I admit it — I’m a bit of a socialist punk. I listen to Black Flag, I’ve got a Che Guevara t-shirt, and I chant “down with the man” while protesting outside of Parliament every Sunday (I'm not sure why, but I do it). I also tend to avoid the big AAA games as they have too much of that corporate stench about them, instead opting for smaller indie titles.
So when my editor asked me to take a shot at the biggest corporate jerk of them all, I jumped at the chance.
There’s no denying Electronic Arts is a big fish in the gaming pond, with millions of players and billions in sales, but they didn’t get there by playing nice. EA is one bad apple. How bad? I’ve got a whole list of reasons to show you, but I’ll start you off with a quick example: EA’s CEO, Andrew Wilson, is portrayed as the main villain in Mirror’s Edge 2.
It takes a special kind of malevolence (and cajones) to literally be the evil corporation in one of your own games.
But if you’re not already convinced, here’s a bunch of other reasons why EA is the worst gaming company in the world.
If we’re going to talk about the 2013 reboot of the SimCity franchise, it’s necessary for us to have a little history lesson about Maxis Software.
Founded by legendary game designer Will Wright in 1987, Maxis created one of the biggest franchises in early gaming history: SimCity. SimCity 2000, in particular, was such a huge success that it catapulted Maxis to the very pinnacle of game development, and eventually, there was a SimCity game not just on PC but for every console and handheld system made.
Then Maxis had a few commercial flops, and in an effort to save themselves from bankruptcy accepted an acquisition offer from EA. At this point EA hasn't really done anything wrong - they were even a little altruistic by saving a much-beloved studio. Will Wright went to work on The Sims, another franchise that would make EA billions of dollars, and left the SimCity franchise to be managed by EA.
Flash forward to 2013. It's been nearly a decade since the last real SimCity game, and EA has just announced they’re rebooting the series with SimCity. At the time EA was very concerned with game piracy. In an effort to prevent their sure-to-be-popular remake from getting pinched, they made it a requirement for the player’s computer to always have an internet connection available to verify with EA’s servers.
This was bad enough to piss off any die-hard SimCity fan. The series was a single-player staple for decades, and requiring it to always be online meant nobody could casually game while waiting at the airport, or camping, or doing any number of things casual players do that takes them away from an internet connection. But EA doubled-down on that error in judgment by vastly underestimating the number of players clamoring to get their hands on SimCity. The servers used to verify player accounts were constantly down at launch, preventing any user from playing even with an internet connection.
The situation got so bad that EA had to offer purchasers of SimCity a whole free game from their catalog just to stem the tide of bad press. It didn’t work, and eventually, the original Maxis Emeryville studio was closed as a result. Maxis still exists within EA, but in name only.
EA is a big name in the industry, and as such a lot of companies were looking at SimCity to gauge how effective this always online business would be in preventing piracy. While most saw SimCity as one of the largest game launch failures of all time, other companies saw that nobody was pirating the game and that meant the requirement of an internet connection was an effective way to deter piracy.
Nevermind the fact that SimCity was a pale shadow of its former glory and people just weren’t bothering to steal it.
Thus began a sad era of Always Online DRM where multiple companies came out with games requiring the user to always be online. Blizzard had it on Diablo 3, Ubisoft had it for Assassin’s Creed 2 and Driver: San Francisco, and EA had it for other franchises like Need for Speed.
Thankfully, the backlash was strong enough that most new single-player games will allow their users to play without being online (with a few exceptions), but we have big uncle EA to thank for making it a standard practice.
Maxis sort of gives you a hint at how EA operates, but I’m going to just come out and hand you a big spoiler for the rest of this article: EA has a habit of buying out smaller studios and then promptly putting them 6 feet under.
Take Mythic Studios. Formed in 1995 they created then popular titles such as Dark Age Of Camelot and Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. EA bought Mythic in 2006, and right from the get-go Mythic started bucking under its corporate overlords.
First EA tried to change their name to EA Mythic, which didn’t sit well with them, so they changed it back to just Mythic in 2008. In 2009, EA had the bright idea of merging their two best RPG developers —BioWare and Mythic— into a single division called BioWare Mythic. This caused a lot of internal strife as the two developer cultures collided like two trucks on a dimly lit highway. Then EA announced a general reduction in workforce and just laid-off a bunch of former Mythic employees.
What was left of Mythic renamed themselves Mythic Entertainment in 2012 before EA finally shut them down —for good— in 2014.
You sort of see how EA operates now, so I’ll make the history lesson super short. Dungeon Keeper was a very popular (if quirky) game made by Bullfrog Productions. Bullfrog Productions was bought out by EA in 1995, and closed their doors in 2001. So far, no big departure from EA’s modus operandi.
