When it comes to online games, there are bad launches, and then there are bad launches. Electronic Arts and DICE’s Battlefield 4 certainly falls into the latter category, and the launch is being considered so bad – especially on the PC – that some investors believe EA execs knowingly lied about it to inflate their own stock, prompting a lawsuit.
According to documents obtained by Gamasutra, the suit claims that EA knew Battlefield 4 was going to face major issues, but decided to release it anyway. It further claims that EA executives sold their own stock at inflated prices, knowing that the problems surrounding the game would hurt the stock price. One of a handful of examples cited new EA CEO Andrew Wilson selling 40,000 shares of stock in July – three days after an investor call where EA execs touted how great the game was looking – for just over $1 million. According to the suit, Wilson knew about the problems and cashed in while the hype on Battlefield 4 was still high.
The suit specifically names EA, EA exec Peter Moore, EA CEO Andrew Wilson, and EA CFO Blake Jorgensen. It claims they violated the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and knowingly mislead the public about the quality of Battlefield 4 in order to improve sales, and cites several examples of the execs telling investors how pleased they were with the product. The argument then goes that when the game was released it was so buggy that it would have been impossible for them not to have known there were issues, and statements like that were therefore fraudulent.
The issues with Battlefield 4’s online mode have been so bad, especially on the PC, that DICE announced it was stopping work on all of its other projects to focus on fixing the issues. Several patches later stability has improved somewhat, but not enough to calm some investors who see the problems potentially affecting EA’s entire financial outlook heading in to 2014.
The suit is being brought by securities law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP from an investor named Ryan Kelly, but it is also on behalf of “anyone else who purchased EA stock between July 24 and December 4 of this year.” They are seeking damages and interest for losses sustained as a result of the alleged wrongdoing. Unsurprisingly, EA is prepared to fight the suit, and has called the claims “meritless.”
Even if EA execs did know Battlefield 4 had problems, it will be hard to prove that they felt they were misleading people. It’s difficult to judge how an online game will handle until it goes through the ringer with real players, and problems with online launches are becoming more and more frequent and therefore, unfortunately, more forgivable – especially if they are fixed in a relatively short time frame. Wilson and the EA execs may have known exactly how buggy the game was looking in the pre-launch stage, and simply assumed that the problems would be fixed, if not at launch then shortly after through patches. And then there is the idea that the stock was deliberately inflated just to sell it off.
When Wilson sold his shares, the NASDAQ stock was listed at $25.50 per share. As of this writing, it is a little lower – $23.65 – but if Wilson truly wanted to sell before Battlefield 4’s woes brought the price down, he should have waited until September when the price hit $27.99. Or better still, he could have fooled everyone and waited until after the release of Battlefield 4 on October 29 and sold it on November 13, when the stock hit $26.42. Last week on December 12, the stock did fall to $20.97, the lowest it has been since May 7, but it has since rebounded.