccessful. In June 2016, EA settled with Jim Brown for $600,000.
On September 26, 2013, EA settled a series of wide-ranging class action lawsuits filed by former NCAA players accusing EA and others of unauthorized use of player likenesses in their football and basketball games. EA settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount. The settlement is reported to be around $40 million, to be paid to between 200,000 and 300,000 players.
EULA and DRMEdit
In the September 2008 release of EA's game Spore it was revealed that the DRM scheme included a program called SecuROM and a lifetime machine-activation limit of three instances. A huge public outcry over this DRM scheme broke out over the Internet and swarmed Amazon.com with one-star ratings and critical reviews of the game in order to get EA to "pay attention to their consumers". This DRM scheme, which was intended to hinder the efforts of infringers to illegally use and distribute EA software, instead mainly affected paying customers, as the game itself was copied and distributed well before release. On September 13, 2008, it was announced (by TorrentFreak's statistics) that Spore was the most torrented game ever with over half a million illegal downloads within the first week of release. In response to customer reaction, EA officially announced its release of upcoming Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 would increase the installation limit to 5 rather than 3.
On September 22, 2008, a global class action lawsuit was filed against EA regarding the DRM in Spore, complaining about EA not disclosing the existence of SecuROM in the game manual, and addressing how SecuROM runs with the nature of a rootkit, including how it remains on the hard drive even after Spore is uninstalled. On October 14, 2008, a similar class action lawsuit was filed against EA for the inclusion of DRM software in the free demo version of the Creature Creator.
On March 31, 2009, EA released a "De-Authorization Management Tool" that allows customers who have installed games containing the SecuROM activation scheme to "de-authorize" a computer, freeing up one of the five machine "slots" to be used on another machine.
On June 24, 2009, EA announced a change in its approach to preventing copyright infringement of PC games. While eliminating the DRM that uniquely identifies a machine, the plan described a replacement with a traditional CD-key check. With an emphasis on downloaded content, the plan moved toward software as a service. In 2013, EA received criticism regarding its persistent online authentication system as implemented in the SimCity reboot.
In 2009, EA arranged a fake protest outside the Electronic Entertainment Expo to draw attention to the game Dante's Inferno. Ostensibly, Christian protestors bore placards objecting to the game's themes involving hell and damnation, and it was not clear until several days later that the event had been staged. Several Christian bloggers criticized the event for perpetuating negative stereotypes about Christians.
A 2011 advertising campaign for Dead Space 2 featured older women reacting negatively to the game with the campaign slogan "Your mom hates Dead Space 2". Two hundred women had been selected for their conservative values and lack of familiarity with video games, and their reactions to a screening of the game were featured in EA's web and TV advertisements. The campaign was at first admired, but soon described as sexist and ageist, with some claiming that it was reinforcing outdated stereotypes against female and older gamers. As of 2010, 40% of video game players were women and the average game player was 34 years old.
On February 24, 2011, the Extra Credits team (at the time on The Escapist) published the episode "An Open Letter to EA Marketing", denouncing Electronic Arts' marketing decisions for the Dante's Inferno, Medal of Honor and Dead Space 2 releases. They argue that EA's decisions to hire fake protesters and market games solely on shock value, while neglecting to defend the Medal of Honor on a First Amendment basis for letting the player play as the Taliban, have been hurtful to the gaming industry. They also argue that the advertisements are counterproductive to Electronic Arts' wishes to elevate games to an art medium as demonstrated in the 1980s Electronic Arts ad 'Can a Computer Make You Cry?'.
Mass Effect 3's ending was poorly received by both critics and fans due to the inconsistencies between statements by BioWare staff during the game's development and the form the endings ultimately took. Displeased by the ending, one player took his complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, the agency created to protect consumers. His argument was that BioWare did not deliver on the promise of its game, saying the end product did not match with the advertising campaign and PR interviews for the game. The U.S. Better Business Bureau also responded to the controversy, supporting claims by fans that BioWare falsely advertised the player's "complete" control over the game's final outcome. The United Kingdom's Advertising Standards Authority disagreed, ruling that EA and BioWare were not guilty of false advertisement since the endings were "thematically quite different", and the choices and readiness rating reflected in the ending content were significant enough to avoid actionable misleading of consumers under existing law.
According to Reddit administrator /u/Sporkicide and the user /u/Unwanted_Commentary, who is a former moderator of /r/StarWarsBattlefront—a subreddit devoted to the 2015 Star Wars Battlefront—moderators removed posts critical of the game at the direction of EA personnel in exchange for pre-release access to the game.
Gender and LGBT controversiesEdit
The positive portrayals of LGBT characters in games by EA subsidiary BioWare have motivated fan support and also backlash. The company claimed that several employees involved in Dragon Age II received hate mail and threats following its release. BioWare lead writer David Gaider responded to a fan upset by the game's bisexual romances, denying the fan's ability to speak for all straight male gamers and writing, "the person who says that the only way to please them is to restrict options for others is, if you ask me, the one who deserves it least."
