Worst company in America: Will it be EA, the video gamemaker, again?

Worst company in America: Why is Electronic Arts in the Final Four for "worst company in America?"

(AP Photo/Electronic Arts)
A scene from "Battlefield 4,' a video game published by Electronic Arts. The video game company is a finalist for 'Worst Company in America,' an annual online poll by the Consumerist blog.

Worst company in America?

This is not a list you want to be on once, let alone twice.

But the annual Consumerist poll shows that Electronic Arts, the giant video game company, is now vying with Bank of America, Ticketmaster, and Comcast to be the 2013 Worst Company in America.

EA was also the 2012 "winner" of the Consumerist poll. The company publishes dozens of video game titles, including "Madden NFL," "Sim City," and "Star Wars: The Old Republic." EA made more than $4 billion in revenue in 2012.

The annual March poll of readers produces a bracket race that mirrors the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament. The poll is a two-choice vote with one question: "Which Company Is Worse?"

The Consumerist "Final Four" contenders are as follows:

Bank of America (64%) vs. Walmart (36%)
 Ticketmaster (55%) vs. Carnival (45%)
 Comcast (67%) vs. Time Warner Cable (33%)
 EA (84%) vs. AT&T (16%)

What's the beef that consumers have with EA?

We don't know for sure from the polling data, but the Consumerist offered these reasons when EA finished "first" in last year's poll:

"EA, meanwhile, has made a habit of sniffing out some of the best smaller video game companies, which are then acquired for their intellectual properties or to remove a competitor from the marketplace. Mass consolidation in any industry rarely works out to the benefit of the consumer, but the gaming business is one that regulators, the courts and the mainstream media have by and large ignored....

EA is among the industry leaders in pushing for more and more “microtransactions” in users’ gaming experience. For its major titles it seems to be creating exclusive and add-on content, not with the game in mind, but with the sole intention of milking consumers who may not realize how quickly those small purchases add up.

And unlike the fee-happy discount airlines that use the “everything is a la carte” model to keep base prices low, a new EA game will run you $60 for the most basic version available, making it easily the most expensive form of home entertainment."

But this year, EA Chief Operating Officer Peter Moore fired back, noting that "This is the same poll that last year judged us as worse than companies responsible for the biggest oil spill in history, the mortgage crisis, and bank bailouts that cost millions of taxpayer dollars."

Moore goes on to say:

"I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve made plenty of mistakes. These include server shut downs too early, games that didn’t meet expectations, missteps on new pricing models and most recently, severely fumbling the launch of SimCity.  We owe gamers better performance than this...."

We are committed to fixing our mistakes.  Over the last three weeks, 900,000 SimCity players took us up on a free game offer for their troubles.  We owed them that.  We’re constantly listening to feedback from our players, through our Customer Experience group, Twitter, this blog, or other sites.  The feedback is vital, and impacts the decisions we make."

Moore also suspects that this year's poll is skewed by conservative groups that don't like the inclusion of homosexual characters in games.
"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."

Consumerist blogger Chris Moran responds that this is a scurrilous claim.

"EA received hundreds of nominations from Consumerist readers this year, by far the most of any contender in the bracket, but not a single one mentioned anything about sexual orientation. Consumerist does not condone homophobia or hate speech of any kind, and our readers understand the Worst Company contest and nominate businesses based on their merits."

The Consumerist blog was started by Gawker and sold to Consumers Union, the publishers of Consumer Reports, in December 2008.

Previous "winners" of the Worst Company in America poll include: Comcast, AIG, Halliburton, and BP.

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