If it's crap ... We'll tell you
It appears that the game developers at EA can't take criticism of any sort, be it a rage-filled spewing of hateful words or a civilized and constructive short story examination of their product.
Last Thursday (September 22, 2011), EA released a demo for their upcoming Sims 3 Pet expansion. Anxious users downloaded the software from EA's Origins store, their digital distribution program. Upon launching the game, the demo would screw up any saved data associated with their main Sims 3 game, resulting in a failure to launch the base game, having their saved games deleted, and/or having their DLC uninstalled. Players who discovered this quickly issued warnings to the public and expressed their fright and frustration.
EA's response? None. The Sims 3 forum mods started moving these threads out of the Technical Discussion area, the part of the forum dedicated to software issues like the one stated, and into their Pets forums. Possibly because of the subject matter and not because it was a technical problem being reported. When push came to shove, the moderators finally said to install the demo on another computer that doesn't have The Sims 3 installed on it. This didn't help, as the majority of the users that play the game don't own second computers, and the painful process of reinstalling their game began.
Over the course of that time, many began to criticize EA for the mess. Some were constructive; some not. Most were banned, including myself.
Upon appealing the banning, I discovered that it wasn't a forum moderator that issued the banning, but one of the programmers that works on The Sims 3 Pets. Here's a copy of my transcript a Exhibit A:
Me: So let me see if I'm understanding this correctly. You're saying that I can go on the forums all I want and say that the EA programmers don't know what they are doing, lazy, don't bug test their products, etc. and not get banned for those comments. But saying "They're all a bunch of idiots anyays..." is a bannable offence?
Me: Can you please explain what Rule of Conduct in the Terms of Service that falls under?
Smarika (EA Customer Service Rep): Friend this is the decision of game developers that they don't want even these sentences on forums so you are banned/
Me: So they will allow comments about how players feel how poorly a game has been developed, sometimes using some harsh language, and not get banned for it. Meanwhile a statement I made in a similar context is okay to ban?
Smarika: I apologize but you are not allowed to post on forums like this for developers.
Me: People have been posting like that since the other day when the Create-a-Pets demo was released, calling the developers lazy, among other things. Yet they were not banned. I still don't understand why my comment was flagged as a Terms of Service violation if that kind of conduct was happening and not being policed a few days ago when it was at its peak.
Smarika: Even they are banned also.
Me: So what you are saying is that I'm not allowed to criticize the developers. Is that correct?
Smarika: That developers wan.
Me: But if I criticize the developers, there's a chance I'll get banned because they don't want to see those comments on the forums. Correct?
Smarika: That's their decision to take action
This may seem like some troll whining about why they can't continue to post on a forum, but it's not. Yes, I called the developers idiots because that's how they've been coming across. There's a bug in the game that is about to turn two years old that EA has yet to address. There are countless other issues with every expansion pack for the Sims 3 that go unfixed, a tradition held over from The Sims 2 from what I've been able to gather. Then there's their recent release of faulty DLC that may or may not work depending on what else you have installed in your game's folder. During this time, there have been no acknowledgement from anyone representing the programmers that they are aware and fixing the issues. Their web team will often move topics about bugs out of the Technical Discussion area, a place that one programmer said on their Twitter account was the appropriate place to post all bugs, and then move them to the places where nobody really sees them. Several users, including myself, have opening accused them of possibly using their consumers as Free Labor Beta Testers, with the modding community being the equivalent to Free Labor Developers. Most of these modders have developed fixes for these outstanding issues faster than EA ever has. One modder became famous when he discovered that the Pets Demo actually can be cracked to give users the a portion of the Pets Expansion for FREE! For a company as big as EA, this is very idiotic of them. They should know better, and they do. And I got banned for saying so.
Talking to people who I know play Madden, the EA SPORTS side of the company seems to be on top of their games. They are quick to issue patches. They listen to their community of players. They do things that leave a somewhat ticked off player satisfied with their attempts to fix the issue. They accept criticism from their players.
