How Electronic Arts stopped being the worst company in America

This is a damn good article about how EA went about repairing their rep amongst gamers.

Probst knew that EA, which had grown into one of the world’s largest video gaming companies since it was founded in 1982, was struggling: Its financial performance wasn’t meeting expectations, its stock had fallen two-thirds over the last six years and a loud group of critics were probably about to crown the company the worst in America – for the second year in a row.

In fact, more than 250,000 people cast their votes on the advocacy website Consumerist and crowned EA the worst company in America the year before, beating out Bank of America.

“It was a hideous thing,” Probst said of finding the company so hated. In that conference room on that cloudy Monday, with the executive team surrounding him, Probst “hit the roof,” as one person described it. “The message I tried to deliver was, ‘This will not happen again,’” Probst recalled in an interview a year and a half after the gathering. “‘As long as I draw breath, this will not happen again.’”

Five months after taking over, on February 12, 2014, Wilson gathered 146 of the company’s top leaders at EA’s headquarters. Together with Gabrielle Toledano, EA’s chief talent officer, Wilson hatched a plan to help them understand why so many customers were unhappy.

The group was led to the basketball court, which had been temporarily remade into a conference space with stations of computers and telephone lines. For hours, executives went through the steps of installing, troubleshooting and playing the company’s games. They also listened in on customer service calls so they could hear firsthand players’ frustrations.

   	 	 	 	 	 	 	 	"We weren't thinking about everything we were doing in the context of the player experience," said Wilson.

Yes, obviously, EA still churns out some shitty stuff, and they “killed” your favorite studio or franchise. Dragon Age Inquisition was a soulless pile, and Battlefield 4 launched as a shitshow, etc… But the difference between EA of 2012/2013 and EA now is pretty huge. Even the Origin client isn’t as badly hated as it was.

Now, it’s Ubisoft’s turn to figure out why they suck.

Oh, and yes, the awards for EA being the “worst company in America” were always dumb.

The group was led to the basketball court, which had been temporarily remade into a conference space with stations of computers and telephone lines. For hours, executives went through the steps of installing, troubleshooting and playing the company’s games. They also listened in on customer service calls so they could hear firsthand players’ frustrations.

This is pure gold, I hope it’s not made up.

That’s the part that stuck out to me. I mean, goddamn. Brutal. You know some of those execs had never installed or played one of their own products before.

I wish I could’ve seen that.

Not entirely. As the article says hating BofA because they constantly stick people with hidden fees, is like hating sharks because they bite things, it is in the nature of the beast or bank. The profit uber alles mentality of EA over recent years was particularly galling because Trip Hawkins and plenty of the studios they acquired over the years were gamers.

I’m not all surprised that plenty of their senior execs had only a passing familiarity with their products, much less EA’s competitors.

I’m not in to FPS or Sports game so I only occasionally a customer of EA, Simcity and Dragon Age were the last games I bought near release. (Although I’ve picked up Mass Effect and other during sales)

Wait, what? Banks don’t have to be shitty. There are banks that don’t screw people over to the extent that BofA does. That’s some crazy apologist thinking.

Let’s be honest. The only reason EA won the award compared to companies like Comcast, BofA, PG&E, or Monsanto is because gamers as a general rule are more savvy about manipulating internet polls for the lulz. It’s about as serious a result as the Razzies which do not actually award the worst movie of the year. (The winners suck - no doubt - but they’re not the worst.) Last time I checked, EA didn’t outright kill people through negligence and try to cover up the deaths.

I’ll give them the credit they deserve for taking the poll results more seriously than many other companies would.

Well, yeah, the ranking was a joke. But the sentiment most certainly was not. Surely in the scheme of evil EA wouldn’t rank against BoA. Companies that knowingly and illegally defraud the public for their own private gain are pure evil. EA was not this, they were merely a poorly run company who had a deserved rep for treating their studios and customers like dirt.

If you are ranking them as an entertainment company they probably deserved the worst marks. If you were ranking on the basis of poor and outright contemptuous customer service (what the poll really did) there is a case they were the worst. Based on worst meaning actively evil and harmful, no. But a poll can’t really do that. A person doesn’t acutely feel the sting of what BoA did to tank the economy. Sure they feel it, but not feel it as a product of what BoA did.

But also yes, gamers love to play games. this an also mean turning such consumer polls into a game, as it was.

Worked, didn’t it?

I think EA stopped being the “WCIA” mainly because of anger at ISPs like Comcast, Charter, and TWC eclipsing anger at EA practices.

Yeah, I don’t see EA as having notably improved in any of the areas that were problematic previously. But things like the net neutrality battle and the thankfully failed Comcast/TWC merger have really upped the big ISPs on my shit list.

And yet we haven’t seen any real improvements to Origin, have we?

We got achievements, overlay chat, and Origin integrated Twitch streaming to their client.

Technically, the client was never all that bad. You launched it and then used it to launch the game. It was pretty unobtrusive which is really all anyone wants from this kind of DRM. I’ll say this: I’ve never had as many downtimes with Origin last year that I’ve experienced with Steam. Of course, that’s due to server load, but when I can’t play a game, I don’t give a shit about the reason.

Uplay on the other hand, continues to have technical issues without adding any discernible features.

They have pulled back considerably from their aggressive game server sunsetting policies. Particularly obnoxious with games like Mercenaries 2 or Army of Two, which would otherwise work on XBL and allow people to play them cooperatively, i.e., the way the games were designed to work. But the sports games unplugging really stirs things up, as 2K Sports recently found out.

Did they ever publish a fix for the games that were affected by the Gamespy multiplayer shutdown?

Peter Moore talked to IGN. Part of the interview was about the steps he took when he was made “Chief Competition Officer” at EA to make sure they weren’t going into “worst company” territory.

I agree with him that it was ridiculous, and it was stupid. EA was bad, perhaps, and definitely has issues with how it treated employees, but they weren’t actively evil like some of those banks were.

But he is also correct there was a kernel of truth. As someone who largely stays out of AAA space, and so out of EA’s orbit (Bioware the sole prior exception) I have no idea what the consensus of EA is these days. Have they meaningfully improved?

I’d say yes. I keep coming across posts (on various forums) where people praise their customer support (I had nothing but good experience with it myself), their early access program seems to be a huge success and they have a pretty consumer friendly refund policy at Origin.

I can’t speak for the quality of their games because like you I mainly stick to Bioware titles but their sports games lineup seems to be lacking innovation from what I’ve read.

The things that made me hate EA haven’t changed as far as I can tell. They’re still shutting down servers super quickly, forcing their proprietary store on anyone that wants one of their newer games, charging hilarious amounts for DLC, and turning out games that have very little in the way of risk taking and serve the corporate-perceived widest possible audience instead of zeroing in on things that are genuinely exciting for a smaller (but still very relevant) audience. Among a short list of their sins. I’m sure I could identify others if I put some time into it.

FWIW, their refund policy is actually not that consumer friendly and, while it did come first, is significantly worse than Steam’s at this point.