There are plenty of words that describe video game publisher Electronic Arts. Large, savvy, changing. “Beloved,” however, is not one of them. In the past year alone, EA has had to battle an ever rising tide of discontent in its audience. From the mass outrage over Mass Effect 3’s ending to its increasing reliance on microtransactions to maintain profitability, EA has done more to incense people on the internet in a year than most other companies do in a lifetime. That’s why, once again, EA is up for the dubious honor of 2013 Worst Company in America.
As it’s done for years now, Consumerist is holding an open competition between thirty-two American companies to find out who people think is that absolute worst of the worst. The majority of competitors are banks, credit companies, retailers, airlines, and telecoms, but among them are technologists like Microsoft. EA is the lone representative of the video game industry though, fighting for the title against the likes of SallieMae, Verizon, and Walmart.
Up against heavy hitters like that, companies that are constantly under fire for fleecing customers and employees alike, EA doesn’t seem like a contender for the crown, but it’s actually a favorite going into the tournament. It is, after all, the returning champion – EA was named Worst Company in America in 2012.
That victory says more about how effective web communities are at rallying around events like the Consumerist’s poll. Around 250,000 people voted for EA to receive the award last year, and the collective thirty-two companies in the competition actually affect the lives of tens, if not hundreds of millions of Americans.
This isn’t to say that Electronic Arts isn’t deserving of jeers for its business practices. This month’s disastrous SimCity release proved Electronic Arts to be wholly unconcerned with customer service or the interests of its audience. The company invested heavily in redefining its identity since John Riccitiello became CEO in 2007, pouring money into creative projects like Mirror’s Edge. But After years of financial declines, EA has become a factory for creatively compromised games like Dead Space 3 and Real Racing 3, desperately trying to make products that appeal to the largest audience possible while generating the largest amount of revenue possible from all corners.
Those failings don’t make it the worst company in the country, though. In fact, in the past decade Electronic Arts has completely transformed itself as an employer, going from an environment that ruthlessly exploited employees to one celebrated for their work on behalf of underserved communities. The Human Right Campaign named EA one of 2012’s best places to work thanks to its efforts on behalf of LGBT employees. Compared to union busters like Walmart and greed-ridden institutions like Bank of America, there’s no contest.