Investor sues EA over Battlefield 4 bugs
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."