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Investor sues EA over Battlefield 4 bugs

Investor sues EA over Battlefield 4 bugs

Wed 18 Dec 2013 4:54pm GMT / 11:54am EST / 8:54am PST
Legal

Class-action suit accuses publisher, execs of lying about shooter's development to inflate stock price

An investor has filed a class-action suit against Electronic Arts in the Northern District of California, accusing the publisher of violating federal securities laws by making "materially false and misleading statements" about the development of its troubled shooter Battlefield 4 in advance of the game's launch. The suit alleges that EA and a handful of its senior executives knew the game was riddled with bugs and would fail to meet sales targets, but lied to keep company stock artificially high while they sold millions of dollars worth of shares.

The suit was filed on behalf of anyone who purchased EA common stock between July 24 (the day after the company's first quarter fiscal results were announced), and December 4, when the company announced that it was halting development on all other DICE projects to divert those resources to fixing Battlefield 4. It names Electronic Arts as a defendant, along with CEO Andrew Wilson, CFO Blake Jorgenson, EA Labels president Frank Gibeau, EA Games executive vice president Patrick Soderlund, and EA president and COO Peter Moore. With the exception of Jorgenson, all of those individuals sold at least $1 million of EA shares during the period in question, Gibeau was said to benefit the most from the transactions, making $5.69 million from stock sales on October 31, two days after Battlefield 4 launched on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

As for specific false statements, the suit mentions a number of comments on investor conference calls, such as Moore saying EA "couldn't be happier with the quality of the games [its] teams [were] producing or the early reception those games [were] getting from critics and consumers," and pointing to the number of E3 critics' awards the publisher's lineup won. It also pointed to an October 29 statement from Wilson, who said on an investor call that with Battlefield 4, Soderlund and his team did "a spectacular job to deliver a game that not only represents the pinnacle of this console generation but one that is also a defining title for the next-gen consoles launching in November."

The suit alleges that the entire time, Wilson and the rest of the executives knew or recklessly disregarded that Battlefield 4 was riddled with bugs that would prevent a successful rollout and force EA to miss projections and place other projects on hold to fix the shooter. And despite knowing that, EA told players in a customer service post in the wake of the PS4 launch that the problems they were experiencing were not EA's fault, but problems with Sony's firmware update. EA pulled that post within hours, and days later would announce its plan to halt work on other DICE projects in order to bring Battlefield 4 up to par.

[UPDATE]: An EA representative has provided the following statement to GamesIndustry International: "We believe these claims are meritless. We intend to aggressively defend ourselves, and we're confident the court will dismiss the complaint in due course."

24 Comments

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,530 1,330 0.9
Whilst I doubt the class-action suit will be successful, I'd die a happy man if it were. Statements like
"couldn't be happier with the quality of the games [its] teams [were] producing"
and
"a spectacular job to deliver a game that not only represents the pinnacle of this console generation but one that is also a defining title for the next-gen consoles launching in November."
are ten-a-penny (from every company, not just EA); are given not just for the benefit of share-holders, but also to hype consumers up; and on many occasions are gross exaggerations. It would be very satisfying - and helpful for both the industry and consumers - to have the PR that company's push be toned down to realistic (and believable) levels.

Posted:8 months ago

#1

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,266 2,400 1.1
At what point is the line drawn from willful sale of a falsely marketed product due to bugs and the simple nature that any software with nearly a million lines of code is simply going to have bugs in it?

I'm not saying EA wasn't aware of the bugs or that they didn't try to cash in on the hype the game generated prior to launch but I don't think any of them had their hands directly on the game code to know the differences in their PR and the bugs.

If this goes through, we open a slippery slope of suing for bugs in just about any software....without the underlying financial aspect being present.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jim Webb on 18th December 2013 8:27pm

Posted:8 months ago

#2

Nicholas Pantazis
Senior Editor

1,019 1,467 1.4
@ Jim I'm sorry but no. BF4 is broken beyond a "well we couldn't have known before launch" level. Far beyond. This is a game that was clearly 3-4 months from completion, but pushed out to fight for launch system and Call of Duty dollars. This lawsuit probably won't be successful, but EA still knowingly released an incomplete product to the detriment of their consumers, shareholders, and certainly their corporate image. No one will ever trust DICE the same after this.

