The protests happening in response to the death of George Floyd have elicited reactions from every industry, including gaming, and while some companies merely publish public statements of support, other game companies like PlayStation, Devolver Digital, and Square Enix are donating to causes related to the Black Lives Matter movement, and matching the donations of their employees.
But one typically controversial gaming publisher has become a leader within the industry for its profound show of support, both financially and otherwise.
Electronic Arts, more commonly referred to as EA, is known for franchises like Battlefield and Madden as well as officially licensed Star Wars games and Apex Legends. On Tuesday, EA published a statement titled "Our Actions Against Racial Injustice" that was first sent to employees by CEO Andrew Wilson. The message outlines the company's thorough response to and support of ongoing protests against police brutality and systemic racism.
The message starts by confirming that EA is increasing its dialogue with Black employees, but EA goes on to make some major pledges to support the causes, particularly in terms of donations and volunteer work.
What is EA Doing? "We’re contributing $1 million to organizations dedicated to the fight for racial justice in the U.S. and against discrimination around the world," the post reads. EA is partnering with organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund and the Equal Justice Initiative. If employees donate to these causes in June, EA will double match the donation. So if an employee donates $100, EA will give $200 to the same organization.
EA is giving more money to these causes than many other game publishers, even if the sum might seem small compared to the company's overall yearly revenue (a reported $5.5 billion in the 2020 fiscal year). On top of all of that, EA also unveiled another initiative not seen often in the gaming industry: "We're launching a new program to give everyone in the company an additional paid day each year to apply to volunteering in your community," the post reveals.
"With all of our employees around the world, the will represent more than 75,000 hours applied to the change we can make." June 19 specifically will also be a "Juneteenth holiday with an additional company-wide volunteering day." This volunteer initiative is a step above what even other donating game developers and publishers are doing, like Sony matching donations from PlayStation developers.
EA also officially delayed the gameplay reveal of Madden NFL 21 out of respect for the protests. VentureBeat's Jeff Grubb also reported that EA pushed back an announcement for a new Star Wars game code-named "Project Maverick" for the same reason.
A spotty record — Before now, EA's record isn't spotless when it comes to racial issues. In 2018, the word "Kaepernick" was censored in Madden NFL 19's version of YG's song "Big Bank." Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was known for protesting police violence and other racial issues in the United States by kneeling during the national anthem, an act that many still see as controversial.
EA told Deadspin in August 2018 that this happened because "our team misunderstood the fact that while we don’t have rights to include Colin Kaepernick in the game, this doesn’t affect soundtracks," but the decision still read as tone-deaf. EA admitted that "the edit should never have happened" before fixing it with a post-launch update.
Looking back, EA also published Battlefield Hardline in 2015 which let players control police in both single-player and multiplayer. The company is also often considered controversial for its implementation of microtransactions payments into games and was voted the worst company in America in 2012 and 2013.
The Inverse Analysis — EA definitely doesn't have a strong record when it comes to dealing with racism in America, but it has offered one of the most thorough responses in solidarity with protests against systemic racism that we've seen in the gaming industry. Hopefully, other companies both within the gaming industry and outside of it take notice to implement similar initiatives and policies.
Financial reports from the NPD Group prove that April 2020 was one of the biggest months ever for the video game industry in terms of revenue, and while the information isn't public yet just how much EA has benefitted financially from the ongoing pandemic, it's abundantly clear that the it has indeed benefitted greatly. Respawn Entertainment, the studio behind Apex Legends, reported "the highest player retention for a season launch" after the May 2020 launch of the battle royale game's fifth season.
While entire industries crumble during the pandemic, the seemingly recession-proof gaming industry has a responsibility to do more than most during this time of civil crisis. EA is leading the pack in that regard.