Opinion: Everybody Hates EA

The EA Hate Wagon is a glorious vehicle.

It’s shiny and sexy; adorned with spinning rims and all sort of bells and whistles. What makes it most alluring, however, is that even though it though the weight of all the angry, red-faced screaming gamers who cling to it make the whole thing appear on the verge of collapse, there’s always room for one more.

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Let’s face it, it’s easy to hate EA. Really easy.

The company’s history, policies and perceived attitude toward gamers makes the industry giant an easy–and arguably deserving–target. It is a faceless, monolithic corporation that appears to have no qualms about bleeding every last dollar out of consumers. To the many a gamer, EA comes off as a smiling, well-manicured Bond villain- stroking a white cat in high-backed chair and laughing at the foolish, unwashed masses from a shadowy lair.

EA’s recent actions have only made it it easier to cast them as the “bad guy”.

Comments from EA CFO Blake Jorgensen that the company would include microtransactions in “all” its games, and the disaster that was the launch of SimCity have only served to add more high-octane fuel to the Hate Wagon. A blog by multi-millionaire developer Cliff Blazinki, in which he justifies the “anything for a profit” model of capitalism as if it were some virtue we should pat company’s like EA on the back for, also did little to quell the outrage.

So is all the anger justified? Maybe.

With all the information that’s out there, it’s easy to see why jumping on the EA Hate Wagon has become so appealing to so many gamers. But before we all decide to hitch a ride, we need ask ourselves exactly where we plan to drive thing.

Angry gamers are nothing new. I admit I’m one of them. We fire off angry screeds in the comments section of our favorite websites and gaming forums. We rally others to flame developer blogs and websites. We rant and wave fingers on YouTube. While that anger is on occasion justified, simply being angry isn’t going to change much. That outrage needs to be focused and harnessed if we expect to effect real change. What Cliffy B and other folks like run these massive, profit gobbling companies won’t tell you, is that sometimes that anger actually works. Anger and outrage, when used correctly, can be a powerful tool for consumers.

A prime example is the Mass Effect 3 ending fiasco, in which spurned gamers put together an organized campaign to demanded a better ending from BioWare , and actually got it. Being angry was just a start. There needed to be action and organization. While some gamers simply threw tantrums and spewed bile on websites and forums, enough of them were able to channel that outrage to something constructive. Blind anger wasn’t enough, it needed to be coupled with measured, logical action. When that happened, BioWare took note and was forced to respond.

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There are plenty of similar examples outside of gaming. Netflix dropped controversial plans to change it’s pay model after consumers protested via social media. Bank of America backed down from instituting new fees debt card usage when it’s consumers organized a similar protest campaign. These are just a few examples of how outrage can and does shame companies in to changing questionable and unpopular business practices.

In EA’s case, that may be happening already. Recent reports show the company is already backtracking from its remarks about microtransactions. There’s been no acknowledgement that the public backlash played a role in the sudden claims that the statement was “misinterpreted” but the timing is awfully serendipitous.

Instead of trying and guilt us into abandoning the very human notion that craven, unchecked greed in not acceptable Blazinki, EA and other large publishers and development studios ought to be ready to have this fight more often.

Gamers are growing up. We aren’t all kids and teens who will blindly throw money at a title with a cool character anymore. We are older, wiser and becoming more educated consumers. Like it or not, we expect to be treated with respect by the companies we choose to give our money to. We expect to get the product we paid for (Aliens:Colonial Marines) and we may even want the companies we support to (gasp!) behave ethically and responsibly.

We are moving from spamming community boards with profanity to organizing active drives to hold these companies accountable, and one day soon, we will simply do it with our wallets. When that money stops rolling in, then we will likely see corporate giants like EA suddenly become much more receptive to feedback and criticism of their business practices.

(Editor’s Note: We’re not anti-EA here at Screen Shaped Eyes. We enjoy public discourse. But, as a point, I’d like to give all of EA the incredibly valuable piece of advice that I was given as a recruit by one Master Bombardier Enault: Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. Customers are generally dissatisfied with EA’s behaviour, and dislike their attitude regarding their consumers. The Simcity debacle is just another in a long line of a torrent of crap we’ve gotten from a company hellbent on the bottom line. There is, in the vernacular, a crisis of consumer confidence in EA’s products. Go back to your roots, EA. Make a good product, and people will buy it. -Chris Matyskiel, Senior Editor)

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