The votes are in and the people have spoken, Electronic Arts has officially won the most coveted of all awards and become the Worst Company in America for 2012. This is no small feat considering that past winners have included BP, who showed a disgusting lack of remorse for causing one of the worst environmental disasters in history, and Comcast, a perennial runner up and a company that I have a personal distaste for and am forced to work with because they are the only internet provider in my area. Is EA truly deserving of this title or this just a product of stories and conjecture tainting consumer perception?
I will start off by saying that I just finished Mass Effect 3, which is published by EA and developed by Bioware which is owned by EA, so I am by no means an EA hater. This is a company which owns many developers and has many franchises across a broad range of genres. EA has a known track record of absorbing smaller developers and indoctrinating them into their large corporate culture. This is not uncommon practice throughout most businesses in the world, but within the video game industry the best ideas can come from free thinking independent developers who can take risks and try new ideas. Once they are absorbed in to the EA family they are often indoctrinated into the corporate culture of this large company. EA is not a publisher who is known for nurturing new ideas, as their many annualized franchises can attest to. Would I consider this terrible practice in most regards? No. But as I have said the video game industry needs companies that will take risks on new IPs not make the same game every year with small improvements.
A shining example of EA and the lengths they will go to shut out competition is fully embodied in their handling of the Madden franchise. Having sold over 90 million copies since its debut in 1988 the franchise has become mostly stagnant since EA signed an exclusive contract for the NFL license. Smaller franchises such as the NFL 2K series-which I had been extremely fond of since first playing 2K1 on my Dreamcast- had become consistently better with each iteration and it was poised to overshadow the Madden franchise. NFL 2K5, the last in the franchise, even debuted at $19.99 as opposed to the typical $49.99 price tag at the time. Of course EA wanted none of this, because lowering the price of their game would hurt their bottom line. So EA decided to do what any self respecting large corporation would do and simply take the competition out of the equation. In 2004 they spent an estimated $300 million and signed a deal with the NFL which
EA has been the target of a lost several cases involving former employees. Stories of employees working over 100 hours a week for months on end and not being compensated with over time pay have cost EA millions in settlement payments. This, in my opinion, is where EA really shows its disregard for its employees and shows why it was chosen as the worst company in America. Abusing employees who have families that count on their overtime to pay their bills, and employees who bust their asses to put out the best product they possibly can while working with strict deadlines, are not compensated for their hard work . These are the types of business practices that I feel qualify a company for the designation of Worst in America.allows for exclusive use of the NFL license and current players, effectively making them the only option for someone to get their virtual football fix. I can think of no better way to stop innovation in its tracks. After this EA had no reason to try to really make the Madden games stand out year after year, and have instead simply created a new QB gimmick and added slight polish to each new years release. Others have attempted to create football games using made up or former NFL players, but none have been able to put a dent in the monopoly that EA has built for itself.
Now do not get me wrong, at the end of the day I do not consider EA to be pure evil. A company with shareholders is expected to make money. This is for better of for worse the American way. After all they are certainly not the only company that closes studios, lays off employees or simply acquires smaller companies for their own gain. In fact some of these smaller companies might not even still exist without the financial backing and resources of a larger company. Are they a perfect example of how to nourish new ideas and treat employees fairly? Heck no. But at the end of the day they are no different than any other company from Apple to Bank of America. They want to make money and pay their shareholders. In order to do that you find the cheapest way to make the most money and that is more of a capitalist society problem than something that was made up by EA. The simple fact that EA was chosen over all of these other companies also proves that gaming companies no longer sit in the background. As they say there, is no such thing as bad publicity and I feel that this demonstrates how the game industry has become engrained in our culture. I can only hope that this will lead to better regulation and hopefully better pay for these employees from testers all the way to the top of the game development food chain.