EA Still Doesn’t “Get it”

I was debating for some time whether or not to post this article. EA is, after all, an incredibly popular company to bash and hate on, and I like to try to keep my content fairly unique and fresh. At least, I like to think I do. Still, the combination of EA’s irritatingly smug keynote coupled with this interview with Origin’s Dave DeMartini made up my mind for me. It simply has to be said:

Electronic Arts still doesn’t get it. 

I’ll explain. 

It’s not really a secret to anyone who’s even paid a modicum of attention to the gaming industry. EA is one of the most unpopular companies around. Their business model (which, as near as I can tell, consists of “Ooh! SHINY!” followed by the befuddled realization that they’ve no idea what to do with their new properties) is one of the primary reasons. They’ve a reputation, you see. They see an up and coming developer they like, snatch that developer up for more money than most of us will ever see in their life, and then…

They meddle. They change things. Eventually, everything that made the developer unique, every reason that EA bought that developer out in the first place is gone, and they’re just another grasping tendril of the leviathan hive-mind. Worse, they’re greedy. While every business is in it to make money, EA seems particularly finance-oriented; even at the expense of their customers. Nowhere is this more clear than their various, insulting attempts at DRM: Online passes, limited game installs, SecuROM…you get the idea.

Not to mention Origin, EA’s ham-handed, slapdash attempt at cashing in on the digital distribution market that Steam; darling of gamers everywhere, opened up to the industry- and the original TOS that essentially said to users “EA gets to mine your computer for information. Big Brother is watching.” Never mind the fact that it still feels like a poor imitation of Valve’s platform, that many at EA seem blissfully unaware of the level of ire it’s already garnered from the community at large- to say nothing of the fact that many of Origin’s users only use it because they’re forced to.

Again, I’m just rehashing stuff you’re all well aware of already .

I’d hoped that, after being labelled America’s Worst Company by a consumerist poll (beating out the Bank of America), they might try to clean up their act, maybe admit that their shareholders don’t know everything there is to know about running a gaming organization. Their attitude at E3 this year, however, has demonstrated-forcefully, I might add- that they’re just as clueless as ever.

As I already said previously, their keynote felt like one long infomercial- the only thing missing was a frontman like Billy Mays or Vince Offer. DeMartini came across as arrogant, condescending, and more than a little clueless about the state of Origin.  Basically, they came across as the perfect poster boy for how not to endear one’s organization to their consumers.

And they still seem completely ignorant of the fact.

Bad Business

I don’t think they understand what “Indie” means.

The first thing EA has to do is change its business strategy. That statement bears some explanation, of course. Yes, they’re incredibly profitable. Yes, they’re a large company, and their executives are raking in money hand over fist. Yes, they have a number of extremely profitable, extremely popular franchises under their belt. But I’d still argue that they don’t really think about the long-term in any sense of the word.

Again, I should explain.

There’s a good chance they’re going to be able to keep relying on their big-name franchises for a long time to come. They’ve got some pretty impressive properties under them, after all. The problem, as I’ve said, is that aside from having their subsidiaries pump out new games every now and then, they seem to have absolutely no idea what they’re doing, or where they’re going. They have no plans for the future. They see something unique, something awesome and creative, and they imitate it whilst completely missing what made the original product great.

Again, we come back to the example of Origin vs. Steam.

They need to start trying to find original, creative ways in which to expand their borders. They need to stop being a parrot organization. They need to slow their buying a bit, and focus a bit more on interior organization. And for the love of god, they need to hire better press agents.

Bad Press

What a fine, upstanding, trustworthy individual! Just look at his smile!

This is the crux of the issue. At its core, EA really isn’t that different from hundreds of other organization. They’re a business, they’re accountable to their shareholders (who, for their part, seem somewhat ignorant of the gaming industry), and they’re trying to make a profit. The trouble is that, in doing so, they’ve allowed themselves to be vilified. They need to take a step back, and consider how they look – and how they can make themselves look better.

They need to follow the example of organizations like Mojang and Valve.

See, the thing is, if your business endears itself to consumers, if your organization considers ‘the little guy,’ they’re going to be more popular. No, you might not be as profitable as some other organizations might be over a shorter time-frame. You probably won’t make as much money at first. The thing is, though…you’ll inspire loyalty. Those consumers who you endeared yourself to will keep coming back. When it comes to making a choice between your organization and a competitor…they’ll be a lot more likely to choose you.

It’s basic business, and the inability to recognize this is one of EA’s greatest failings. They simply let their executives (who, I’m sure you’ve noticed, aren’t the most charismatic guys around) say whatever they want, whenever they want. They allow people to see them as this Lovecraftian, many-tendriled monstrosity that devours smaller organizations and mutates them into something unrecognizable.  They play nice with developers and businessmen, but in many cases completely ignore the consumer.

That’s why EA is so reviled – they don’t seem to care.

The Solution

Right now, their face is that of a used car salesman. Or Cthulhu. Whichever is more terrifying.

Basically? They need to start planning a better, more structured, more long-term business strategy. They need to start considering what makes great properties popular, rather than just hoping they’ll figure it out along the way. They need to start speaking to the consumer, rather than talking at them.

And for the love of god…they need to hire a better PR department. The public image of an organization is one of their most important aspects, and it’s where EA’s made their worst fumbles. If they don’t start picking themselves up soon…well, it’s not likely they’ll be in much financial trouble. People are going to keep buying their games no matter what, truth be told. They’ve simply got too many highly popular franchises under their umbrella.

Sadly, they don’t really have a reason to change at the moment. They’re still profitable, so why should they care if their consumers hate them, right? Until they actually start losing money because of their bad image, ‘you’ll make more money’ simply isn’t enough of an argument for them to restructure their organization.

So…we all know what EA needs to do to make itself better. Chances are, they probably won’t do it.

That’s…pretty much it. Here’s hoping I’ve actually provided a bit of insight, instead of just shooting my mouth off. God knows I tend to do the latter just a bit too often for my own good.

Image Credits: [Christian Fearing God Man] [CNet] [Games Industry International] [Digital Trends]


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