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Electronic Arts and the Battlefield V Controversy

The video game industry has truly proven itself to be a juggernaut deserving of respect. In just a few decades, it has gone from being another “children’s plaything” to becoming a multi-billion-dollar industry that surpasses the music and movie industries combined. Video games are also slowly encroaching on the professional sports industry, with the growing popularity of electronic sports (Esports). Video games are also beginning to be described as an art form, due to some video games in the past few years having been created as a medium of expression rather than just a product for entertainment. However, just like any other business-to-consumer industry, there is no shortage of controversy and scandals when it comes to video games.

Electronic Arts (EA) is a colossal publisher in the video game industry. The company began in 1982 as a software development company before transitioning into video game development and publishing in the 1990s. Since then, the company has grown to become the second largest video games publishing company in the world today, with dozens of development studios and intellectual properties (IP) under its belt. The company has garnered a poor reputation among it’s consumers however. Despite developing and publishing decent, and occasionally very good video games, the decisions the company has made over the past few years have drawn the ire of both consumers and pundits alike.

Despite being successful enough to grow into one of the largest video game companies on the planet, as of 2018, EA’s current brand image is so far broken that some would argue that it is unsalvageable. Just last year, EA received huge backlash from consumers over the inclusion of “lootboxes” in its premiere video game “EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II”, which introduced gambling mechanics into a game rated Teen by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). This essentially meant that EA were granting underage children access to an online casino. Additionally, these lootboxes were tied to player progression in the game, resulting in players who spent more money on the game being granted far greater advantages than those that did not. Unsurprisingly, consumers were outraged, especially since the game was using a beloved license such as Star Wars.

However, not wanting to be outdone by themselves this year, EA decided to try something new to stir the hornet’s nest in 2018. Having learnt from their mistakes somewhat in 2017, EA’s new flagship game for 2018 was announced to be Battlefield V, the fifth numbered entry in the long running Battlefield series. Battlefield V would revisit the theatres of World War II for the first time in over a decade. Fans were very excited of this return to form. However, controversy began to develop after EA released the first trailer for the game.

The trailer featured scenes that were not only far from historically accurate but were outright fantastical in some situations. Some of the more gratuitous breaches of historical accuracy were British troops running about the fields of Europe with Japanese Katana’s strapped to their backs and a woman with a prosthetic arm fighting-off German soldiers on the frontlines.

Online forums exploded with backlash for the company as consumers and fans of the series rush to let their displeasure be known at the apparent disrespect the company was showing for history and setting. While some remained optimistic, opening up petitions in hopes of changing the direction of the video game, others took a more direct approach by cancelling preorders for the game, resulting in a large drop in EA stock prices earlier this year.

If one thought that public relations for EA and DICE, the developers of the game who are owned by EA, could not get any worse; in May of this year, DICE design director, Alan Kertz, decided to retaliate against the backlash publicly by replying to angry fans on a public online forum. “I knew this was going to be a fight when I pushed for female soldiers in Battlefield. I have a daughter, and I don’t want to ever have to answer her question of ‘why can’t I make a character that looks like me’ with ‘because you’re a girl.’”, said Kertz. “I fundamentally feel to my core, this is the right way and I will find myself on the right side of history.”

This opinion was highly unpopular, with many users accusing Kertz of compromising historical integrity to satisfy his own ego. Things got even worse as a month later, Electronic Arts’ chief creative officer, Patrick Soderlund, was interviewed to defend the decision to portray women inaccurately within the game. Rather than defend the game, one could argue that he instead attacked the consumers. Soderlund outright called critics and fans of the game “uneducated” for not accepting DICE’s depiction of women in World War II, and that consumers should not buy the game if they don’t like what they do.

“And we don’t take any flak. We stand up for the cause, because I think those people who don’t understand it, well, you have two choices: either accept it or don’t buy the game. I’m fine with either or. It’s just not ok.”, said Soderlund.

Soderlund’s self-rightieous attitude garnered even more anger from the internet for the perceived attack, with many of the “uneducated” commenters pointing out that women played an active role in World War II, but not on the frontlines as portrayed by Battlefield V. These comments by senior members of Battlefield V’s development team were undoubtedly contributing factors towards the massive drop in preorders that occurred later in the year.

Currently, the outrage for Battlefield V has simmered down. Despite the massive backlash, Battlefield is still one of the most beloved video game series in the gaming world; and the game itself is of above average quality despite the aesthetic choices of the developers. As a result, it may yet sell well enough to at least break-even.

EA as a brand though might never fully recover. There is so little consumer faith left in the name and even mentioning the letters “EA” is enough to send most gamers and pundits into aching migraines.

While you might dismiss EA’s dilemma as simple internet outrage by gamers, we have to understand that EA is still a large corporate business that caters to it’s consumer’s needs just like any other business-to-consumer company. The lessons that we can learn from such a poor handling of public relations is invaluable.


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