Verhille: And the ‘Poo’ award goes to … Electronic Arts

BY DAN VERHILLE | APRIL 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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For the second year running, Electronic Arts has won the 2013 “Worst Company in America” tournament hosted by the consumerist.com. As the March Madness-style bracket wound down to the consumers’ most-abhorred four, EA had high hopes of losing to equally unscrupulous companies such as Comcast, Bank of America, and Ticketmaster, but walked away with yet another Golden Poo award.

Normally, when video games are the topic, I prefer to stick to discussions of craft, narrative, animation, level design, concept art, and all the other things that are typically considered important components of any game. But on rare occasions such as this, continuously egregious behavior inspires community backlash that will likely affect the development of the entire industry.

Earlier this year, I touched upon some of the EA practices in Madden and NCAA that I found to be in a moral gray area, but here’s a general summary of offenses that most contributed to their crappiness in 2012 & 2013:

1) Annual Madden and NCAA Football titles were essentially the same game with a new package year after year, yet EA still charges the full $60 for a glorified roster update.

2) EA’s exclusivity deals with each institution constitute perfect examples of monopolies and why they are bad for the consumer. Without competition, companies such as EA can get away with selling a bad game at an unreasonable price using a “take it or leave it” approach.

3) EA is widely know for its unknowledgeable and ineffective customer support.

4) Mass Effect 3, EA’s conclusion to its wildly successful blockbuster series, was considered to be so blatantly rushed and incomplete by so many fans that the ensuing fiasco sent fans complaining to everyone from the Better Business Bureau to the Federal Trade Commission.

5) After the fiasco, EA released a free, extended-ending to Mass Effect 3 but defended crunch-time decisions that excluded (previously standard) peer-review on creative-design decisions.

6) The botching of SimCity 5’s always-online requirement and server issues upon release.

7) EA’s practice of creating games which necessitate micro-transactions (“supplementary” electronic items for purchase).

Consumerist writer Chris Morran fairly asserts that one would hope that after winning two-consecutive Poo awards, EA would redouble its effort and make a sincere attempt to improve its brand image. I wish I could say that was the case, but instead of listening, taking responsibility, and learning, EA’s Chief of Operations Peter Moore makes a paltry acknowledgement of wrongdoing, then proceeds to scoff at legitimate complaints in a blog post on EA’s website.

What’s even worse is that Moore’s attempts to devalue criticisms are wrought with information that is either painfully mistaken or intentionally misleading. Moore suggests the system is flawed because “last [the contest] year judged us as worse than companies responsible for the biggest oil spill in history, the mortgage crisis, and bank bailouts …” but he neglects to mention that those companies did receive Golden Poo awards in the years said disasters actually took place in (see recent winners).

Given his approach to consumer-relationship management, maybe Moore is just living in the past and did forget what year it was when he suggested BP was more deserving of the Poo than EA was, but no excuse can be made for claiming that it received the Golden Poo because people disagreed with Madden’s cover athlete or because they were in the practice of “allowing players to create LGBT characters in our games.”

Morran points out that both of the claims are entirely unfounded and are nowhere to be found in the nomination, justification, or voting processes. Although EA received the most nominations of any company, according to Morran, “not a single one mentioned anything about sexual orientation.”

Although I appreciate Moore’s promise to perform better in the future, it’s undermined by his flippant attitude toward his company’s abominable track record and his resolve to “remain proud and unbowed” in the face of criticism. I would venture that we will likely see this issue resurface in textbooks as one of the greatest marketing failures of the decade, but in the meantime, I would encourage gamers to steer clear of EA games until it learns how to take responsibility for its actions, to listen to consumers, and to make an earnest apology.

Consumerist.com’s “Worst Company in America” Competition Winners

Every year, Consumerist.com hosts a March Madness-style bracket driven by consumer feedback for the worst company in America. Here are the winners from the past five years:

• 2013: Electronic Arts (Runner up: Bank of America)
• 2012: Electronic Arts (Runner up: Bank of America)
• 2011: BP (Runner up: Bank of America)
• 2010: Comcast (Runner up: Cash4Gold)
• 2009: AIG (Runner up: Comcast)

Source: consumerist.com

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