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What Does It Mean To Win Worst Company In America?
by E Zachary Knight on 03/26/13 10:30:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


EA Golden PooLast year, Electronic Arts came out of nowhere and won The Consumerist's annual Worst Company in America competition. This competition was designed to highlight the worst of the worst companies when it came to its consumer presence. When EA graciously accepted the award, it kindly reminded voters just who its real competition is by listing previous award winners.

We’re sure that British Petroleum, AIG, Philip Morris, and Halliburton are all relieved they weren’t nominated this year. We’re going to continue making award-winning games and services played by more than 300 million people worldwide.

What does it mean for the games industry, and EA specifically, to be likened to some of the largest insurance, oil, tobacco and weapons companies in the world? Companies that have a more direct connection to the quality of life of billions of people. What does it mean to be crowned worst of the worst in America?

Regardless of the over impact or seriousness of its faults, we know much of what EA did to win that award. Online passes, NFL monopolies, Spore, and Mass Effect 3, just to name a few. But really after all the brewhaha last year during and following the contest, what does it mean to be nominated a second time? Even after declaring that you were cleaning up your ways?

“I think we will see a dramatic shift in the company,” Lawder told CNET. “We’re not there yet. There’s still a ways to go before we’re considered a world-class customer experience.”

For the second year in a row, EA has been nominated for the Golden Poo award. It seems that despite Lawder's claims, EA has yet to improve on its image. The whole SimCity thing hasn't helped things out either. Things are so bad at EA, from a consumer perspective, that it handed Anheuser Busch a sound thrashing in the first round. Seriously, EA is worse than a beer monopoly wannabe. Add that to the list above of who EA is worse than.

So what can the games industry learn from this? Here are some lessons I think we should be paying attention to:

  1. If you have bad policies or terrible relations with your customers, they will complain and complain loudly. If they aren't declaring you the worst company in America, they are certainly going to complain in private and in some cases publicly.
  2. Despite all the minor flaws that grate on our customers' nerves, it is the big fiascoes that will send them over the edge. People understand that companies are run by other people. They understand that sometimes things just won't go right or that mistakes happen. They can brush off a good number of flaws and frustrations. However, when you make such boneheaded disasters as SimCity, Spore or Mass Effect 3, you will send your customers into a frenzy.
  3. Making promises of change and then doing nothing positive quickly will not make people happy. EA won the award last year due to years of neglect and abuse of its customers. All that culminated in the award. People expected some kind of change for the better. Instead, they received empty promises and even bigger blunders. People expect and deserve to be treated well if they are expected to buy your products.
  4. Bad policies are bad and deserve to die. Whether it is high prices, DRM, too much bad DLC or whatever, if people are complaining about it, something needs to be done. EA had many years of people complaining about always online requirements in thier games and other companies' games, yet it learned nothing and implemented it in one of its most high profile games, with disastrous results. Failure to learn from your own and others' past mistakes will doom you to repeat them and reap the rewards.

Those are just four big lessons to be learned. But the biggest is that your customers are king. If they are not happy, they will make you miserable. So let us all take a lesson from EA, even if it refuses to learn these lessons itself, and go out and serve your fans and customers well.

Originally published on Random Tower.

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Mathieu MarquisBolduc
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Popularity (and unpopularity) contests are mostly meaningless, doubly so on the internet.

Kujel Selsuru
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While there is truth to what you say why is it a game publisher is the most unpopular company last year?

Michael Joseph
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I don't think that is true Mathieu. Or at least, reduction of the receipt of an (anti)award as a (un)popularity contest is wrong. If the reward is viewed as a trailing indicator of last year's (un)excellence, then the receipt is a reminder of real successes or failures and that impacts PR.

PR matters. That is probably doubly true on the internet.

Bart Stewart
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I question a couple of the premises here. The meaning of the Worst Company thing is precisely diddly-squat; the "winners" prior to EA were obviously selected to score political points -- you know there are companies who rip off consumers, abuse their employees, and deliver less real value to customers than the earlier targets.

I'm also not convinced that Spore and ME3 qualify as "boneheaded disasters." There were certainly things I'd have changed about Spore, but they did a good job on some pioneering features. And I believe the ME3 ending flare-up was mostly another example of Internet piling-on than a demonstrable case of bad design or implementation.

That said, I wholeheartedly endorse your conclusion. I appreciate that making AAA games, which take years to complete, requires guessing about the future. That's risky, and factoring it into judgments about EA's performance is only fair.

But there's making incorrect guesses about what people want, and there's outright hubris that you know what's best for others and they'll darned well take it and like it. To the degree that EA and its subsidiaries have embraced that paternalistic, condescending belief system is the degree to which their business has suffered.

Nothing sums up this Reality Distortion Field effect better than the recent comment by EA/Maxis GM Lucy Bradshaw. SimCity simply would not be designed to deliver the kind of entertainment that fans of the series clearly said they expected because that conflicted with Maxis's internal "vision."

That's not a problem of having a defective vision. That is a much larger problem of having an uncontested belief that any internal vision is more important than satisfying a reasonable customer desire.

