Who here hates Electronic Arts? Show of hands?
Electronic Arts, or “EA,” has earned quite a bit of stick from the gaming community — and deservedly so. EA is well known for the sneaky, underhanded tactics and anti-consumer attitude. It’s common knowledge that EA is known to put profit before customers; that they do what’s good for them, rather than what’s good for the consumer. One of the many examples people cite in regards to EA’s poor customer relations is their ham-handedness and subsequent outright lies about the SimCity controversy. Additionally, the conflicting reports concerning EA’s support, or lack thereof, of the Wii U have angered gamers and left them truly in the dark as to what EA’s actually intention are. It’s situations and lowdown maneuvers like those that has caused EA to be named “the worst company in America” for two years in a row.
It’s not just their poor customer service and anti-consumer relations that anger gamers, it’s also their cavalier treatment of beloved IPs (Intellectual Properties) that they happen to own. I heavily criticized EA in one of my previous articles about their poor handling of Dead Space 3, effectively killing off what could have been a decent series and saturating it with homogenization and microtransactions. It seems like every step EA has taken within the past decade has been selfish and unappealing to the consumer. Not that every action a company takes has to be philanthropic in nature, but at least some consideration of how one’s decision is going to impact the fanbase of an IP would be nice.
As of late, we’ve been seeing a lot of articles claiming that EA has changed their ways. It seems after a change in management that EA is trying to turn over a new leaf and make up for their past mistakes. Many of our readers, myself included, have remained understandably skeptical of this alleged “change in heart” from EA. More often than not when a company expresses interest in “changing their ways,” it usually means they’ve seen a lot of negative PR (Public Relations) in the recent past and are trying to make up for it in the public eye for a few months before returning to the old anti-consumer way of thinking, and EA is no stranger to negative PR. We as gamers have experienced this insincerity first hand many times. So it should have come as no surprise that when EA made plans to change the way they do business, most gamers didn’t buy the first word of it and remained non-believers; that despite EA doing such things as dropping their online pass system and offering full refunds for digital Origin games, many of us remained steadfast in our beliefs that this was simply a phase — something that EA was doing simply to pacify the masses before introducing yet another anti-consumer policy.
However, this supposed “change of heart” has been going on for some time now. EA executive chairman John Riccitiello resigned in March 2013 and former EA President and CEO Larry Probst took his place. That’s about the time that these alleged changes began to occur. Since then, these wild claims of change have been made by EA. And since then, we gamers have doubted the sincerity of their claim — and rightfully so. EA’s claimed to “change” before and then went back in their word, so why should this time be any different? What’s to stop them from turning back this time? Well their integrity for one, but many would argue that EA lost that long ago. So, why exactly should we believe that EA actually is at least attempting to change?
Well, I can’t give you a straight answer. The only thing that I can do is speak from personal experience, and the reason I personally chose to at least give EA the chance to impress me.
I’ve been following the SimCity story since in broke a few months back. By now, everyone is aware of EA’s horrible handling of the situation. But just to refresh your mind: it all started when everyone found out that the new SimCity was going to be an online only game. What that means is that in order to even play the game, one must have a persistent internet connection and be signed into EA Origin. So if you’re at home and your internet is out, you can’t play a game you just paid $60 for. Additionally, your save file isn’t saved on your computer. Your save files is stored on an EA server; so if it crashes, your data is gone. When the game first came out, EA had not yet allocated enough servers to be able to handle the amount of people playing SimCity, which meant to play the game you had to wait in a queue that could be upwards of over an hour in length. Could you imagine paying $60 for a game, going home, taking the time to install it, register it, sign up for and download Origin, then being told you couldn’t play it?
That was just the beginning of it. After all of that occurred, it was EA’s cavalier attitude about the situation and anti-consumer tactics that really got people’s goat. EA customer service agents were instructed to essentially tell customers with complaints “tough, deal with it” when they called in. EA even went so far as to remove the customer service number from SimCity forums and online manual. Some customers were even threatened with having their Origin account banned for having the audacity to ask for their money back. For people whose copies of SimCity didn’t work, they were basically told “buy another copy.” Could you imagine having one of your favorite IPs held hostage like that? Could you imagine being treated that way after having spent $60 on a game?
Since then, the server problem has been taken care of and all seems right in the world of SimCity. EA isn’t being quite as big of a ponce as they were before. SimCity still requires the persistent internet connection, but at least it’s reliable and you don’t have to wait in a queue for play the game. But I still haven’t quite gotten to my personal experience yet, have I? Well, it sort of starts with SimCity. You see, even after all of those problems, I still really wanted to play it. I’ll admit, having all of the server issues resolved makes it look a lot more appetizing, but I still kinda wanted to play it even when it did have its rough patches. SimCity is one of my favorite IP’s. I’ve played them all since the original one on the Super Nintendo, and I loved the Will Wright reference in Link’s Awakening. I was still playing SimCity 4 (because SimCity Societies sucked eggs, and I like to pretend it doesn’t exist) when the new one was announced and launched, and I had been looking forward to it for so long.
