Five Things EA Needs to To do Improve its Image

It’s no great secret that Electronic Arts holds the dubious honor of being the most hated organization in the games industry – perhaps even in North America. Most of you probably have your own gripes about how EA tends to do business. You’ve seen what they’re doing to so many of the great developers they acquire, you’ve witnessed how their short-term, profit-driven outlook is steadily corroding all their best franchises. Yet you can’t help but watch – like you’re seeing a train-wreck in slow motion.

As some of you may recall, it wasn’t always this way. EA used to be a respected developer. They used to make games. Those games were good. Somewhere along the line, they lost their way, like so many other publishers before them. They’ve gone from respected to reviled, from loved to loathed; from great developer to public enemy number one. 

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. EA could pull its reputation out of the toilet. It could regain the respect – perhaps admiration, in the long term – of its fans.It could take action to ensure that the next time voting’s up for the most hated company in America…Electronic Arts isn’t in the riding. It won’t be an easy task, but there are a few places it could start…

[heading]Better PR[/heading]

I’m going to come right out and say it : Electronic Arts (primarily its executive board) possess horrific public relation skills. So many of them have such a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, I’d almost not be surprised if it turned out they were doing so intentionally (we’re not even going to speak of some of the ad campaigns they’ve run). Former Label President Frank Gibeau was particularly talented at this, though ex-CEO John Riccitiello was no slouch himself. As a whole, most of the statements from EA seem out of touch at best, and downright contemptuous at worst. Methinks EA’s press department should engage in better market research, and start talking to its executives about what they say and do in public. 
[heading]Tone Down the DRM[/heading]

As I’ve said on many occasions, DRM simply isn’t a viable means of preventing piracy. Electronic Arts – one of the worst perpetrators for invasive strategies in this regard – needs to stop mulishly insisting on saddling every single PC product with some form of obtuse copy protection; instead, its developers should step back and look at how its actions are adversely impacting its customers. Not to beat a dead horse, but just look at Sim City: the launch of that game was a failure in virtually every sense of the word, yet EA still doesn’t seem to realize what it’s done wrong. Worse, several executives have had the gall to step forward and call the thinly-veiled, absolutely-unnecessary always-online requirement “a feature.”  There’s those stellar PR skills at work again. 

It doesn’t matter what you call a shit sandwich, EA – it’ll still taste like a toilet seat. 
[heading]Stop Trying to force “Mass Market Appeal” on Their Titles[/heading]

One criticism I’ve heard leveled at EA again and again is that they’ve a startling tendency to acquire otherwise brilliant developers, then proceed to dilute and pick apart everything about those developers and their titles. They effectively assimilate their acquisitions into their mindset and motivations. They do this, it’s claimed, in the interest of making the games more appealing to the masses. In doing so, they end up losing sight of what made the developer great in the first place. We see this in feature creep, in rushed releases and an ever-so-subtle drop in quality. 

Electronic Arts is far from the only publisher responsible for this trend, which has, in large part, led to what could almost be termed creative bankruptcy in many AAA titles. 

The question that I always ask is “why?” Obviously, these developers and their titles had mass-market appeal before being acquired. Why meddle with a good thing? Why fix what isn’t broken? 

Thankfully, this is at least one thing that Electronic Arts seems to be marginally aware of. 
[heading]Understand How Micro-Transactions Work[/heading]

One of my biggest gripes with EA is their obstinate refusal to actually do a bit of research into how micro-transactions actually work, and how to properly incorporate them into their titles. Adding a bunch of cool aesthetic gear that’ll spice up your character? That’s alright. Smashing your players in the face with a bunch of unfair, expensive pay-walls which make it impossible to finish a game? Not alright. Micro-transactions in a free to play? Cool. In a $60 AAA title? Not so cool. 

MIcro-transactions should be used to enrich an already-complete experience. They should never, never, never block someone off from content in a title they legitimately played for. They should also be reasonably priced: $40.00 is not “micro” in any sense of the word. 

It’s admirable that Electronic arts wants to branch out and toy with new business models, but they’re approaching micro-transactions with all the tact and finesse of an awkward teenager on Prom Night. [heading]Treat The Customer Better[/heading]

Last, but certainly not least…Electronic Arts needs to show more respect and regard for its customers. Because at this point, it’s obvious that it cares a great deal more about its shareholders – shareholders who may or may not understand how the games industry works; shareholders who are interested in one thing above all else: profit. It doesn’t matter how morally bankrupt the company gets, so long as it makes a few bucks in the short term.

Electronic Arts needs to step back and re-evaluate how it does things. It needs to consider that perhaps the reason why it’s such a hated organization, the under-lying symptom behind all of its current problems is that it simply doesn’t care enough about its fans. Address this concern, and everything else will start to fall into place. 

What do you folks think? Am I on the money, or am I just bellowing out nonsense? 

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