EA: "We don't want to be viewed as the worst company in America"

EA's Andrew Wilson and Patrick Soderlund discuss the need to put the consumer ahead of short-term financials

Like all major companies, Electronic Arts from time to time has come under fire from pundits and consumers. In fact, earlier this year, the publisher won the Consumerist poll for "Worst Company in America" for the second straight year. Whether or not there's any merit to that accusation, rather than simply shrug it off, EA says it's listening and wants to do even better by its consumers.

In a recent interview with Kotaku, newly minted CEO Andrew Wilson and vice president of the Games Label, Patrick Soderlund, talked at length about making consumers more satisfied than they have been with EA in the last few years.

"There are lots of really big public companies that make a lot of money that are loved by their consumers," Wilson acknowledged. "That's because the consumers feel like they get value from that company in the investment in their dollars [and] time."

To that end, Wilson would like his consumers to really feel like they, not EA, are getting the better end of the deal when they purchase any games from the publisher. "Any time we create something, if you're asking for an investment from the consumer in dollars and time, make sure they feel like they're stealing from you and that they are getting the best end of that deal and the rest will follow. And that will be our philosophy," he continued.

"I personally don't think we've ever been the worst company in America, but it says something. The consumers out there are telling us something"

Patrick Soderlund

Interestingly, Soderlund admitted that the Consumerist distinction really did give EA pause. The executives have been thinking about what it means and what the company can do to change perceptions around EA.

"We started thinking about how we don't want to be viewed as the worst company in America. I personally don't think we've ever been the worst company in America, but it says something. The consumers out there are telling us something. And we actually took it very seriously. This was before Andrew was the CEO. We and [EA chief operating officer] Peter Moore and a couple of other guys in the executive company got together to try to understand what caused people to say these things. And there were some things out there that...consumers told us they didn't like. Online pass was one thing."

It may sound easy, but one of the best things EA can do for its reputation is to make amazing game experiences. If consumers love the games, the rest should follow. Wilson noted that for as much as EA has tried to raise its own bar on quality, it's still not enough.

"The demand and expectation on us are higher than they ever have been," Wilson said. "We need a mechanism and a process which we can get to better games more quickly. If we can be faulted for anything, over the years, it's kind of hanging on to ideas or concepts of games too long, driving too hard against them, spending too much to the point that we couldn't invest in other opportunities and ideas. And a big part of what Patrick and [fellow top execs] Frank [Gibeau] and Lucy [Bradshaw] and I committed to is let's drive a culture of innovation inside the company that actually starts a lot more stuff but at the same time kills a bunch more stuff before it gets to market so that we can give ourselves more short-term goals to get to that next innovative product."

While EA is still trying to convince investors that profits are coming, its management ultimately sees the consumer perception and game quality issues as the most important to tackle. If it handles those problems with aplomb, the bottom line will take care of itself.

"...whether it's DLC or something else, as long as we take the approach of being player-[d]riven and not driven by a short-term financial decision, players are telling us that Battlefield Premium is a good thing, because they're buying it, they like it and they look at this and say, 'Wow this is a great value proposition. I get four or five expansion packs and all these things for $50 that I can play over two years' time. That's worth something. Will Electronic Arts make money out of that? Yes, but will the consumers like it and want it? Yes they do. Wholeheartedly. I think that's an approach where if we come at it from a consumer perspective and we do things that they tell us they want and we do that well, business will follow," said Soderlund.

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Latest comments (19)

James Ingrams Writer 8 years ago
Maybe EA have learnt. But I won't hold my breath, because I am not sure they know what is a good game from a bad game nowadays!
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I suspect it would help if they could get someone who actually plays games into their boardroom, at least 1 would be a start, which seems to be something many publishers must lack, given some of the games they've released with a straight face over the years.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
Well... a little too late to care about that, you already are viewed as the worst company in america.
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Show all comments (19)
David Serrano Freelancer 8 years ago
Any time we create something, if you're asking for an investment from the consumer in dollars and time, make sure they feel like they're stealing from you and that they are getting the best end of that deal and the rest will follow.
It's actually not about trying to make consumers feel like they got the better end of a deal.

It's about consistently developing products that are aligned with the actual preferences and motivations of the majority of the consumers in the audience. Instead of with the preferences and motivations of the most vocal or toxic sub-segments of the audience. It's about consistently meeting or surpassing the reasonable expectations the majority of consumers will have when they purchase the product. Instead of attempting to maximize profits by constantly making promises and claims to consumers, and to the media which you never intend to keep or deliver on. And it's about keeping the marketing and advertising truthful and releasing demos whenever possible. Instead of over-hyping and hard selling products to consumers prior to release and forcing them to make purchases sight unseen.

