EA’s reputation in the game industry has taken a knock recently, following the less-than-successful launch of SimCity a few weeks back. This has led to a period of reflection on one of the gaming industry’s biggest players. If an online game has a buggy or slow launch period, while consumers are never particularly happy about it, the creators are usually allowed a little bit of leeway to iron out any kinks caused by crashing servers or other problems.
EA aren’t getting off so lightly this time, though, and they know it: the dissatisfaction felt by customers stems partly from the fact that SimCity is primarily a single-player game, leading many to question its always-online requirement. Couple this with the way that EA has handled the whole situation, ignoring many queries and even threatening to ban users who request refunds on the EA forums, and you’ve got a customer base which feels not only short-changed, but also like EA just isn’t listening to them.
It’s not all bad news, though. Hopefully the SimCity débâcle will serve as the wake-up call that EA needs; they’ve already taking a positive step by apologizing to people who bought SimCity, and CEO John Riccitello has just stepped down. This isn’t enough, though – not by a long way. If EA want to restore the trust that consumers had in them just a few short years ago, there are a couple of things they can do.
Worried about piracy? Digital distribution is the way forward
The most immediate issue that EA need to address is the way they handle lost revenue from piracy and used games. They have tried various tactics to prevent this, such as Digital Rights Management (DRM) software, and withholding content in the form of on-disc DLC. As well as being generally ineffective, though, these measures more often than not just end up annoying gamers and getting in the way.
EA has a built-in solution to this problem, however: their flagship digital distribution service, Origin. People have been wary about using Origin in the past, partly because games such as Battlefield 3 require PC users to install it in order to play the game, and partly because of the way that the software itself collects data about the user (see Section 2 of the Origin Terms of Service).
However, if Origin stops being about attempting to shackle the customer, and more about providing a streamlined, easy to use service, people will be much more likely to sign up. EA’s closest digital distribution competitor, Valve, has had great success with its Steam service, thanks to its simple, easy-to-use interface, reliability, non-invasiveness, and frequent sales on both high-profile and indie games (which is a great tactic to keep users coming back every day, for fear that they might miss out on a bargain).
EA can learn a lot from Steam. Once you’ve got customers to sign up, you can convince them to spend a little bit of money here, a little bit there, until they’re tied into the ecosystem. Not because they were forced into it, mind, but because they want to be part of it. If they can establish a loyal core group of Origin users who buy all their games through the service, EA will be doing something right.
Use social media to cultivate good customer relations
In today’s society, communication is ubiquitous. Social media has created a culture in which customers expect not only an instant response to their queries or complaints, but also for the conversation to take place in a public forum like Twitter. As a result, individual dealings on social media between a company and its customers are becoming increasingly important, with the potential to either boost or severely harm that company’s public image. EA need to grasp this fact, and quickly. Not only do they need to resolve customer disputes speedily, publicly, and most importantly, to the satisfaction of the customer (within reason), they would also do well to take this principle further.
Organising competitions, events and gatherings for fans is something EA are good at. It’s what a lot of big companies do, and if you’ve been to a music festival in recent years, chances are you’ve seen a big EA stand somewhere. This kind of grass-roots, old-school fan interaction is part of the reason that EA became such a big player in the first place, and they need to keep this going if they want to keep people aware of – and interested in – their brand. It doesn’t have to be anything grand – the odd competition here and there is enough (a good example of the sort of thing we’re talking about would be the recent Lenovo NFL contest). The important thing, though is for EA to let their customers know that they are in tune with their likes and wants, whether it’s through contests and events which are relevant to their interests, or through visible, resolution-focused customer service.
These are just a couple of things EA can do, all of which will go a long way to repairing EA’s relationship with its customer base. A renewed focus on customer service is the one thing that permeates each of these points, whether it’s in relation to anti-piracy measures, dispute resolution, or fan interaction. If EA keeps this in mind and uses it as a mantra to inform their company direction over the next few years, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t bounce back stronger than ever.