I believe the new management at EA would be wise to take your advice. It's important to have an internal plan, but plans have to adapt to reality or enterprises fail. I hope EA will refocus on customer satisfaction without simply making lowest-common-denominator pabulum, but we'll see.

Michael Joseph
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"any internal vision is more important than satisfying a reasonable customer desire."

That nearly sounds like a Rule of Acquisition.

Nathan Mates
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Hubris was also quite present in their flippant response to winning last year. Rather than saying "we have 300 million people playing worldwide," they could have spun it quite differently. Everyone expects that the AAA games industry is always pushing graphics upgrades every year, and gameplay changes over time. (Whether AAA gameplay changes are an upgrade, downgrade or sideways is a more subjective opinion.) New games are competing with older games for time and money.

EA could have said "we're always trying to push the bar in graphics, gameplay and enjoyment, and some people who have been reached by our creations. We're working to push the bar in customer enjoyment by looking at feedback from reviewers and customers to find areas to make our next products even more compelling." That would have been a more honest approach that acknowledged room for growth without being flippant.

Disclaimer: I was hired by Pandemic Studios in 1998. EA bought Pandemic in 2008. I left Pandemic (& EA) in Nov 2009, voluntarily.

Arnaud Clermonté
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When Maxis screws up, people blame EA. ( and EA gets to offer a free game ).

When EA releases Mass Effect 3 (93% metacritic, millions of sales) and a some vocal "fans" complain, it gets labled a "boneheaded disaster".

If EA was that bad, the EA bashers would't need to be so blatantly dishonest.

EA is shipping at least some quality games, which is what actually matters, while others waste their time bashing them.
Go ahead, compare the bashers' portfolio to EA's, for a laugh.
Very few people have shipped enough high-quality games to be in a position to spend their time bashing EA.
Imagine a world without EA: Lots of high-ranking games missing.
Imagine a world without the EA bashers: Same, without the useless blog posts and forum posts.

Michael Joseph
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"Imagine a world without EA: Lots of high-ranking games missing."

that's not necessarily true. a great many probably get funded by another publisher. playing the fantasy speculation game you're playing one could just as easily argue that a world without EA would have resulted in even more high-ranking games over the past twenty years.

William Johnson
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A world without EA?

A world where Bullfrog, Origin Systems, Pandemic Studios, etc still existed...? A man can dream...a man can dream...

Mico Jukic
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Its EA that screwed up they were the ones that forced always online. I personally have played 50+ EA titles and its sad to say but every single one had extensive server issues and servers that were not working properly and rieved poor maintenance. If you go to complain or ask for something to be done you get banned due to harassing their team. Its up to EA to deal with customers and maintain servers so when it comes to multiplayer part ea has ruined my experience in every single one

Zirani Jean-Sylvestre
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"But the biggest is that your customers are king."

I too have the feeling that it's sometime forgotten in this industry.

Rachel Presser
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Sadly, it's forgotten in many industries. Yeah, there's the shareholders' interest at heart, but if your customers ditch, then you don't have a business.

Treating your customers well, even just with the little things, goes a long way regardless of the industry you're in but especially in this one.

Brett Williams
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How much of the people speaking against EA overlap their actual purchasing customers?
Is it in EA's best interest to spend money on people that aren't giving them money?
If they do what percentage of those people will become customers in the future?

EA is still selling a lot of games. A lot of the vocal people state they aren't buying them, or won't buy the next one. If people in fact were not buying the next one then how were they rated the worst two years in a row?

Bob Johnson
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The problem with EA is they never release a work of art sorta speak. Even their best stuff has a lot of shoddiness included that one is asked to put up with. I would never use elegant to describe an EA game.

A lot of their stuff has a junky feel to it including my favorite game BF3.

Michael Wenk
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"Despite all the minor flaws that grate on our customers' nerves, it is the big fiascoes that will send them over the edge. People understand that companies are run by other people. They understand that sometimes things just won't go right or that mistakes happen. They can brush off a good number of flaws and frustrations. However, when you make such boneheaded disasters as SimCity, Spore or Mass Effect 3, you will send your customers into a frenzy."

I don't really agree. While the big ones are much more visible, the little ones are what make people underscore the big ones. Take Bethesda for example. The Oblivion, Fallout 3, and to a lesser extent Skyrim launches were terrible. People couldn't run the game, it would crash and die, all kinds of fun there. Saves were corrupted, etc. But you don't see people going out and nominating Bethesda/Zenimax as the worst out there. Its because outside of the big issues, its mostly good. Same thing with Blizzard. The Diablo 3 launch was just as bad for many as the SimCity launch was. People yell about them, but again you don't hear that company getting nominated for worst ever.

EA's problem is it has been so bad for so long, most are so sick of it, that absolutely nothing they can do now will help. If you look at their balance sheet, people are still buying their stuff, perhaps at a slower rate than they want. I remember dealing with EA customer support by phone around 20 years ago, trying to get to the bottom of a Soundblaster problem, and it was terrible. And it hasn't gotten better.

I really don't think there's anything they can do to rehabilitate their reputation.

David Konkol
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After looking at the turd that is the new Ultima game, EA is a strong contender again this year.