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EA named ‘Worst Company in America’ even as it makes peace with its audience

Electronic Arts has had a weird week. It extended multiple olive branches to its audience, both to embittered fans still raging about the ending of Mass Effect 3 and to gay players suffering from underrepresentation in video games. It was also named the worst company in America by approximately 250,000 people.

First, accolades for EA. Speaking with GamesIndustry International, the company defended the inclusion of same sex relationships in Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3. The publisher has received “several thousand” letters and emails from people complaining about same-sex content. Its response? If you don’t like it, too bad. “Every one of the EA’s games includes ESRB content descriptions so it’s hard to believe anyone is surprised by the content,” said EA vice president of corporate communications Jeff Brown. “This isn’t about protecting children, it’s about political harassment.” No same-sex content will be censored in EA’s games.

On the very same day that EA defended diversity in its games, it was named the “winner” in Consumerist’s Worst Company in America tournament. A quarter of a million readers voted for the game publisher primarily for its price gouging and corporate imperialism that’s seen it gobble up independent studios like Mass Effect creators BioWare. That game in particular demonstrates just how complicated EA’s relationship with consumers has gotten.

As covered previously here at Digital Trends, fans loathed the ending of Mass Effect 3 so much that EA promised it would make new endings for the game. EA announced preliminary details for that additional ending content, named Mass Effect: Extended Cut on Thursday morning. Not only will it work to satisfy fans disappointed by the content in the retail version of the game, it’s making that content free to download until 2014.

What at first seems like a gesture of good will may just be canny public relations maneuvering though.

It’s still unclear just how “new” this additional content will be. Commander Shepard voice actress Jennifer Hale said in an interview with Edge on Wednesday that she has not been contacted by EA or BioWare to record any new dialogue for Mass Effect. If Shepard herself won’t have new content prepared for the Extended Cut, that suggests that BioWare has had this new ending content planned for the game all along.

Mass Effect executive producer Casey Hudson’s comments in the press release announcing the Extended Cut reinforce this. By saying that BioWare has re-prioritized its “post-launch development,” he’s really saying that EA and BioWare have simply shuffled their schedule for DLC, not decided to backpedal and create wholly new content for the game that addresses fan concerns.

If it turns out that EA has simply decided to make already-planned downloadable content free to mollify noisy, angry fans, that fact will be even more disturbing than if EA had simply shipped a game with a shoddily written ending. It will mean that EA and BioWare had planned all along to provide an ending vague enough to lure players into spending more on a story they’ve already paid for.

It’s choices like this that get you named the Worst Company in America, Electronic Arts. That title seems overly harsh though, especially considering your good words on behalf of the LGBT community. How about the title “Company Staffed by Somewhat Decent Human Beings That Makes Unsavory Business Decisions to Satisfy Angry Shareholders Still Upset That EA Isn’t Returning Profits Like They Were in 2007?”

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