EA’s Peter Moore Doesn’t Get It – Worst Company In America Nomination

EA has made the list of an internet poll, which put it up as a semi-finalist as worst company in America. What made me want to write about this topic isn’t the fact that EA was nominated but EA’s COO (Chief operating officer), Peter Moore’s response to the news. In a recent blog post titled “We Can Do Better” Moore talks about the reasons for this nomination and states that the company can do better, and will do better. From the title, you would expect a rather humble piece upon some of the failings of the corporation with an emphasis on all of the ways that EA is going to blow our socks off next year, and how much they’ve learned from the bumpy road. Instead, what we got was a flamboyantly unapologetic piece of writing that acknowledges no real failures, mainly talking about vague things that the company did wrong. Then Moore goes on the offensive attacking people who criticize the company for the major things people are upset about. It’s this attack that we’re going to be dealing with today. He likens EA to a tree, stating that “the tallest trees catch the most wind,” and thus negative fan reaction is to be anticipated.

 Here is his list of arguments that he says don’t hold any water:

  • Many continue to claim the Always-On function in SimCity is a DRM scheme.  It’s not.  People still want to argue about it.  We can’t be any clearer – it’s not. Period.
  • Some claim there’s no room for Origin as a competitor to Steam.  45 million registered users are proving that wrong.
  • Some people think that free-to-play games and micro-transactions are a pox on gaming.  Tens of millions more are playing and loving those games.
  • We’ve seen mailing lists that direct people to vote for EA because they disagree with the choice of the cover athlete on Madden NFL. Yes, really…
  • In the past year, we have received thousands of emails and postcards protesting against EA for allowing players to create LGBT characters in our games.  This week, we’re seeing posts on conservative web sites urging people to protest our LGBT policy by voting EA the Worst Company in America.
I want to go through this list systematically and tell you what’s wrong with each and every one of these assertions. 
For future reference, insulting fans who raise legitimate complaints isn’t a great way to manage PR.
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1 – Sim City’s Always-On function isn’t DRM

DRM (Data Rights management) is a big deal in today’s environment, and it’s a buzz word that attracts and extreme amount of displeasure from gamers. The idea behind DRM is that there are a ton of pirates out there (PC gamers), and developers need some way to protect their product. This isn’t new. DRM includes standard practises such as limiting the amount of new computers you can install a program on. However, DRM is really anything that restricts the user’s ability to use the product they’ve bought in a way that the producer has deemed unsavoury. It’s a hot button issue today, and many developers have stood with and against the practise. While I’m not prepared to take a stance on DRM right now, it is widely despised in the gaming community to the point where even rumours of DRM will cause a swirl of irrational hatred that no developer is really ready for. 
Getting that out of the way, I don’t think there is any way on Earth that Sim City’s Always-On policy could be construed as anything but DRM. Going from the basic definition, it restricts the user’s ability to use the product. There isn’t any way to argue that the game requires a constant connection, as every other game in the world doesn’t suffer this same problem. The worst thing about EA’s defence is that they are so adamant that it isn’t DRM, but they don’t have any reasons at all. It doesn’t matter how many times you say that an orange isn’t an orange, that doesn’t make it clear.  It could be a fundamental misunderstanding from one or more parties, but always-on is DRM, period. That doesn’t mean EA needed to be motivated by evil forces, or that they’re conspiring to take away your rights, but they specifically sold a product, which traditionally does not require any online connection, and have stated that it is unusable unless you are connected to their servers. Their motivations for doing so, whether it’s because the game needs it, or they want to curb piracy, is immaterial. By restricting your use of the product, they are implementing DRM. 
What worries me about Moore’s assertion that Sim City’s always-on policy isn’t DRM is that it seems that he completely missed the point of the criticism. People aren’t so much upset about the word DRM as they are about the fact that they require an online connection to play the game. For argument’s sake, let’s say that always-on isn’t DRM. Do you know what that changes? Absolutely nothing. Everyone is upset by the always-on practice, whether you call it DRM or something else doesn’t matter. The troubling part is that Moore seems to think that the always-on is fine, and nobody has any issue with it, that the only problem is DRM. Therefore, it comes across as if he hasn’t learned a single thing about this whole debacle and will continue steamrollering ahead without regard to consumer complaints. How  is this going to help the company “do better.”
Why address the complaint when you can play semantics?
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2 – No Room For Origin to Compete with Steam
Origin is EA’s download manager and, as you may have guessed, is in direct competition with Steam. Competition is good, and it should always be encouraged, assuming that the competitors aren’t overloading the market. In the PC gaming market, Steam pretty much stands alone, so this isn’t the case. The way Moore has framed this complaint, you would think that people are attacking Origin because they can’t stand the fact that anyone would stand up against their precious Valve. In Moore’s defence, there is definitely a subset of the internet that believes this. In the end, Origin is simply another distribution network, and it boggles the mind why Moore would even list it as the second major complaint that the company has been receiving. Obviously, the internet must be attacking them unfairly. After all, 45 million registered users…
What Moore did was phrase the concerns about Origin in a way that makes it seem like fans are upset about competition when this is not the primary concern about the program. Origin has received a lot of flak primarily for two reasons. Firstly, is the fact that Origin is known for banning users for extremely minor infractions including disparaging EA on their forums. Secondly, the user agreement for Origin allows EA to collect information on your computer, including information unrelated to the Origin program. These are serious concerns. Information is a major commodity, and for a major company like EA to push such an underhanded policy is disheartening to consumers who should be able to trust that by installing a product, they are not working against their own best interests. The user agreement has been modified and it is decidedly less sinister now, but the information collection aspect still cannot be opted out of. The banning aspect is less troubling, but it is a surefire way of angering fans, and censorship is not something that people respect or should respect very much on the internet. 
With the Sim City complaint, Moore ignored the source of the problem by looking at the superficial word choice, which had no real impact. In this compliant, Moore is using complete misdirection. Nobody is really upset about Origin as a competitor. Some may be a little depressed that they may need two services to get all of the games they want, but nobody is putting a mob together to come lynch EA for it. Throwing out 45 million registered users also doesn’t mean anything, especially since we don’t have any idea of how many users are active. Google + could probably claim a whole cadre of registered users, but that doesn’t mean that the service has taken off. The amount of users is beside the point anyway. It completely ignores that people can be, and often are a user with legitimate complaints. If you told me that 30% of your user base is dissatisfied, it wouldn’t really matter how many users you had. Instead of pumping out their chest with the amount of registered users and deflecting the issues, EA should address the complaints directly, or not at all. 
Steam fans aren’t some mob coming to get poor EA because they dared to compete.
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3 – Micro-transactons are Actually Loved by the Community

