There's a slight problem with internet polls. And that problem is the internet. I can think of no greater example than in 2009, the year Time's Top 100 Most Influential People list not only saw 4Chan's 'moot' take the top spot, but the top 21 entries be arranged in the order 4Chan wanted them. It was magnificent. (Heck, as long ago as 1998 internet voting saw Time's Person Of The Year go to wrestler Mick Foley, which the magazine then vetoed.) So, while there are clearly serious lessons for the company to learn, yesterday's announcement that EA is the worst company in America, according to readers of the Consumerist, should perhaps be taken with a pinch of incredulity.
Arguably a poll that awards a company the "Golden Poo" is not to be taken overly seriously, but seeing EA voted as the most hated corporation actually deserves some questions. People are angry at the publisher - we get that. I like to assume it's not something as petty as not liking the ending of Mass Effect 3 that drove people's votes, but rather the corp's reputation for over-monetising, day one DLCing, and their awful practice of banning people from accessing their games because of forum infractions. And while those are things RPS certainly takes very seriously, and I would argue has taken EA to task over more seriously than any other gaming site, perhaps they're not quite as serious as illegally foreclosing on soldiers' homes.
The final came down to EA versus Bank Of America, who it had recently been revealed had illegally taken the houses of American service members while they were fighting abroad. And I've a loose memory that it was banks who were somehow connected to the current financiapocalypse. Other money-lending nominees appearing were Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank, SallieMae and Capital One.
Also in the list were Apple, a company constantly criticised for its use of Foxconn factories in China (alongside many other manufacturers, it must be noted), which has seen employee suicides in response to conditions. There were Paypal and Walmart, who competed in the quarter finals of the vote, with winners Walmart eventually taken out by Bank Of America.
But of course what's more significant is who's not listed in the awards at all. When asked about how they felt about the award, a spokesperson for EA told Kotaku,
"We're sure that British Petroleum, AIG, Philip Morris, and Halliburton are all relieved they weren't nominated this year."
See, the thing about the award is it's really about which companies crap on their customers. The Consumerist is a website all about that. The real issue here, if it's not the slightly odd choice of a games publisher over a bank based on recent events, is the name of the award. It's not about who is the "Worst Company In America". It's about which company has most pissed off people who read a watchdog website. If you're arguing for worstest companies, I'd venture that Monsanto, or perhaps Academi (nee Blackwater), or any number of weapons manufacturers might just pip the company that publishes video games for the title.
Of course, the other important point to make is that EA really needs to sit up and take notice of this. It's not the first time they've been so widely loathed, and it's a reputation for a few years there they managed to escape, Activision kindly swooping in to take the honours. But Activision's peculiar quietness combined with EA's stepping up in the dick stakes, has seen that unrivalry swap over once more. EA should be extremely concerned by the animosity felt toward them, and really start addressing where they've gone so wrong. These things can be turned around, but they won't be so long as EA continues with the attitude that was present in the second half of their issued statement:
"We're going to continue making award-winning games and services played by more than 300 million people worldwide."
So, "We're going to carry on exactly as we are," seems to be the implied response, which is perhaps a really damned stupid one in the face of such a clear message from their consumers. Hubris, even in the face of such a hyperbolic 'award', isn't the right direction for any major company, least of all one that has such a direct face-to-face relationship with their customers. EA - it's time to listen.