Ever have one of those moments where you said something completely inappropriate – like, say, any number of four letter words – while strolling through a locale where things like that just don’t fly – like, say, your kindergartener’s bring-your-parent-to-class day or a nun convention? You know how it is; seas of chit-chat part, as though diving out of the way of the approaching eighteen-wheeler that is the crushing realization that you just screwed up big-time.
Electronic Arts recently found itself caught in the sizzling headlights of a similar situation. In promoting upcoming hack ‘n’ slash ‘n’ totally ignore the source material Dante’s Inferno, EA thought it might be fun for gamers to take pictures of themselves performing “acts of lust” with its already swamped staff of Comic Con booth babes. The winner of this competition would then get a night on the town with said babes, and some other odds and ends. Yeah. Predictably, the entire gaming community immediately ceased to jabber about other topics, crossed its collective arms, and sent a damning glare in EA’s direction. “Oh, haha, we didn’t mean it like that,” EA essentially said in reply, backpedaling. But obviously, that didn’t undo the damage that’d already been done.
Clearly, EA – in this situation – had its audience pegged incorrectly. Despite our apparent love of some of life’s baser aspects (shooting, explosions, and John Madden, for instance), gamers don’t take too kindly to blatant misogyny. Big whoop, though, right? In many gamers’ eyes, this is just another dark mark on a record already stained by countless instances of greed and sloth. Throwing in lust just rounds out the roster, right? It’s EA, after all. And as we all know from previous experiences, stereotypes and generalizations are always right.
Obviously, then, I don’t think EA deserves all the crap people give it. Nor do Activision, Take-Two, or any of the other alleged hair-pullers and groin-kickers that we call major gaming corporations. The Dante’s Inferno incident does, however, shed some light on the oddly paradoxical ways big companies seem to think about gamers.
See, I would have expected something like this from the “old” EA – you know, the monolithic sequel factory that gobbled up developer after developer, just to feed the flames of a machine that constantly spit out sports games and bad movie tie-ins. But we’re talking the John Ricitiello-era EA. This is the publisher that risked its 2008 holiday season on untested, innovative franchises like Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space, and is now putting its considerable weight behind Tim Schafer’s Brutal Legend, despite many of Schafer’s other games’ sleeper-hit status. Point is, this EA isn’t some brainless, tasteless money-make machine; it, at the very least, cares what people think.
Yet somehow, the aforementioned utterly tasteless Dante’s Inferno PR stunt still found its way out of the gutter and into EA’s stack of “good ideas.” So what are we to EA? Apparently, we’re intelligent and discerning enough to value quality and innovation in our hobby, yet somehow so out-of-touch that misogyny not only wouldn’t get us hot under the collar instead of hot-and-bothered, but could actually be used to promote a game.
EA’s not alone, though. Take, for instance, a recent miscalculation by Eidos. The publisher promised early review copies of Batman: Arkham Asylum to publications if they’d give the game a score of 9.0 or higher. If publications scored the game lower, their reviews would be embargoed for a significant amount of time. Problem: The RAM Raider found out and spilled the beans. One post on Kotaku later and tens of millions of savvy gamers knew what Eidos was up to. So, what’d the publisher – caught with its hand in the proverbial cookie jar – do? It still went through with the whole thing. Now an early Arkham Asylum review’s been published and – shock and awe – the game scored a glowingly positive 9.6. Newsflash, Eidos: gamers see what you did there, and they’re not happy about it.
Really though, during this day and age, that’s about the most despicable thing you’ll see a game publisher attempt to sneak under our noses. And now, it's a rarity rather than a regularity. As negatively as the Arkham Asylum and Dante’s Inferno flubs reflect on major gaming corporations, things aren’t nearly as bad as they seem. As I mentioned earlier, EA’s been attempting to scrub off its old image for years now, clearly in tune with what gamers want out of a game company. And even Activision, our new evil corporation du jour – despite its reputation as a house flimsily built on yearly sequels – ensures that its games are polished to near-perfection.
So here’s the bottom line: Big gaming companies may not always “get” gamers, but at least – for the most part – they’re trying. And it shows, too. Most importantly, they’ve picked up on the fact that many gamers value a high standard of quality above all else, and that we aren’t easily swayed by star power and cheap cash-ins. Sure, these same companies make plenty of mistakes, but over time, major publishers have learned more and more about the people they serve. Conventional wisdom, then, says that things can only get better from here on out. So, major videogame companies, keep up the (mostly) good work!