In recent years, few companies could claim to be as hated as Electronic Arts, a video game developing and publishing company headquartered in Redwood City, California. EA held the “prestigious” award of Consumerist’s Worst Company in America for two consecutive years in 2012 and 2013.
It hasn’t had the misfortune of being dubbed with such a title since then, and it’s been turning decent profits, but the company is still not in the best position.
Over the years, EA’s name has been tied to some of the most controversial titles in gaming. The company’s Star Wars Battlefront was seen as one of the most shallow experiences on the market. Its sequel, Star Wars Battlefront II, was heavily criticized and boycotted for its extremely slow progression system and reliance on microtransactions, a trend in gaming in which developers require players to pay real money to unlock certain elements of games.
Microtransactions and monetization
Many games today rely on these small in-game purchases to help fund further development during a game’s life cycle. While critics are completely against the use of microtransactions in full price video games, many people find them palatable as long as they only unlock cosmetic items. Battlefront II decided to allow players to spend real money on microtransactions that could give you an advantage in-game.
Players also found out that it took 40 hours to unlock a single character in the game. This extremely slow progression was added into the game to encourage players to spend real money to unlock the characters faster.
Issues like these are extremely prevalent in many of EA’s recently released games, and they’ve pushed consumers to boycott EA titles.
Just like EA, video game publisher and developer Activision Blizzard is widely despised by consumers. It has been making plenty of profit over the years, but recently things have been shaky for the gaming giant.
One of the company’s most popular titles, Call of Duty, has seen a huge amount of backlash from fans due to its monetization scheme.
Call of Duty Black Ops 4 is a full price game containing purchasable items, loot boxes that give you a random item in-game, a $50 item known as a DLC season pass that gives the player extra content, and a Fortnite-style battle pass with purchasable tiers that lets players move up tiers to unlock new items as they play the game.
Not only does the game itself cost big money, but there’s a huge amount of content locked off to you unless you pay even more.
If you think that sounds like a lot for your wallet to keep track of, you aren’t alone. Fans have been extremely upset about these systems for months, and many have given up on the Call of Duty series entirely because of the way the monetization was handled in Black Ops 4.
Industry response to consumer backlash
The backlash from fans resulted in a dramatic response from the gaming industry. During the early months of 2019, tech outlet Polygon reported that both Activision Blizzard and EA both saw massive layoffs. In February, Activision Blizzard laid off more than 800 workers, and in March EA laid off 350 employees.
Game developer Telltale Games shut down unexpectedly and laid off all of its workforce except for around 25 employees. None of the workers were notified ahead of time, and the company didn’t provide severance to any of its workers.
We aren’t used to seeing these kinds of huge layoffs in the gaming world, and it’s pretty shocking to see some of the biggest names in gaming being behind the layoffs.
Many see this as another example of the huge companies’ bad intentions, but what people seem to be missing is that these layoffs are the result of the strength of consumer voice.
It may not sound like something that’s good for gaming as a whole. After all, more than 1,000 people lost their jobs, but because of the boycotting and lack of purchases from consumers, these companies are forced to react.
While both EA and Activision Blizzard are cutting back areas of the company that don’t affect game development, it’s important to understand that these layoffs are a direct result of the huge impact consumers have been able to make on the gaming market.
Players are angry that their $60 won’t buy them a full game anymore. Instead it ends up buying them an unfinished product that they’ll have to finish by purchasing “optional” downloadable content, or DLC as it’s known to gamers.
Unionization as a solution
But these layoffs must be viewed in the context of unionization. In recent times, we’ve seen a huge push for game developer unionization. Workers in the game industry are not only directly in the line of fire from consumers when companies make horribly greedy decisions with their video game monetization methods, but they also often see horrible work conditions.
A prime example in the gaming industry is a phrase known as “crunch time.” Workers can sometimes work 100 hours per week towards the last few months of a game’s development.
During the development of Red Dead Redemption 2, co-founder of Rockstar Dan Houser said the team was working 100-hour weeks, Ars Technica reported.
While unionization most likely would not have stopped the EA and Activision Blizzard layoffs, it could have helped others in the industry that faced layoffs.
It’s sad to think that speaking out against large companies such as EA and Activision Blizzard can result in more than 1,000 people being laid off. A real victory for the industry would be finding a way for employees to be safe in their positions and have the ability to have a better work environment.
Edited by Abby Bower