in Kulturkampf

Electronic Arts, The Consumerist, and the Myopia of Internet Slacktivism

In place of Political Gunpowder, I’d like to do a brief blog post.

Recently, Electronic Arts was voted the worst company in North America by the readers of The Consumerist. They won this dubious award over Bank of America – that Bank of America, yes – and the list of companies reads like a murderer’s row of “things that piss off white guys who use the Internet a lot,” with Netflix, Google, Apple and Comcast all making a showing.

The Consumerist is blowing a preemptive raspberry at anyone who mocks this:

To those who might sneer at something as “non-essential” as a video game company winning the Worst Company In America vote: It’s that exact kind of attitude that allows people to ignore the complaints as companies like EA to nickel and dime consumers to death.

For years, while movies and music became more affordable and publishers piled on bonus content — or multiple modes of delivery — as added value to entice customers to buy, video games have continued to be priced like premium goods.

There have even been numerous accusations that EA and its ilk deliberately hold back game content with the sole intent of charging a fee for it at a later date. It’s one thing to support a game with new content that is worth the price. It’s another to put out an inferior — and occasionally broken — product with the mindset of “ah, we’ll fix it later and make some money for doing so.”

The Consumerist isn’t really at fault for the way its poll turned out – it’s not their fault that the people voting in it are waterheads – but to respond like this is to miss the point entirely.

No critic of this poll is alleging that EA is pure as the driven snow. Their pricing model takes the 80/20 rule to a hideous extreme, all but demanding that their most dedicated players be the ones to pay the most for the content of their games. Also, EA has a history of riding its employees hard, even harder than is normal for the gaming industry (one reason I never considered making games as a career is because 80 hour work weeks would cause me to explode) – thought this criticism is curiously absent from The Consumerist’s self-congratulatory post linked above. There’s also the regular corporate misery of watching a large company gobble up smaller companies and strip-mine them, something EA has done to Origin Systems (creators of Ultima, possibly the most influential RPG series of all time) and Westwood Studios. It’s my opinion that this hasn’t happened to Bioware yet, but many disagree, and even I have to admit that it’s only a matter of time before Bioware as I knew it is a memory.

But EA’s sins aren’t in the same league as the sins of Bank of America and they aren’t even the same motherfucking sport as the sins of British Petroleum, which killed an entire ecosystem, or of Monsanto which has sued farmers for using their genetically engineered crop formulas after seeds from the crops blew onto their lands. Not only do these two lose out to EA in the eyes of The Consumerist’s readers, they aren’t even on the initial list of nominees. What’s on the list instead? Netflix. Because changing the pricing model of your company in an admittedly hamhanded fashion is totally like naked short-selling, right?

What The Consumerist’s poll has revealed are the limits of activism and polls that are based heavily on the Internet-savvy demographic – typically young, typically white, typically male, most likely straight. If you’re in that demographic, then yes, having to pay ten dollars for an extra squadmate and mission in Mass Effect 3 really does seem like a crime (though having played the game without doing said extra content, charges that Mass Effect 3 is ‘incomplete’ without it are ludicrous.) But that’s white whine. That is the whitest problem on Earth – to quote Patton Oswalt, that’s so white you pronounced the ‘h’ in ‘white.’ It’s nothing compared to the health problems Gulf fishers are going to be having over the next thirty years.

So – and believe me, it burns to say this – I agree 100% with EA’s PR people that this poll is shit from a bull. BP didn’t even make the poll’s list – and that is why we can’t trust a self-selecting group of Internet diehards to change the world’s problems. As this poll has shown, most of the time they’ll barely even know what they are.

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