Studio acquisition and management practices
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 subpar compared to the rest of the series.
In early 2008, current CEO John Riccitiello acknowledged that this practice by EA was wrong and that the company now gives acquired studios greater autonomy without “meddling” in their corporate culture.
“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 many[who?] felt would lead to a hostile takeover but has not yet materialized. However, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot later indicated that a merger with EA was a possibility. “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,” he said. 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 employees
In 2004, Electronic Arts was criticized for employees working extraordinarily long hours—up to 100 hours per week—and not just at “crunch” times leading up to the scheduled releases of products. 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 p.m.)”. 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’s been reported that EA has taken steps to positively 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% jump in 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 also claims that she’s 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[when?] publishers (Sega, THQ, Ubisoft, Activision, Square Enix) all rate in the mid 60s. Since 2005, EA has published seven games that received “Universal Acclaim” (Metacritic score 90 or greater): Battlefield 2, Crysis, Rock Band, FIFA 12, 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.
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. However, in an interview with GameTap, Peter Moore claims 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 explained. “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.” More recently, EA has been sued by former NCAA players for allegedly using their images without compensation.
EULA agreements and DRM
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 (3) 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 pirates to illegally use and distribute EA software, instead mainly affected paying customers, as the game itself was pirated well before release. On September 13, 2008, it was announced[by whom?] that Spore was the most pirated 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 law suit was filed against EA regarding the DRM in Spore, complaining about EA not disclosing the existence of SecuROM from the game manual, and addresses 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 and formalized a change in its approach to preventing piracy of PC games. The company plans to drop all DRM from its games, replacing it with a traditional CD-key check. However, games will include content that is not present on the disc, requiring a download during the activation of the game. The intent is to create an incentive to buy a legitimate copy of the game. A general policy has been laid out with plans envisioning games more as services with a lot of content to freely download or buy linked to the game, some goodies and regular updates as a way to coax players to use the genuine copies of EA games.
Sexism and ageism in advertising
EA’s advertising campaign for Dead Space 2 was decried as sexist and ageist, with gamers claiming that it was reinforcing out-dated stereotypes against female and older gamers. The game is rated M for Mature, and is therefore only recommended for players over the age of seventeen. Others thought the advertisements were pointless and would hurt market share. “The video game’s campaign hinges on a unique premise – one that ignores how much the culture of gaming has changed.” As of 2010, 40% of console-only gamers were women and the average game player was 34 years old.
For the advertising campaign, 200 women were selected for their conservative values and lack of familiarity with video games. Their reactions to a screening of the game were featured in EA’s web and TV advertisements with the campaign slogan “Your mom hates Dead Space 2”.
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 1st 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?’.
The Consumerist poll
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%. Explanations for this include EA’s use of day-one DLC and EA’s habit of acquiring smaller developers to squash competition as well as EA’s history for closing high-quality developers in favor of mass-produced derivative games designed for mass appeal, but which usually end up alienating the fanbase without achieving any mainstream appeal.