About this time last year, I wrote an editorial about Electronic Arts. At the time, EA was considered one of the worst gaming companies out there — twice being named the “worst company in America,” and embodying everything that gamers find distasteful: making games that had fat, bloated budgets but with sub-par performance, rushing unfinished, buggy products to market and subsequently never patching them, the seeming abandonment of Nintendo… the list of atrocities goes on. Yet last year, I wrote about one little experience with them that changed my mind; one experience that made me want to give them a chance.
As a quick recap: basically, I had purchased a “new” copy of SimCity from Amazon. When I got the item, I opened the shrink wrap and installed the game. When it came time to register it, I input the activation key that accompanied the disc. “This Activation Code has already been claimed.” What was this balderdash? I had a brand new copy of the game! So, I had to call EA. At the time, I was under the impression that it was going to be a dreadful experience. After a wait time of a lot less than I expected it to be, I was connected with an agent (an American one too, not a call-center overseas!) and I explained my problem to them. Lo and behold, my copy of the game wasn’t new at all! Apparently the person I bought it from had redeemed the code and resold me the disc, and also somehow had access to a shrink wrap machine. “Well, that’s that” I thought to myself. I was going to have to call Amazon now and go through the hassle of returning the item and getting a refund. Instead, Electronic Arts did something unexpected.
Technically speaking, EA got no money from me. I had purchased a used copy of a game from some bloke on Amazon. EA saw absolutely zero profit from me that day. The agent on the phone had put me on hold to go talk to his supervisor. When he got back, I was informed that EA would be de-registering SimCity off of the other person’s Origin account, and crediting me with a free digital one on their behalf. They even upgraded it to the Limited Edition to boot! Everything they did for me that day was at a complete loss to them, yet they did it anyway. But why?
Well, EA had been reeling from some very bad PR over the years prior. Some very shady dealings had been occurring with the executive board, and bad deals and policies had lead to the ousting of the then CEO. And apparently with a change in management came a change in business practices. EA had been trying very hard to re-brand themselves, and I had just experienced the policies of the “new Electronic Arts.” At the time of writing the article, I was at the point where I was willing to give EA the chance to impress me. I felt that they had earned at least that much. I even went as far as to say: ”
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.”
One year later, I am now convinced. Electronic Arts has improved. Let me tell you why:
It wasn’t just the one experience that convinced me, it was a multitude of things. For example, the Origin service has improved greatly over the past year. I now no longer fear the evil eye of Sauron watching me as I use Origin. They’ve gotten a decent library of titles, and it doesn’t crash every time I try to use it… unlike some other online content provider, Ubisoft. I also really like the fact that EA has a “digital return policy.” That’s right, if you buy an EA game on Origin and don’t like it, you can return it either within one week of purchase, or 24 hours of the first boot up of the game, for a full refund. No other online digital content provider offers that service. Their “On The House” program where they offer a free game each month to all Origin users to keep forever, very similar to PlayStation’s “Instant Game Collection,” is a nice touch. And, unlike PlayStation’s program, you don’t have to be a special member; by virtue of being an Origin user, it’s yours. And there’s a new one every month!
Speaking of the improvement to Origin, I have another personal story to share about EA and their customer service improvements. About 10 years ago I purchased SimCity 4 Deluxe Edition (Yeah, SimCity is kind of a trend with me), but with the modernization of computers and operating systems, old software has a hard time working on newer computers; SimCity 4 is no exception. I had quite a time trying to get that thing to run on my new PC. I saw that EA had SimCity 4 for sale in the Origin store, so I suppose I could have just purchased it and made things easier. However, I decided to try my luck with the “new-and-improved EA.” I gave them a call and explained my situation. All I had to do was read them the “activation key” from my 10 year old copy of SimCity 4 Deluxe Edition, and “bam!”, I had a free digital copy guaranteed to work on my new PC. Again, it’s something they did not have to do. They made no money off of me… well no new money; they got my money 10 years ago when I originally purchased it. Or should I say they got my mom’s money when she bought it for me 10 years ago? Either way, there’s no way Steam or Uplay would have ever done anything like that. And EA didn’t have to either, but they did. Companies don’t go around just giving away products for no reason. By all business logic, they should have made me buy a new one. So why did EA do this for me?
Because they’ve changed. That’s why. They really are going the extra mile to try and make customer experiences better. Sure they’ve done some low things in the past… but that’s the key phrase isn’t it? “In the past.” Over the past year I’ve personally experienced twice this “new-and-improved EA,” and have heard so many stories from other people about their experiences too.
I would never go so far as to say that Origin is better than Steam. Steam is still clearly superior when it comes to PC gaming, sales, and digital distribution. However, Origin has some advantages that Steam does not offer. In addition to the aforementioned “digital return policy,” all games purchased from Origin are guaranteed to work and be optimized for your PC. I cannot count the number of times I’ve downloaded a title from Steam, only to find out that it was a poor PC port and not optimized for my system, yet there was no warning about it in the listing. It really is a “buyer beware” sort of atmosphere when purchasing on Steam. It’s ridiculous that I have to go through pages and pages of forums, download shady looking unofficial patches, and run everything as administrator just to get a game to work properly on Steam – and in the end it still might not even work properly! However, with Origin, I never have that concern. I know for a fact that all of my games are always up to date, and will always work forever, every single time. Also, there’s no way Steam would ever give away a free digital copy just because you own the physical one. I suppose Gaben needs more money to keep not making Half-Life 3.
EA was named one of the best places to work for by the Human Rights Campaign at the end of last year. This has much to due because of their support of the LGBT community and contribution to events such as GaymerX. It is well-known that members of the LGBT community are somewhat underrepresented and mistreated in video games and by some gamers themselves. However, many of EA’s games, including The Sims, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect, all freely allow same-sex relationships should the player want to explore that option. Not only is this allowing for equal representation in games, but it also gives the players more choices in their game. It makes you feel good when someone is on your side in a world of people against you. Not to make this a social justice article, as I’ve already written one of those too, but EA’s support of the LGBT community has also helped their image a lot, at least in my eyes. Good on you EA.
Now there’s still some work to be done. The next thing Electronic Arts needs to focus on is the quality of their games. I’m somewhat willing to forgive the atrocity that was Dead Space 3 because it was made under old management. But Battlefield 4? Titanfall? Both have been plagued with installation issues, crashing, loss of player information, connection problems… the list goes on. It speaks volumes regarding how the games were developed, by which I mean “not very well.” We’ve only recently gotten a patch for SimCity to be played on offline mode, a patch EA told us was “impossible,” as online was “crucial” to the game. What a load that turned out to be. And Battlefield Hardline is basically Payday 2… I mean, come on EA. Are you even trying?
There’s always room for improvement, but I can see that EA is making the effort. Heck, I’ve personally experienced that effort. And I believe they’ve earned that chance I was speaking about a year ago. Just recently, Shamus Young of The Escapist published an article asking readers “Has EA’s Origin service improved over the last two years?” And I would say: “very much so.” There’s still a ways to go, but improvement has clearly been made. Mr. Young’s article goes more in depth about EA’s improvements to Origin, including the free giveaway of The Sims 2 and all 18 DLC packs that Origin offered recently, and I would recommend giving it a read. With as many half-truths, backtracks, and outright lies we’ve been getting from AAA publishers in the past few years, it’s refreshing to know that there are still some good guys left.
Now if we can only convince EA to support Nintendo. Then they really would be the bees knees!