Posted:8 months ago

#3

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,530 1,330 0.9
At what point is the line drawn from willful sale of a falsely marketed product due to bugs and the simple nature that any software with nearly a million lines of code is simply going to have bugs in it?
True. I suppose I would rephrase your question as:

At what point should a publisher know (and can therefore give) an accurate report on the state of a title?

Taking BF4 in this example, I've read of bugs that are completely game-breaking, such as randomly disconnecting and losing all progress. Or the one-shot-kill bugs. Or the sloppy net-code. Or everything I've read that says "64 player servers are unplayable, but less than that are okay". All of these bugs would've been known by the QA and dev teams, and EA should've had those reports on file. They surely read those reports, and pressed ahead with the release, hoping to fix them before they were too widely known. It happens often in the gaming industry, but it surely shouldn't.

Consumer software is sometimes released in an atrocious form, and with refunds being so hard to get, firms should be far more ready-and-willing to either be honest, or move back the release date. Certainly both options are somewhat financially detrimental, but so what? Can't afford to not release broken software? Well, then your cash-flow and financial stability are a mite precarious, I would say.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 18th December 2013 8:46pm

Posted:8 months ago

#4

Armando Marini
Game Industry and Digital Business Consulting

2 0 0.0
I'm not so sure that this will be dismissed quickly. This isn't a gamer who's upset, it's a shareholder. Although that is still a broad definition, they tend to be more savvy that an upset player. I would say the progress of this suit is going to be dictated by the amount of money the investor lost.

Posted:8 months ago

#5

Christian Keichel
Journalist

671 918 1.4
At what point is the line drawn from willful sale of a falsely marketed product due to bugs and the simple nature that any software with nearly a million lines of code is simply going to have bugs in it?
I think the line was drawn when EA said they are holding all development on expansions in order to get the game running. At this point a damage was done, that could be put into a calculation and that could be expressed in a certain ammount of missing revenues from these expansions.

Posted:8 months ago

#6

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,174 1,122 0.5
Armando... The thing is, there are PLENTY of tech savvy BF players who are upset and deserve to be because they're the ones who actually paid for the game and play (or try to play it). Investors who don't give a rat's ass about that (or any) game and care more about profiting off a stock and suing their way to their satisfaction might be shocked if there's a judge out there that asks them if anyone who invested in Ea or whatever has actually seen the product in question or played it before jumping on that class action bandwagon.

On the other hand, hearing about and seeing some of those rather nasty bugs has been pretty amazing to me that the game shipped out like that, so they may get some sort of victory if that judge or another one decides that yes, the game should have been sent out the door in a less bug-filled form. Eh, whatever. Let's see where this goes and then comment more, I say...

Posted:8 months ago

#7

Andreia Quinta
Creative & People Photographer

215 548 2.5
I didn't really want to beat on the dead horse any longer but the tendency to release first, fix later is becoming more and more common, and coming from this particular bunch, who's surprised? At this juncture I just think EA is living up to its name to keep their outstanding reputation.

It would be a lot more of an interesting (and matured) industry if big publishers had to be careful with their steps because of people with funds to backup a lawsuit for this and more, then as it is now when they know they can get away with murder just because they deal with 20k per year/disinterested parents + teenagers who are no financial or PR threat whatsoever.

I just wander if Moore actually played the damn thing to claim such thing as truth. Were these bug reports omitted? Was he just told it was fine by his minions because it's not his job to check himself? It's no wonder they won the poo award twice, it's a Public Relations nightmare, small surprise the actual public perceives them as the worst of the lot, they keep transmitting the same public image year by year.

Go home EA, you're drunk.

Posted:8 months ago

#8

Benedict Ng-Wai
Studying Game Developer

4 1 0.3

Posted:8 months ago

#9

Christian Slater
DevilBliss Games Consultancy

25 45 1.8
Gosh - it would seem "broken" and "unplayable" games can actually be masses of awe-inspiring fun then - who knew!

Posted:8 months ago

#10

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

805 633 0.8
At what point should a publisher know (and can therefore give) an accurate report on the state of a title?