In 2013, EA had the bright idea of bringing Dungeon Keeper back, by remaking it for Android and iOS. If this gives you SimCity flashbacks, you’re on the right track. But it gets worse. Not only is the game terrible in comparison with its predecessor and riddled with microtransactions, EA also tries to trick users into giving it a 5-star rating on their respective app stores.
As is often the case with freemium mobile games, the player will occasionally be confronted with a “rate my game” screen to leave a review. Except in Dungeon Keeper’s case (at launch), this screen only allows you to leave a 5-star review. If you select anything less than 5 stars, an email will pop up direct to EA, but you won’t be directed to the app store to publicly voice your displeasure.
If this looks like EA is unscrupulously stacking the deck to seem like their game is more popular, congratulation — you're right! You have the perception of a regular human being when confronted with this scenario. EA took a ton of bad press for this screw-up, and it’ll be some time before they live it down.
Many of you already know from our previous article that Steam dominates the world of direct download PC gaming. EA has there own online store which has had many names over the years, but most recently it goes by the name Origin. We’ll get to how EA came by the trademarked name “Origin” a little later, but for now, we’ll just go over how Origin has had its fair share of controversies.
To start off, when Origin was announced back in 2011 it had an EULA a mile long that nobody ever read. Buried in the legalese was a clause that said if you don’t touch your Origin client for 2 years, your account is deleted along with all of your games. So, get abducted by aliens or rob a bank and go to prison, and you can kiss your copy of Crysis goodbye.
EA also had some… we’ll say “overzealous” forum moderators that had the power to ban accounts for using naughty words on the EA forums. That would’ve been fine if the ban also didn’t lock a user access to Origin as well. Making things worse was Origin customer service, who decided to make those bans permanent when angry gamers started to flood them with calls complaining that the couldn’t play their games.
I could go on about how Origin also requires you to give your system information to EA with no option to refuse, or having an unencrypted chat program, but I think we can summarize Origin in just 3 words: it’s no Steam.
We’re going WAY back with this one boys and girls. Origin Systems was founded in 1983 by Richard “Lord British” Garriott, and subsequently gave birth to one of the biggest names in gaming history: Ultima.
As a gross oversimplification, Ultima was a series of high fantasy RPGs that spanned every system from Atari to PC. EA spotted the small, successful developer and purchased the company in 1992. The corporate overlords began to demand tighter and tighter deadlines, and by Ultima VIII: Pagan they were shipping games out before they were fully completed.
When EA management again forced an unfinished product in Ultima IX: Ascension out the door, it was one time too many. Betrayed by EA, Ultima fans abandoned the franchise in droves. EA would close Origin down for good in 2004, making it the first of their many victims.
Fast forward to 2017 and we have another game that was rushed out the door too early, this time BioWare’s Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Founded in 1995, BioWare made a name for itself with Baldur's Gate, a single player RPG that would rock the world and set a standard for all games to follow. Much like Maxis, BioWare would then go on to have a few financial flops, and smelling blood in the water EA gobbled up BioWare in 2007.
After that, BioWare would go on to create the Mass Effect series, one of the greatest space operas the world has ever seen. We got a hint that things were starting to get rough when Mass Effect 3 was rushed out the door without a real ending, but BioWare quickly released a free update that gave players a helpful retcon, which appeased belligerent fans.
Mass Effect: Andromeda, the fourth of the series, seems to be in a bit more trouble. Graphical issues, bizarre facial animations, poor writing, and a re-hashed plot, are all giving Andromeda mixed reviews, and one can’t help but feel that BioWare may soon become the latest casualty of EA.
Yet another franchise that ends in the blood-spattered abattoir of EA is Command & Conquer. Developed by Westwood Studios since 1995, Command & Conquer was a real-time strategy series that spawned many of today’s RTS conventions as well as having some of the best music of the era. That all changed when EA took the reins in 1999.
Like Andromeda and Ultima, the finale of the Tiberian War saga was rushed out the door well before the game was actually finished. As a result, many gameplay features that had been planned were simply omitted, and even components of the game’s engine were never completed. The development would continue, however, and eventually, those features would be available in the Firestorm expansion - but only after you gave EA another 40 bucks.
Many Westwood employees left after Tiberian Sun, disgusted by EA’s corporate greed. What was left would be assimilated by EA in 2003.
In case our last three entries on this list haven’t made this abundantly clear, EA sets unmovable deadlines for games to be completed, and if they’re not done, they get shipped anyways. The developer is then left in an awful dilemma — either they work overtime regularly to try and meet deadlines, or they release a half-finished game that nobody will buy, which causes EA to shut them down.