But mostly it's about not pissing on consumers then acting like you did them a favor. And this applies to all game developers and publishers, not only EA.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Serrano on 4th November 2013 8:23pm

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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 8 years ago
@ David

Absolutely agree with your post. Any company that respects the consumer and delivers on promises they make - whilst owning-up to any mis-steps - will have no problem in winning "dollars and time". The issue that EA has is that for every step forward, they take a step back. And every time that happens, the consumer trusts and respects EA a little less; obviously, if you push that to the logical conclusion, you will get consumers who feel that "they're stealing from you" is A Good Thing. But all that promotes is an antagonistic relationship that ultimately doesn't benefit the company - a consumer who only feels it's worth their time "stealing" from you is a consumer who cares not one jot for the company.

Personally, I feel that EA (and a lot of other video game publishers) should look outside of their traditional competitors, towards places like the Humble Bundle/Humble Store, Good Old Games, and even outside of the video-games industry entirely, in an effort to truly learn how to respect consumers. I've long believed that if Dyson, Hotpoint and Indesit (for examples) treated their customers the way video-game publishers did (being deceitful, back-handed and contemptuous), they wouldn't still exist. Ask any Captain of Industry if their product should be released without the consumer fully knowing how it's hamstrung, and you'd be laughed out of town.

/end rant. :)

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 4th November 2013 8:54pm

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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
Vocal minority?

I find it very uncomfortable that we would waste time blaming EA for being the worst company in America. Objectively, there are dozens of companies doing far more damage to either the lives of people or the image of the country, or business in general.

That said, EA's boss expressing a willingness to be adaptive to change is always going to be welcome.
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Bianca Anderson Global Programs Specialist, Talent Acquisition, Electronic Arts8 years ago
On a very random note, the picture used in this article (and in many articles about EA) is really old and out of date. That's a picture of an office in Vancouver that EA hasn't had in years. Perhaps it's time to get an updated photo?
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 8 years ago
I agree with Adam. It's completely ridiculous that EA could ever be named the worst company in America. Maybe you could have called them the worst video game company at one point in time but that time has passed and they're definitely no where close to even being in the top 5 worst companies in this country.

But It's nice that they are taking that feedback in stride, in hopes of changing their image a bit. Dropping online passes was a good move in the right direction. Hopefully they continue down that road.
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Dany Boolauck distributor 8 years ago
Being more pragmatic here: It happened some time ago, don't really remember but Origin was being upgraded and all registered players had to contact support to get access to their games. My son and me did exactly that so that we could play BF3. The support employee requested various infos including the serial number of the our games which we did. To our surprise they said that our serial numbers were not valid. At one point he even said that I was a liar!!! Since then I have stopped buying EA games (my son as well). We play EA games when they are offered to us but buying is out of question. So adding to that the kind decisions they make for a game like Sim City and you create the kind of resentment that bring consumers to hate you to the point refusing to buy anything that has your brand even if its good. EA is disrespectful of its consumers and they are just concerned about their quarterly revenues and profits. Keep that up, hire execs that don't play games and those who understand players will eat you up. Do I need to say that I cannot access all my previously purchased games. I had to create another account to access games (gifts not purchases) I have now.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Dany Boolauck on 5th November 2013 2:17am

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
It is important to look at how the title is awarded:

It's 32 companies single elimination voting. In that regard, the economist handles this the way your average Dragonball fansite does a showdown of manga characters.I dare to even consider doing the same type of voting process. Get some recurring traffic y'know. Maybe be even quoted by Gawker sites. EA is also the only video game company in there, which does not bode well. There might be a Zynga missing in the mix as MIcrosoft is too many things

That doesn't mean I give EA a free pass on all the madness that occurs there in terms of product handling. Which is weird, because if you stroll across their consumer and business booths during gamescom, they are doing more things right than almost everybody else and are still the one company where people are willing to stand in line the longest. if EA was so resented, the booth would look more like the (in)famous Ngage booth.
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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve8 years ago
I think one of the main problems they have is the clumsy handling of IP. Over the years EA have acquired and built up a really strong catalogue of IP that people love and have become really attached to. The ham-fisted approach of shoving much loved franchises into stripped down free-to-play games, forced online and social features for Sim City is almost a deliberate act of alienating everyone that loved that franchise in the pursuit of trying to grab new audiences.