At the point the game goes to QA for testing of each new version, that is the reason our department exist.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alfonso Sexto on 19th December 2013 2:02pm

Posted:8 months ago

#11
I think most games ship with minor bugs invariably, whereas the big mega bugs are hopefully eliminated.
Hope DICE have a good QA team :)

Posted:8 months ago

#12

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
Honestly my expirience with BF4 on PS4 was such that it rendered the game unplayable when I got it. I put it down after a week out of shere agrivation and frustration. Ill probably pick it up now hoping its playable with all the recent fixes. But this thing of releasing the game with bugs, to get peoples money to then fix it later is a practice that should not be allowed in the game industry period.

Most games may have bugs and I get that, especially big games like an open world RPG, where its hard to find bugs before shipping. However the thing with Battle field is these bugs were too big, renders the game unplayable. They could be found relatively early in the game.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 19th December 2013 7:39pm

Posted:8 months ago

#13

Armando Marini
Game Industry and Digital Business Consulting

2 0 0.0
@ Greg....Sure, but tech savvy and having the wealth to fund a lawsuit are very different things. Yes, all players who bought a buggy game deserve justice. Unfortunately, justice doesn't only have a price, it also has a monthly fee.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Armando Marini on 19th December 2013 5:09pm

Posted:8 months ago

#14
Hmm, I've been playing battlefield 4 for the past 2 weeks non stop. mainly in the evening and weekends though. no problems. initially, 1-2 disconnects. Just how do the top players get 28-40 kills!!!

Posted:8 months ago

#15

David Serrano
Freelancer

299 270 0.9
This is why investors should have demanded EA hire an outsider to replace John Riccitiello. Because the corporate culture at EA seems to be the company is entitled to start earning a return on their investments on the scheduled date, period. Push back a release date? F**k that, according to our watch its time for consumers to show us the money!

Someone from the outside would have known knowingly releasing an unfinished or defective product to market would violate his or her fiduciary duty to always act in the best interests of the company and investors.

Posted:8 months ago

#16

David Canela
Game Designer

49 91 1.9
I had my share of frustration with bf4 on pc, but still love the heck out of that game. China rising updates fixed the worst issues (crashes) for me. My impression is that apart from very justified complaints, there's also a lot of internet echo chamber noise happening.

It's evident why they released when they did and it's understandable, much as I dislike the result. Maybe they should have delayed some platforms at least, instead of releasing on 5 of them simultaneously!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Canela on 19th December 2013 7:32pm

Posted:8 months ago

#17

Aleksi Ranta
Product Manager - Hardware

273 127 0.5
Small bugs (a random crash here and there for example) are acceptable to all and have no effect on the value of the brand and therefore the value of the stock.
Big bugs (rendering the game unplayable for extended periods) are unacceptable and have a negative effect on the brand and negative effect on the stock.

If the signs given to investors about the state of the game is the same as to consumers, ie marketing hype, i think there is a clear case for misleading investors and a negative long term effect on the stock. We all know some companies push forward the release date add more "polish". That wasnt done in this case which would ofcourse lead everyone to assume that no major bugs existed.

With regards to Jim's comment "If this goes through, we open a slippery slope of suing for bugs in just about any software...
while you are correct in what you say, there is in my mind certain cases where consumers and investors are being willfully being kept in the dark about the quality of the release.

Posted:8 months ago

#18

Urs Schaub
3D modeller

13 5 0.4
I play Bf4 with my Friends since release maybe 13 houres per week....yes it had bugs and still has bugs...but aside from a disc. and maybe 5 crashes no problems...hmm my last crash was 3 weeks ago....the irony i play with amd gfx card.:-)
But yes bf4 on consoles is worse...at least from what i heard.
Still funny cod ghost was not much better but the shafted player were on pc...so a minority .
if someone would have the right for a class action suit then it would be the players and not the pile of garbage who thought of a easy cash bag with bf4.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Urs Schaub on 23rd December 2013 10:36am

Posted:8 months ago

#19

George Albanis
Artist

2 1 0.5
EA has a history of this dating back to the 90's with Ultima and Origin systems. It doesn't surprise me...anyone who dabbles with EA stock must be a gambler.

The players are the one's who suffer for this. They are the one's who spend the money on the games.

In my opinion EA's management is the worst thing that can happen to any existing franchise. Sometimes I feel bad for the development team, but they are locked into their owners. They do what they are told.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by George Albanis on 23rd December 2013 4:15pm

Posted:8 months ago

#20

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