EA Games: How to Succeed in Being the Worst Business Without Really Trying

The company culture of EA Games has changed noticeably since its inception. In the early years of the company, Electronic Arts Games, now commonly known as EA Games, did live up to their name. The founder of the company, Trip Hawkins, took a pro-designer approach in running the company (Underberg-Goode). For example, he would go to trade shows to recruit designers (Ibid). In addition to this, the way EA marketed their games at this time was unique. Unlike companies like Atari, EA put an emphasis on the artistry of game design, which is seen in how they packaged their games (Ibid). The boxes, or “album covers”, that games came in were custom made and prominently featured the game designers’ names (Ibid). By 2004 though, EA’s culture had become something far from this.

In 2004 a spouse of an EA employee started an online journal which detailed the harsh working conditions their significant other faced. Some of these conditions included 12-hour work days that lasted for several months, unpaid overtime, and 6 day work weeks (Williams). On top of that, these conditions would only get worse once the deadline for a game approached (Ibid). Granted, at the time such conditions were not novel for those working in the game industry and EA Games was not the only studio utilizing such practices (Ibid). However, this did not stop backlash and controversy from occurring. Due in part to the information shared by this EA spouse, there began to be a push for better working conditions for game designers and others in the game industry (Ibid). Unfortunately, 10 years after the EA spouse controversy things were only slightly better. A study found that while crunch and other harsh working conditions had slightly decreased (19% of respondents in 2014 had not crunched in two years, compared to 2.4% in 2004), they were still widely present and even considered by some in the industry to be a necessary evil (Ibid).

Contemporary EA games are generally not as well regarded as their previous titles. This is because more recent EA games have heavily utilized paid DLC, sometimes to the point where most of a game’s features are unavailable unless the player purchases DLC. An example of this is the Sims 4. Unlike previous titles in the Sims series, upon its release the Sims 4 was a noticeable step backward from its predecessors. Multiple gameplay features that were staples of the series were absent.  This understandably upset many fans. Things got slightly better when eventually some of these features were added to the game. However, the way EA went about adding them created more controversy. For example, the life stage of toddlers, which was present in the base game for the Sims 2 and 3, was part of a DLC that came out several months after the Sims 4 release (though technically they were part of a free patch). In addition to this, some of the features that are packaged as DLC for the Sims 4 are noticeably less dynamic compared to earlier versions (The Red Plumbob). Not to mention EA releasing a Sims 4 DLC that was explicitly not asked for by the community, such as the Star Wars themed Journey to Batuu (Lee).

The disdain for EA’s reliance on DLC is evident in the plethora of memes about the company.

While EA continues to be panned by many gamers, this has not gone unnoticed. After being voted the worst company in America for two years, in 2013 EA CEO Larry Probst vowed “This will not happen again” (Sherr). While it is nice to see a company show some semblance of self-awareness, I cannot say that they have been successful. In addition to the controversy with the Sims 4’s (which came out a year after Probst’s made his statement), other games like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order did not go over well with some fans, who while happy with the combat viewed it’s story as shallow and too short (Personal communication). While EA might eventually redeem its reputation as a major game studio, it seems they are uninterested in returning to a company culture focused on artistry and respect for game designers.

Sources

Bush, Benjamin. Personal communication. 6 Mar. 2020.

Lee, Jess. “The Sims 4 poll: What packs would you like to see in 2020?.” Digital Spy, 1 Feb. 2020, https://www.digitalspy.com/tech/a30380958/sims-4-2020-packs-poll/.

Sherr, Ian. “How Electronic Arts stopped being the worst company in America.” CNET, 2 Jun. 2015, cnet.com/news/how-electronic-arts-stopped-being-the-worst-company-in-america/.

 “Sims 2 vs Sims 3 vs Sims 4: Aliens.” YouTube, uploaded by The Red Plumbob, 12 April 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhzY-P2OVR4.

“Sims 1 – Sims 2 – Sims 3 – Sims 4: Magic Spells.” YouTube, uploaded by The Red Plumbob, 28 October 2019, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVFbw8UDsAU.

“Sims 2 vs Sims 3 vs Sims 4: PlantSims.” YouTube, uploaded by The Red Plumbob, 24 May 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-sE16g7Nhw.

This is worthless EA DLC meme. MEME, me.me/i/ea-game-without-the-paid-dlc-woah-u-sneon-thi-s-48986dd6a5c2475dbe1d295e84579c98

Underberg-Goode, Natalie. “Chapter 3: Early Arcade Games and Consoles.” The Evolution of Video Games. Great River Learning, 2018. ucf.grtep.com/index.cfm/videogameevolution/page/chapter3videogameconsoles.

Williams, Ian G. “Crunched: has the games industry really stopped exploiting its workforce?” The Guardian, 18 Feb. 2015, theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/18/crunched-games-industry-exploiting-workforce-ea-spouse-software.

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