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EA is getting sued for Battlefield 4 - but is there really a case to answer?

So, it looks like San Diego law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP has commenced a lawsuit against EA related to alleged misleading claims about Battlefield 4. It comes after several senior members at the company sold shares during July and August, following an increase in EA’s market-value; an increase that happened on the back of bullish sales predictions for Battlefield 4 and EA's other late 2013 games. It makes the following allegations against the game’s publisher, and the next paragraph is a direct copy of the suit.

(a) Battlefield 4 was riddled with bugs and multiple other problems, including downloadable content that allowed players access to more levels of the game, a myriad of connectivity issues, server limitations, lost data and repeated sudden crashes, among other things; (b) as a result, Electronic Arts would not achieve a successful holiday season 2013 rollout of Battlefield 4; (c) the performance of the Electronic Arts unit publishing Battlefield 4 was so deficient that all other projects that unit was involved in had to be put on hold to permit it to focus its efforts on fixing Battlefield 4; and (d) as a result, Electronic Arts was not on track to achieve the financial results it had told the market it was on track to achieve during the Class Period.

Put simply, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd are saying that EA knew Battlefield 4 would be full of bugs when it released, but that EA lied about how successful the game might be, and several members of the company used this alleged lie to sell their shares at an inflated price. That’s what it boils down to. It’s worth noting that there’s no plaintiff at the moment--no-one who is claiming to have been financially harmed by the game’s alleged under-performance--and that Robbins etc has 60 days to find one before the class-action lawsuit can be filed.

So what does it all mean? Firstly, no-one is saying that Battlefield 4 works perfectly. Yes, it has bugs--I’ve encountered crashes and lag myself, and I know most others have too. The real question is whether anyone at EA would have known a) about these bugs in July and August, and b) whether they thought the bugs would have negatively impacted sales. It isn’t about whether or not EA was right to release the game in November (or whether they should have waited until 2014)--it’s about whether EA misrepresented the success of the game to investors and then cashed in on that.

Could EA’s execs have known about the volume and severity of bugs and server issues in July and August? It seems unlikely. Although internal milestones give a glimpse of how the overall product is shaping up, bug fixing and post-release support are things that occur more at the tail-end of the project when there’s a clearer idea of the overall game (in other words, there’s no point bug-fixing stuff that doesn’t make the final cut, or without considering the effect that fixes will have on other, unfinished aspects of the game). Add to that the fact that DICE was working on unfinished hardware, in the case of PS4 and Xbox One, and that--even with a Beta--there’s no way to properly stress-test the effect of millions of people suddenly playing your game, and it becomes even less likely that anyone could have predicted the severity and frequency of problems.

However, given all the reasons I just listed above, EA were perhaps too confident in their sales predictions. Although it’s unlikely they could have quantified the problems of releasing such an online-focused game on new hardware (and--perhaps--the extent of the effect that would have on sales of the game on PC, and current-gen consoles), they should have been mindful that problems would occur and that this could negatively impact sales--especially given the power of ‘word of mouth’ warnings over seemingly ‘broken gaming experiences’. The question is: did EA deliberately ignore these potential issues to keep the share price high, or was it genuine underestimation on the company’s behalf?

Look, it isn’t for me to say. I know that, if Robbins etc find a plaintiff(s) and get the case to court, a judge and jury will provide the official answer. If EA did deliberately mislead investors, then it also seems likely that the executives that sold their shares did so because they were aware of the deception and wanted to make money before the share price fell. Again, though, that is pure speculation. If not, then this is just a case of people selling shares when the price is high because, hey, that’s just what you do. And anyone who bought shares at a high price, then lost money because EA’s Christmas games failed to meet expectations… well, that’s just poor business sense. 