Over the years from 2006 through 2012, various quotes both truly and falsely attributed to BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler were circulated online by fans who considered her emblematic of their complaints. After one quote from a 2006 interview was used to link Hepler with unpopular changes to Dragon Age II's combat systems, Hepler was harassed by telephone and online. Backlash was also related to Hepler's writing for Anders, the character that prompted the "straight male gamer" complaint. According to Susana Polo in The Mary Sue, Hepler's gender may have intensified the harassment she experienced, but it was more directly the result of her being scapegoated for EA's pivot towards casual gamers.
EA refused to abandon plans to add gay romances to Star Wars: The Old Republic that were opposed by the Family Research Council. An online petition gathered more than 60,000 signatures in support of EA's decision before the petition became compromised by automated spam signatures. The automated signatures were discovered by Reddit and 4chan users, who accused EA of using the issue to link broader criticism of EA with homophobia. When eventually added to the game, the same-sex romances were ridiculed for being confined to a single "gay planet".
On May 23, 2018, the announcement trailer for Battlefield V was met with a backlash from some fans of the series who criticized the game for an alleged lack of historical accuracy and authenticity. Particularly highlighted was the trailer's focus on female frontline soldiers which they felt was an exercise in political correctness. However, others critiquing the backlash pointed out that women soldiers were not especially rare in World War II, highlighting real-life examples, and that previous games in the Battlefield series are not seen as having a completely realistic portrayal of war. Some suggested that the backlash was largely due to misogyny, rather than true worries over historical accuracy. In response to the outcry, the game's executive producer Aleksander Grøndal wrote on Twitter that "we'll always put fun over authentic."
The Consumerist rating as "Worst Company in America"Edit
In April 2012, The Consumerist awarded EA with the title of "Worst Company in America" along with a ceremonial Golden Poo trophy. The record-breaking poll drew in more than 250,000 votes and saw EA beating out such regulars as AT&T and Walmart. The final round of voting pitted EA against Bank of America. EA won with 50,575 votes or 64.03%. This result came in the aftermath of the Mass Effect 3 ending controversy which several commentators viewed as a significant contribution to EA's win in the poll. Other explanations include use of day-one DLC and EA's habit of acquiring smaller developers to squash competition. EA spokesman John Reseburg responded to the poll by saying, "We're sure that bank presidents, oil, tobacco and weapons companies are all relieved they weren't on the list this year. We're going to continue making award-winning games and services played by more than 300 million people worldwide."
In April 2013, EA won The Consumerist's poll for "Worst Company in America" a second time, consecutively, becoming the first company to do so. Games mentioned in the announcement included the critically controversial Mass Effect 3 for its ending, Dead Space 3 for its use of microtransactions, and the more recent SimCity reboot due to its poorly handled launch. Additionally, poor customer support, "nickel and diming", and public dismissiveness of criticisms were also given as explanations for the results of the poll. The Consumerist summarized the results by asking, "When we live in an era marked by massive oil spills, faulty foreclosures by bad banks, and rampant consolidation in the airline and telecom industry, what does it say about EA’s business practices that so many people have — for the second year in a row — come out to hand it the title of Worst Company in America?"
When asked about the poll by VentureBeat, Frank Gibeau, President of EA Labels, responded "we take it seriously, and want to see it change. In the last few months, we have started making changes to the business practices that gamers clearly don’t like." Gibeau attributes the elimination of online passes, the decision to make The Sims 4 a single-player, offline experience, as well as the unveiling of more new games to the shift in thinking. "The point is we are listening, and we are changing," Gibeau said.
In November 2017, the loot box system for Star Wars Battlefront II caused controversy over monetization. During the beta trials, EA introduced a loot box monetization system criticized as giving substantial benefits to players who purchased them with real money. One Reddit post garnered a response from an EA community manager. That response was widely criticized by readers and received over 670,000 downvotes, more than any post in the history of Reddit.
After a massive gamer outcry, EA responded to the issue in escalating attempts to rebalance the in-game reward progression and, when complaints continued, temporarily disabled the ability to purchase loot boxes with real money entirely. It was alleged that the Star Wars rights holder, the Walt Disney Company, requested EA take that final step.
The outcry had a reverberating effect on other EA titles with similarly-styled loot box systems, such as Need for Speed Payback. It also had an effect on the games industry as a whole, with several politicians, particularly Hawaii representative Chris Lee, and related agencies making statements on loot boxes being a form of gambling needing regulation.
In April 2018, the Belgian Gaming Commission declared the loot boxes in FIFA 18 to be an illegal form of gambling. By September 2018, EA had still refused to remove loot boxes from the games sold in Belgium, provoking the Belgian government into pursuing a criminal investigation into EA.
Esports shooting lawsuitEdit
In August 2018, during an esports event, many were killed in a shooting in Jacksonville, Florida, during a Madden NFL 19 tournament. After the shooting, at least one participant has filed a lawsuit against Electronic Arts, the mall, and the restaurant where the incident occurred, The lawsuit claims "to hold those responsible accountable, and to ensure that gamers ... are able to get together to pursue their passion without having to fear for their lives".
In 2013, EA released Dungeon Keeper Mobile, a game that lead to a controversy that the game was designed to manipulate store ratings. The game would prompt users to rate it, with 5-star ratings claiming it would support the game with free updates. When the user selected ratings less than 5, the game did not actually register the rating with the store front, instead sending an email. This led to accusations of EA fraudulently manipulating the game's rating system and its subsequent score on mobile storefronts.
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