Micro-transactions are up there with DRM as a major hot button issue which gamers have very strong opinions about. This practise is when games are sold either in complete or incomplete form and you pay extra money as you play to unlock features, and potentially the game. This practise has been done successfully in games such as League of Legends, and I’ve heard many gamers extoll the virtues of the pay for what you want system from that game alone. However, in most games, the practise is seen as a cash grab, selling gamers incomplete games, or taking advantage of the stupid and impulsive in order to earn just a little more money. Despite the success of League of Legends, gamers aren’t really divided by this issue, and there is a clear majority in people who find the whole practise to be far too corruptible and, in general, unconscionable. 
EA is on the forefront of micro-transactions. They are among the first to be pushing the policy in their biggest games such as the recently released Dead Space 3. They have also stated, despite the controversy, that they will continue this policy. EA has a vested interest in promoting micro-transactions because they’re the ones who are championing them in the marketplace. To do otherwise would be the equivalent of Sony abandoning blu-ray during the early days of the PS3. Because of this, everything EA says about micro-transactions has to be taken with a grain of salt. The most dangerous thing about micro-transactions is that they are really cheap to implement and they can make developers a very large profit. However, this is at the expense of the consumer. 
The problem with Moore’s argument for micro-transactions is that it isn’t an argument at all. Assuming his numbers are correct, which nobody is. Tens of millions people enjoying micro-transactions is an strong minority of gamers. That would be like selling a pie in a dinner to 50 people and declaring the pie a success because 5 people said they liked it, especially since the statement ignores what the rest of the customer base thought of the product. Once again, Moore is completely ignoring the actual complaints. A good company shouldn’t look a a tiny minority of happy customers and say “we’re doing a good job” they should look at the problems of the dissatisfied customers, determine if there is merit to their complaints and try to pursue them as new customers. It is mind boggling in a post titled “We Can Do Better,” that all Moore does is reassure himself about how silly people are being. 
Why put anything in a game at all when you can sell each part piecemeal?
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4 – The Cover Athlete in Madden Doesn’t Matter
EA owns the Madden series, which is the most popular football game series in the world. It is also a yearly release, and, each year, EA chooses a new athlete to be featured on the cover. More recently, EA came up with the rather good idea to let fans vote for who they want to be the cover athlete. This has led to some minor controversy, especially last year with popularity in the polls of convicted dog fighter Michael Vick. There is also a funny little superstition that goes around called the Madden Curse, where players featured on the cover of the popular video game series will have a bad season. 
The controversy that comes from the selection of the football cover athlete is from fans who wanted a different athlete, obviously. There isn’t really a criticism of EA or its policies here, simply fans who are upset that their favourite didn’t make it. The same could be true of any competition. American Idol fans are very protective of their favourites, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that EA gets emails and mail from hardcore fans who want to complain about nothing. This is definitely a criticism that doesn’t hold water, as Moore said. One thing strikes me as odd: does Moore actually think that disgruntled football fans are streaming to the internet to vote against EA because of the cover athlete? Sure, I’m positive that these people exist, but does he really think that there are enough to even begin to influence the results of the poll? Maybe I’m undervaluing the tenacity and thin skin of football fans, but it seems unlikely that this point is relevant at all. 
In my opinion, one of two things is going on with this entry. Either Moore is trying to downplay the actual criticisms against EA by lumping them with this ridiculous entry, or he himself thinks that they are equivalently ridiculous and is simply trying to make that point. Looking at the final entry (More on that later), I’m of the opinion that the former is more likely. It seems to me that he’s trying to make the legitimate concerns of DRM, micro-transactions, and Origin seem foolish by introducing more ridiculous criticisms in the list. What he’s done is he’s started with the strongest arguments against EA, demeaned them with this entry, before moving on to the final entry where he tries to get the reader on his side. While it is fully possible that I’m reading too much into this, this lighthearted entry seems completely out of place considering the rather heavy material dealt with in the previous section, and, if Moore actually does believe this is the cause of EA ranking high on the poll, he’s doing a lot of fan blaming, too much for a post entitled “We Can Do Better.”
And I’m sure millions crashed the internet to attack EA because of this insult.
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5 – We Support the LGBT Community. If You Don’t Then That’s Too Bad. 