What does EA say to all this? Well, I'm yet to receive official comment from EA UK, but they have previously stated that: "We believe these claims are meritless. We intend to aggressively defend ourselves, and we’re confident the court will dismiss the complaint in due course." Fair enough. EA has also restated that the fact everyone at DICE is working on bug-fixing (to address the problems as quickly as possible) will not have an impact on future projects. It will only delay the rollout of Battlefield 4 DLC, which--as I talked about a couple of weeks ago--can only be a good thing. You don’t want to release more content into an already unstable game.

Frankly, it’s all a bit of a mess. Video games are no strangers to court-cases (Hot Coffee anyone?), and I agree that in areas of genuine malpractice, publishers and developers should be held accountable. That’s what we could potentially have here. Again--this isn’t about the actual bugs, but about knowledge of what the bugs could do to EA’s share-price.

My real concern with this case is that it’ll open the legal floodgates to any butt-hurt player who loses a save-game. “Hey, I lost my progress in Man-Shooter 5: I’m going to sue, just like the guys who did Battlefield 4!” That’s not a good use of legal time and money, and for every tenuous lawsuit publishers like EA need to fight, this will only direct money away from game development and into the pockets of lawyers. Are the lawyers going to make us a new Star Wars Battlefront? I think not.

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18 comments

  • reinaldocfilho - February 15, 2014 9:18 p.m.

    Feb 16th and 90% of the PC BF4 community still crashing 9 of 10 matches.
  • avery78 - December 19, 2013 6:15 p.m.

    I play BF4 and am more than happy with it. Yes there are a few bugs still, and it lags once in a great while (only noticed it maybe 4-5 times so far). Overall though it is a great game, the only thing that is annoying is it locked up a few times. I also play COD and BlOps 2 and Ghost are way worse with the hacks, glitches and system freezing. At one point BlOps 2 was freezing my system on a daily basis, never heard anyone screaming sue Activision.
  • Snucleus - December 19, 2013 3:10 p.m.

    Hey, how about the plaintiff beings the massive amount of battlefield players that lost 30-60 dollars on a game they cannot play.
  • archnite - December 19, 2013 8:57 p.m.

    Because this potential lawsuit has nothing to do with the players but the investors and shareholders who expected the game to sell well because it was a successful product.
  • Redeater - December 19, 2013 1:12 p.m.

    Jesus fucking Christ. I have to read that word "butt-hurt" at least 3-4 times a day because 12 year olds unfortunately have access to the internet. Do I really have to read it in the actual fucking articles now? A modicum of professionalism please.
  • GOD - December 19, 2013 1:48 p.m.

    You have to forgive Andy, it automatically included that when he had the article translated into Americanized English to try to appeal to the widest audience.
  • Redeater - December 19, 2013 3:14 p.m.

    Lol, alright. That was pretty funny. I probably missed that since it didn't include a gif of Duck Dynasty.
  • alecbeals - December 19, 2013 2:08 p.m.

    "A modicum of professionalism please." -posted on a site that at one point let a man who smelled very much like pizza run a three hour long drunken podcast every week for almost 4 years
  • Redeater - December 19, 2013 2:55 p.m.

    There is a huge difference. Butt-hurt suggests that you are being raped in the ass. What exactly is funny about rape? Even if you are suggesting that it isn't about rape you are still attaching negative connotations with gay sex. Either way it's a term that anyone over the age of 12 (let alone a "journalist") shouldn't use.
  • GR_AndyHartup - December 20, 2013 3:17 a.m.

    Ok, Redeater - because it's almost Christmas - I'll let you choose an alternative phrase, and I'll edit it into the article instead of 'butt-hurt'. Do we have a deal? Also, I prefer the term "writer" to "journalist", so next time, please refer to me as a "writer" (in quote marks, if that makes you feel better).
  • GOD - December 19, 2013 12:40 p.m.

    What's this? A company hyping up their own products future success to investors and it not meeting the expectations they set? ....Oh wait. Every company ever does the exact same thing. The only potential for this case is if they can somehow prove that EA knew it was going to be broken enough on launch that it would hurt sales, which isn't provable because there's always the expectations of bugs to make it to release by both the company and the consumer (unless it's a Nintendo game). It's not like you can find some kind of report done by testers on the game that says it had game breaking issues months before release like you can find a report saying a power plan had huge safety issues. Games can change radically in there last months of development.
  • Pruman - December 19, 2013 10:19 a.m.