If you alienate the fans of a franchise in order to get new ones, isn't that missing the point of utilising IP? EA should just focus on making great games and giving people what they expect and more. Looking at the latest trends and buzz words and then saying "let's use this IP to break into this sector, there's a whole new audience we can capture!" just annoys a lot of people and wins some new ones. Sure that may be successful short term, but long term how much time has to pass before you've pissed off so many people no-one likes you anymore?
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Joćo Namorado Project Manager, Portugal Telecom8 years ago
@Adam, @Paul, @Klaus:
Reading the article it's pretty clear that neither GI nor EA actually believe that EA is THE worst company in America. But the fact that they got that result in the Consumerist poll is still symptomatic and EA is doing the right thing in paying attention.

Not sure their good intentions are being put to good use though. "Make sure they feel like they're stealing from you" doesn't seem like the best strategy or indication of a good relationship with your customers, just as Morville mentioned. It sounds more like a company desperate to get some attention from consumers. I hope EA get's it right, though.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago

Don't worry, I too don't think EA or GI believe that. I'm hitting out at both the voting system and the mindsets that have led this videogames company to be rated in such a ridiculous way.

(if it helps, IMO)
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Ignacio Garcia8 years ago
Once I bought a game from EA in Amazon, and the game CD was faulty, my CD player couldn't read it, neither my brother's or my flatmate's, so I contacted EA, and they told me that I have to pay them £10 for another disc... W-T-F??!! you got to be kidding me!! I contacted Amazon and they sent me a CD straight away. That was the last EA game I bought.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany8 years ago
I would give my opinion, but I still remember the day they were "forced to let me go" from the studio in Madrid. It was the the day "Need for Speed Sift" was being launched and it was funny hearing that "We are afraid we can't afford to keep your contract ongoing since our budget is on minimum"
Funny thing is... they did have money to rent those Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini that were stationed in front of the door AND to install SKY TV one week after I left the office for the last time.

Ok: They are the worst company in America for two reasons
1- They don't take care of their assets (and with "assets" I mean people with talent) Right now Activision, Nintendo and Ubisoft (6 only in my office) are full of ex-EA trained with EA's money. That is technically money they wasted and a gift for the competitors (EA does a really good training, I can tell you that)
2- Their marketing is just TERRIBLE, I means; who releases "Need for Speed World" the very same day that "Starcraft 2 Wings of Liberty" hits the market? you just don't do that!
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Lewis Brown Snr Sourcer/Recruiter, Electronic Arts8 years ago
Alfonso, As one of EA's "assets" as you put it. I would say I have always been well looked after and having been involved in a studio closure when Bright Light shut its doors they worked really hard to find me a new position which I took and am still here. Sorry it didn't work out for you but your story isn't the only example of how staff are treated.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Lewis Brown on 6th November 2013 2:10pm

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David Serrano Freelancer 8 years ago
@Morville O'Driscoll

I get the impression the game industry believes its biggest problems are unique or unprecedented. In reality, the industry simply hasn't drawn the parallels between its problems and similar problems other industries successfully addressed decades ago.

So developers and publishers should actively work to recruit people from other industries who have the experience and skill sets needed to look at the industry's most pressing problems from a radically different perspective.
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David Serrano Freelancer 8 years ago
@Paul Jace

Keep in mind the Consumerist doesn't provide a list of adjectives or terms to choose from. EA is clearly not the worst i.e., of the poorest quality or the lowest standard; least good or desirable company in America. But EA is without question the company who two years in a row, managed to piss off the largest number of consumers to a degree which compelled them to voice their anger via the poll.

So if given the option, some would have voted EA the greediest, or most arrogant, most complacent, most intentionally deceptive or misleading, most dismissive, most uncaring, most detached, etc... But I think the majority would have voted EA the most risk adverse, consistently disappointing and oblivious to constructive feedback game company in America.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Serrano on 6th November 2013 4:08pm

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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany8 years ago
Well first of all. My apologies if I sounded offensive (Not my intention in any way)

My statement was not about recruiting or HR departments. It was about Marketing and some company policies. My particular case: making only temporary contracts for all of QA and Evaluations department in Madrid as a company policy (what they told us) Means that each two years your veterans are gone and you get newcomers from the street with 0 experience... That is what they do there since, due to the high unemployment rate in Spain, its easier and cheaper for them. That, in my opinion, could even be considered Immoral.

When you need to make cuts, like this case, I understand that a relocation may not work for everyone. What I find unfair is that you get kicked after 2 years, regardless of doing a great job, and only because (again) It's a "company policy"

Just my personal experience of course, still have good memories from EA. Not saying it was terrible ;)
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