Talking to these people also pointed me towards this article, where another forum user asked Bioware if they sold their soul to the EA devil prior to buying Dragon Age 2. Upon buying the title, the banning of his forum account lead to the inability to play the game, as he couldn't activate it. He bought a physical copy of the collector's edition of the game, knew he was going to play it anyway even without the bonus DLC, but couldn't play it when he got home. Why? Because his EA account was banned.
Upon hearing this news, I checked my Spore account, another EA title. On Spore, I am practically invisible. I just sign in, look up interesting content to download and check out in game, and then leave. Turns out I am banned from that side of the company as well. Unlike The Sims 3, Spore relies heavily on an online component to populate a player's game with content created by other users in order to give game a more dynamic feel of discovery. When the online feature is disabled, the game is virtually unplayable. It's rather confusing, so I did some digging.
Here's a transcript from another Customer Service Live Chat, AKA Exhibit B:
Me: I was trying to log into my SPORE account, but it said that I was banned. Can you explain to me what happened?
Jitendra: Your account is suspended for 72 hours , because of using un professional language.
Me: That's for The Sims 3. Why is my account banned on SPORE?
Jitendra: It will be activated after 72 hours. You need to wait for 72 hours.
Me: But that banning was for The Sims 3 forums and their website. Why would that affect my account on SPORE?
Jitendra: Your ea account is banned.
Me: All I do on SPORE is sign in, check if any of my creations have comments from users, and then sign out. I don't post anything there as far as written postings on their forum goes.
Me: Wait. So if I do something to get banned on one game title, I lose access to all online features for my entire EA game library?
Jitendra: Yes, If your account is banned then you are not suppose to access any online EA games.
Me: So even though my actions were on The Sims 3, I lose my ability to play SPORE and get any online content, as design in that game?
Jitendra: Yes. Its a temporary suspension for 72 hours. it will be activated after 72 hours. you need to wait for 72 hours.
As it turns out, EA merged any an all accounts spread out among their game library so that they would be collected under one user based on e-mail address. They did this in preparation for their Origins store, but what ultimately happens as far as banning goes is that you lose all online services you once had.
Digging into the EULA proved interesting as well. It clearly states in several areas and in several different wording that EA has the right to delete your account and stop all online services for any reason they feel fit, even reasons not stated in the Rules of Conduct. The scary part is that they are under no obligation to contact you that your account was deleted. You may just wake up one day to find you no longer have an EA account.
The fact that my original ban came from a game developer (reportedly) means that under this agreement, they have the right to ban me for pointing out their flaws and justifiably calling them idiots in the process. But at the same time, I can't help but wonder why they were so quick to press the ban button to begin with. My reputation on The Sims 3 Forum is that of being critical of the company but still being helpful to other users who have issues. I've become a kind of bug tester due to game play features causing my save games to be unplayable after a certain point due to a flaw in the design. If the developer was that upset about me calling them and their team a bunch of idiots, there are better ways to prove me wrong. The best comedians out there know how to handle hecklers who scream "Tell some jokes!" before calling for the bouncer to throw them out.
As a result of all this, I can't help but believe that EA's developers, or at least the portion that isn't on their larger, better-funded side of the company, can't take criticism of their product. They would rather have their customers suck their dicks instead of pointing out "Hey, this part of the game has a bug that killed this game play feature" or "Hey, this DLC item you've been advertising for the last three weeks doesn't work as you advertised it would." Because they clearly are under no obligation to fix these errors, and criticizing them on any level, trollish or civilized, will result in the ban hammer being dropped.
But I can't help but question this action: Is it right for a game developer to ignore criticism, even the most spiteful kind of verbal assault?
The fact that a person is so mad at something they can't even form a logical reason as to why they are upset should tell you, at the very least, they are upset with something. This is the same logic I use with Fox News. (I hear you laughing. Hear me out.) They are clearly upset with the President and other issues, but they can't ever form a logical and reasonable criticism of the subject without resorting to sensationalist journalism, possibly because that's what gets them the best ratings. But the bottom line is that they are still upset with something he's done, and Obama is aware of what his critics are saying about him.
Then again, EA's developers aren't the President. It's clear they only want to hear good things about their products. Too bad ignoring the bad that comes with the good is just as damaging.