    The lawsuit is ridiculous because based on the track record of the Battlefield franchise, there's no way any smart person would think the game would release bug-free. I remember Battlefield 1942 crashing if you looked at it the wrong way, at least before the first expansion came out. I remember sitting through five (five!) minutes of loading, including two separate loading bars, upon entering a server in Battlefield 2, only to have the game CTD or kick me back to the main menu. I remember servers desynchronizing and causing a CTD in perhaps one in every three games. Memories like this, along with extreme nerfing of tanks, are the main reason I don't play any games in this series anymore. A review of the Special Forces expansion a while back had the best quote about Battlefield the series ever: "Everything about it sucks except the actual game."
  • PS2PS3PS4 - December 19, 2013 8:08 a.m.

    I don't see a case. 1. Every game has bugs that are fixed through patches and update. 2. Battlefield has never been more popular, BF4 got great critical and press reviews, and as far as we know is a very popular franchise that rivals Call of Duty and 3. There's no evidence that sales are lacking because of any issues. So basically, if it's a class-action lawsuit, if its gamers, at most they'd get a refund on the game, something they could do at their local retail store. If it's investors, there's nothing showing that EA as a company is hurt at all by the transition to next-gen hardware with its usual bumps in the road. If it's a matter of sales estimates, a weak quarterly performance happens to many companies and they aren't sued. I doubt it goes anywhere because then every company could be sued for weaker than predicted quarterly sales owing to man factors outside of their control.
  • FoxdenRacing - December 19, 2013 7:46 a.m.

    As much as I dislike EA, I very strongly doubt this was an intentional mislead. Probably just the standard for every big business everywhere...disconnected executives running their mouths and flaunting their products without personally knowing what's going on. [Bill Gates talking about original Xbox games, anyone?] There might be a case for insider trading for anyone on the dev team that knew it was unfinished, rushed, could-be-so-much-more and sold their shares, but this angle's a non-starter.
  • Shigeruken - December 19, 2013 6:37 a.m.

    If the case has progressed this far without a plaintiff then it doesn't seem to me like there's any real cause for EA to be concerned. I can honestly say that I encountered more 'game breaking' glitches in Battlefield 3. I was one of the rare few people unable to stay in a multiplayer game for more than half an hour, whereas I've only been kicked without a server crash five or six times in BF4. I've had more minor glitches in BF4 though. Even if someone at EA did have had an idea of how many problems the game had well before launch, I don't think anyone with experience would have thought those problems were worse or more frequent than those seen in Battlefield 3 or Bad Company 2. One would probably have better luck suing EA for hiding necessary weapon upgrades behind randomized booster packs which you either need to grind for hours to get, or purchase. As someone who has bad luck with damn near everything, I really dislike my upgrades being randomized. It took me months of 3-7 hour daily sessions to get a non human character in Mass Effect 3, I'm finding these battlepacks just as unfavourable.
  • alecbeals - December 19, 2013 6:25 a.m.

    Cases like in Sim City where Amazon was just allowing chargebacks without asking questions is the happy medium I like this industry to sit at. While EA should absolutely be condoned for forcing BF4 to come out three quarter baked allowing a bunch of butthurt gamers to take legal action with precedent will last for about 10 seconds before a disclosure agreement about initial experience or some shit is just slipped into the EULA.
  • Shigeruken - December 19, 2013 6:39 a.m.

    Hasn't EA implemented a satisfaction based refund system into Origin? I think if you purchase digitally you can obtain a refund from them no questions asked. I wonder how that sort of policy factors into a lawsuit like this?
  • alecbeals - December 19, 2013 2:07 p.m.

    No idea, only time I've used Origin has been through that Charity Humble Bundle, interesting point though they might bring up.

Showing 1-18 of 18 comments

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