EA’s games, notably Bioware’s games, have included gay and lesbian characters. They are actually on the cutting edge of the gay rights movement in video games and they should be celebrated for this. Despite criticisms, Bioware, who is now owned by EA, has refused to budge on their pro-LGBT stance, allowing both gay characters and gay relationships with those characters without making it into a huge issue in-game. Mass Effect 3 for example, included a gay character who talks frequently about his former husband. This is very progressive, especially considering that video games are traditionally seen as the hobby of 14 year old boys, and most developers cater entirely to that crowd. 
Like the last entry, the backlash to this is easy to see. Hardcore fundamentalist groups from around the US, have very strict anti-gay policies and many churches and groups are not beyond pulling major protests against companies who support, in their words, “the gay agenda.” This is actually a fairly good point for Moore to bring up if he writing an article explaining why EA ranked so high instead of one that was supposedly acknowledging their problems. Religous groups can make a difference in polling due to their group orientation, and unlike the last post, this actually could have made a major difference. 
However, I don’t believe for a second that Moore included this as a reason simply to explain away the high ranking. It seems to me that he’s ending his list with a post that’s intended to curry favour with people. Like the last entry, it fits the bill of “arguments that don’t hold water,” which is what he was going for in his list, however, it seems too deliberate, too tangential to simply be a bad argument and not intended for anything else. I and many others fully support EA’s pro-LGBT policies, but I really feel that this particular entry exists to be pure misdirection, to make people focus on EA’s progressiveness, and forget the major concerns that he similarly summarily dismissed without a second thought. Even if these last two entries were made with the best of intentions, they would still undermine the seriousness of the first three entries, and that should have been apparent to anyone creating the list. 
No, I’m not holding the fact that Moore was a villain in South Park against him.
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Now that I’ve cleared that list, let me state unambiguously: EA is not the worst company in America. It doesn’t even rank close to it. My purpose here today wasn’t to point out that EA is a terrible company, but instead to highlight the fact that in a post, which allegedly acknowledges the company’s faults, Peter Moore has instead decided that EA is perfect and that any actual complaints are insane writings of idiot fanatics with too much time on their hands. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your company or promoting your achievements, but sweeping these issues under the rug like the mad ravings of a lunatic is not helping anyone. He states that the company can do better and will do better. How can we expect that when they seem unwilling to accept even the slightest bit of criticism?
All he’s going to achieve is more controversy for EA as people like me spend an inordinate amount of time picking apart his unabashedly unapologetic post. Some companies learn from their mistakes and grow to become even stronger. EA, in the wake of the massive Sim City controversy has decided that they are a tree, firmly planted in the ground and unable to bend to new circumstances. I would not be as proud of this metaphor as Peter Moore is.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer
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