I waited for all the kinks to get worked out and for the price to drop some to a reasonable level. At this point, I still wasn’t really too fond of EA. I had read some of the articles about EA’s alleged changes, but remained unconvinced myself. I was happy that EA was at least making the attempt to do right by the customer, but I wasn’t buying it completely yet — they would have to do better than a few nice words and supposed policy changes. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of supporting EA, but they had some of my favorite IPs like SimCity, Mass Effect, Dead Space, and Need For Speed. So if I wanted to play those games, I would be forced to deal with EA’s shenanigans. I knew everything about SimCity before getting into it, but the love of the game got the better of me. So I purchased it on Amazon. I found a new copy for a decent price — much better than what EA wanted on Origin. It took about two weeks to arrive, and I was in great anticipation the whole time. From what I had seen, SimCity was actually a pretty decent game. It was the most polished city simulation to date, and it was only let down by the unnecessary forced multiplayer/online component. So it still looked to be a pretty fun game, and beautiful too! The day arrived when I finally got it in the mail. I tore open the envelope, unwrapped the shrink wrap, began installing it. It asked for the activation code. I input it.
“This Activation Code has already been claimed.”
Are you kidding? Really? Of course! This was an EA game after all, why wouldn’t there be problems!? It was far too late in the evening to call customer support, so I just watched cat videos on YouTube for the rest of the night and had to wait until the next day to deal with it. It began with that phone call. I was actually surprised with how easy it was to get to speak to a human rather than a computer, and even more surprised with how quickly the queue moved. I’m used to having to wait for well over 20 minutes to get customer service issues resolved. So when I got through I actually spoke to someone who was in America, not someone working slave labor in a call center overseas getting paid peanuts. The person I spoke to was clear, nice, understandable, and knowledgeable. Not what I expected from an EA representative. When I called, I sort of was expecting to be told there was nothing that I could have done about it and that I would have to return it to the retailer for my refund. But I called EA anyway, just in case.
The agent had me explain the situation and read him the Activation Code. Well, we found out I had actually not gotten a new copy of the game. The Activation Code was already registered, and I had just gotten ripped off. At this point, I was expecting to be told “That’s the risk of buying online. Sorry, but there’s nothing EA can do about this,” and that I would have to contact the seller and go through the hassle of dealing with Amazon, mailing it back, waiting for my refund, etc. But, that’s not what happened. I was put on hold as my agent spoke to his supervisor. Within a few minutes he returned. What they decided to do was to unregister the game from the old account and give me a free digital copy of the game on my Origin account. They even upgraded it to the Limited Edition with some pre-order bonus DLC for free. My agent made it clear that EA likes to go ahead and take care of the customer now, so I don’t have to get my problem taken care of externally. Even though it wasn’t EA’s fault that this was occurring, and they were making no money off of me, and they had every right to tell me to deal with it elsewhere, they went ahead and fixed my problem at cost to them. THAT is good customer service.
Now, this could have been an isolated incident. I’ve had bad customer service experiences with EA before in getting my Origin account to work on my Wii U copy of Need For Speed: Most Wanted. I know for a fact people have gotten shafted after speaking to EA customer service. But, in consideration with the message of change they’ve been espousing for the better part of 2013, I took it to mean I had just experienced first hand the new EA customer service policy. Obviously EA was aware of consumer attitude towards them, and that blaming customers for their own ill will wasn’t a healthy attitude to have. Two Golden Poo awards two years in a row is not something to be proud of. The thought crossed my mind: “Maybe… just maybe… EA actually was trying to change.” Their customer service agents before had been told to tell customers to piss off, why not now? Maybe because that’s no longer EA policy? Anybody that’s worked in customer service knows that customer service representatives have no real power or stake in dealing with customers, they just go through the motions. So, it was the supervisor who issued the command. EA management didn’t have to fix my problem, but they did. Why?
Customer service. Doing the right thing to try and make the customer feel like they got a good deal. Even though I actually gave no money to EA, and EA had no financial obligation to assist me, they fixed my problem anyway and gave me a free game to boot. They wanted to make me happy. They wanted me to walk away with a good experience, and tell people about it. They want people to realize that EA is trying to change its ways. They wanted me to keep using their products. And in order do that, they have to make good quality product and treat their customers well. I could be dead wrong, and it wouldn’t floor me if EA went back on their word, and anyone would be well within their rights to never trust EA again, but, and I hope it’s not wishful thinking, I really want to give EA one last chance.
I don’t know, I just don’t wanna say “this time it’s different” and expect everyone to believe me. People are well within their rights to never trust EA again after all the shenanigans they’ve pulled, and I wouldn’t blame them. But I can’t help but feeling that this time it actually is different — my personal experiences tell me so. Then again, I’ve only had one of them, so maybe it’s too soon to call. I may not be 100% convinced as off now, but I am at the point to where I am willing to give them a chance. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did something to ruin that trust, but I’m still willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and hope they they don’t betray what trust I am willing to give them. Who knows? Maybe I’ve even fallen victim to exactly what EA wants. Maybe they’ve come up with one of the most elaborate schemes ever to try and win over as many people as possible before screwing them over yet again. But for what reason? What would EA have to gain from that?
One would assume that EA made the decisions in the past because they felt that it was good for business. Now, don’t construe that to mean I am defending EA’s crummy policies. I completely disagree with the direction that they headed on. However, I do understand the reason they made those decisions. I also can understand that after a change in management, a fresh set of eyes, ears, and brains can majorly change the goings-ons of a company. New people are in charge of EA now, and they’re trying to undo the damages that the previous administration left behind. After seeing all the changes they’ve made, read about the changes to come, and experienced first hand the metamorphosis they EA has gone under, I am willing to give them a chance. I’m not completely convinced yet, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a hoax, but I’m willing to give them the chance to impress me — one last opportunity at redemption. And I hope that many gamers out there are now willing to do the same — to at least give EA the chance to show them that they’re willing to change. Then again, if gamers aren’t, I can completely understand that too.