This eventually lead to three separate class action lawsuits between 2004 and 2006 against EA for unpaid overtime. EA would eventually settle out of court in 2007 for $14.9 million, and institute sweeping reforms as to how it went about developing games. Just kidding! They're still awful.
Cutting content from a game in order to charge more with paid add-ons is something that EA has been accused of on multiple occasions. The latest and perhaps most blatant example is the reboot to Star Wars: Battlefront.
Developed by EA DICE (the same people who make Battlefield), Star Wars: Battlefront is essentially the same as most modern first-person shooters, but takes place in the Star Wars universe. Players can choose between rebel or imperial forces and then wage war over a specific objective, like the shield generators on Hoth or the power station on Endor. The game had an open beta, allowing players to have a free test drive before the game’s release later in 2015. It was pretty light on content, but it was described as a limited beta and everyone expected it to have more actual gameplay on release.
Then the game did release, and players were left a little befuddled when there were very few maps to play, and no single player campaign in sight. Instead, EA metered out the content in paid DLC, leaving many to question the full game price tag at launch.
Battlefield is EA's latest entry in the riveting world of military-themed first-person shooters, and that’s all you really need to know about it. The fourth entry in the Battlefield series was a little special in that it got EA sued yet again in 2014.
Once again, EA rushed the development of Battlefield 4, and the released game was filled with numerous bugs and game-crashing glitches across all platforms. By this time EA was well known as a company with a poor reputation, and investors had finally had enough. Two class action lawsuits were filed by EA’s investors, arguing EA had misled them as to the quality of Battlefield 4 before release. One of the lawsuits was dismissed, and the other EA settled.
The message from investors, however, was clear: EA had to clean up their act. Spoiler alert: they didn't.
Man, EA just can’t seem to catch a break from all these lawsuits. Here’s another one, this time with another Maxis game. Spore was supposed to be Will Wright’s magnum opus, with players literally going from a single-celled organism to galaxy-spanning empires over the course of the game. The scope was enormous, and the hype surrounding the game was huge.
Then EA slapped SecuROM onto the game, and all that promise disappeared like a fart in the wind.
SecuROM is a form of DRM that prevents the player from installing the game more than three times. When this caused a public outcry, EA raised the limit to five times, but by then the damage was done. Spore would release to weak sales with all blame falling on EA for including a draconian DRM on the game.
The fun didn’t stop there for EA and SecuROM. Since SecuROM was never mentioned anywhere in the game, the box, or the manual, and installs software to your computer that remains ever after you delete the game it caused yet another class action lawsuit from angry gamers who felt mislead.
This all leads up to yet another ugly theme for EA: shady advertising practices. Besides the Dungeon Keeper Fiasco, we have two case studies for your consideration.
First, we have Dante’s Inferno, a game that today would be described as “Souls-like,” but back in 2010 would just be called a generic third-person action game. The game features a lot of demonic Christian mythology, and EA advertisers thought it would be great publicity if some church groups staged a protest at E3. When nobody took the bait, they hired their own protesters to make it look like their game was controversial. Word eventually got out that they were paid actors, and it all just ended with egg on EA’s face.
Even better was Star Wars Battlefront. In the run-up to release, EA advertisers bribed Reddit moderators with early copies of the game in return for deleting any negative comments. When other Reddit users attempted to expose the moderators, they got banned. The moderators were eventually caught and expunged, but EA never came clean.
Anybody who knows anything about sports games knows that EA will release a new game for every sport annually without fail. While these games are often little more than re-skinned and re-textured updates of the previous year’s entry, most can forgive EA as player rosters change frequently, and in order to be current with your virtual fantasy leagues, you have to update your game. Or something. I don't actually play sports.
Other games not so much. The Sims, Need for Speed, Battlefield, and Medal of Honor are all franchises that do not need a new game pumped out every year, but EA does it anyway. Each new version is basically the same game, leading many to accuse EA of stifling innovation.
It hasn’t quite gotten to Dynasty Warrior levels of stifling, but it’s getting close.
All of these tales of woe culminated in EA winning the coveted Worst Company In America Award twice from The Consumerist in 2012 and 2013.
The competition is held by a free vote by Consumerist readers, and is in such heady company as Halliburton, Comcast, and British Petroleum, it takes a real evil genius to gain top honors twice in a row.
Executives for EA have since said they are listening more to their customers and are trying to improve, but with Andromeda a mess, and Battlefront deceptively overpriced it’s hard to see evidence of this. From false advertising to buggy, broken games, EA has proven time and again they are the evil overlords of the gaming world, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.