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Electronic Arts: The Image of Greed

I never expected EA to appear in a publication like The Consumerist.  I definitely didn’t expect the company to be named “Worst Company in America” (as seen here: http://consumerist.com/2012/04/congratulations-ea-you-are-the-worst-company-in-america-for-2012.html) and addressed negatively in a recent Forbes article (here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/04/04/ea-is-the-worst-company-in-america-now-what/).  Sadly, as much as it pains me to say it, there is truth amongst all this hate and blunt aggression.

Today, I will not be talking about recent news or reviewing a video game.  Instead, I want to break down the veil and show you, my readers, the truth behind the chaos that beloved developer Electronic Arts has been causing, and why we should give a damn.  Yes, this will bring Mass Effect 3 into the discussion, but that is just one solid example of their poor business decisions.

DLC Production Practices

This is one of the more common complaints that Forbes itself brought up.  EA seems intent on manipulating people into buying DLC by releasing incomplete or inferior products that require additional content and by leaving certain narrative moments open to speculation that can only be rectified by additional content.

Take Mass Effect 3, for instance. It received day 1 DLC, in the form of the “From Ashes” downloadable pack.  “From Ashes” not only adds a mission that brings the player back to Eden Prime, a key world in the Mass Effect universe, but it also gives you access to a character who, strictly speaking, holds immense importance to the lore: a Prothean.  For those unfamiliar with Mass Effect, the Protheans were the race that built much of the technology that the reigning races now use, as well as beacons that stored information on their culture and history, one of which has a direct impact on the story by giving player character Commander Shepard visions of their species’ destruction, sending him/her on his/her multi-game quest.

Imagine that: a character who comes from a story-important race, who may have insight into the operation Shepard is conducting (not going into specifics, but having a Prothean around provides a unique perspective and gives Shepard hope, if ultimately in vain, for another option in his/her quest).  That seems like something that should really have been on the disk (as in complete and accessible without payment) on its own, but to make matters more frustrating, this Day 1 content was developed before release by the main development team and was partially coded onto the disk, making it part of the main game content.  This action strongly implies that BioWare and EA intentionally left out this seemingly important content just to make some extra money.

Influencing Storytelling with DLC

This practice also applies to the recently confirmed Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut downloadable epilogue content, which will “give fans seeking further clarity to the ending of Mass Effect 3 deeper insights into how their personal journey concludes”, according to one of their recent press releases.  While not charging any additional fees for the content, EA is setting a dangerous example for other developers.

Regardless of your feelings about the quality of the ending(s?), it was still a conclusion that BioWare saw fit to release.  That Electronic Arts would not only force the decision to change the ending of this well-crafted, five-years-in-the-making saga, but that all they see as necessary to fulfil the irate fans is a few “additional cinematic sequences and epilogue scenes” that only clarify the endings’ perceived plot holes and inconsistencies instead of improving upon them is shocking.  It hurts the integrity and public image of storytelling, of video game development and of Electronic Arts as a whole.

This profiting on DLC is nothing new for EA-published games; hell, it’s been around since the original Mass Effect.  However, in recent years, the renowned publisher has given themselves a bad image by integrating online purchasing and DLC into their games, to the point of even affecting aspects of the gameplay.  This is not a good habit to make.

Assimilation & Liberal Borrowing

However, the offensive acts do not end there.  Although the second article does not go into as much depth as the previous issue, this is still present and accounted for.  EA has been accused of absorbing budding developers into their collective and claiming their creative ideas for themselves, with the Forbes article above claiming, “They [Electronic Arts] were Zynga before Zynga existed, buying up promising developers and gutting them so they were no longer competition, harvesting the best ideas for themselves” (Paul Tassi).  A bit harsh, but accurate given the number of properties they own.

BioWare isn’t the only developer under EA’s grasp; there are a grand total of 38 companies that EA has had ownership of, at some point or other.  These range from fan favourites Maxis (the Sims creators), PopCap Games (Plants vs. Zombies) and Criterion Software (the Burnout team), to long-forgotten names like Batteries Included and Origin Systems.  That is not even mentioning the stakes they have in other companies, which is thankfully down to two companies (Visual Concepts Entertainment and NovaLogic).

Clearly, EA has the means to ensure some control over products under their watch.  This gives claims that they are asserting dominance over their properties and “lesser” companies a sense of reality and value.

Conclusion

Evidently, I have only touched on the recent issues.  I could have mentioned the fixation on DRM that EA seems to have (cough *Spore* cough), their tendency to shut down studios for internally perceived mistakes (Origin Studios comes to mind), or the apparent decline in quality and creativity of EA-published games (hell, their C.E.O, John Riccitiello, admitted that they have been “making games that are harder and harder to play”), but I think I will leave you on this note.  I have not been impressed with Electronic Arts’ business methods in recent years, due to their selfish desires, lack of creative integrity and their lack of respect for their controlled properties.

In fact, I am self-imposing a boycott on any game published or developed by EA.  As much as it hurts me, as a writer and lover of narrative and dynamic storytelling in videogames, I feel a need to stick to my guns and not give them money that they presently do not deserve for any of their products.  If you feel the same, tell them this not through message boards or Twitter feeds but through your wallets;  do not buy their games if you don’t agree with their philosophies.

Again, as always, it’s your decision.  Play freely, and keep reading, gamers.

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