Electronic Arts (EA) seem to be in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, with "Mass Effect 3" (ME3) hurtling from one controversy to another. The fracas over the much disputed conclusion of ME3 simply refuses to die down, much to EA's chagrin. To add fuel to the fire, the game maker is reportedly banning angry gamers from EA's servers after the latter expressed their displeasure on the BioWare Social Network (BSN) forums.
Following an angry volley of arguments over the controversial ending for ME3, the forum moderators and administrators may have gone a step too far in banning protesting community members of "Retake Mass Effect" and "Hold the Line".
"Effective immediately there is a zero tolerance policy on any form of abuse towards staff, moderators or other Community members," reads the warning message on every BSN forum page at the top. Despite the warning, angry users are flooding the forums with endless protests and airing criticisms or posting sarcastic comments. One such instance points to a long forum discussion at Hold the Line, sparked by an user named R.R., wherein the user got banned from BSN for over 24 hours without any prior notice.
"I have just been banned from BSN, for so specific reason other than we are HTL and Retake members," wrote R.R., adding he received no explanatory emails or warnings from a moderator but he could still play all his EA games. The only good news is that the forum ban for the user was lifted the next day, following a discussion with two BSN moderators, who agreed that his ban was an accident.
"The mods are going batsh-t insane and banning anyone and everyone who says the words 'Didn't like' and 'Mass Effect' in the same sentence," warns R.R. to the rest of the community, taking the moderators' explanation with a grain of salt.
"Clearly Bioware does not do screening on their employees for the forums. An admin or mod MUST remain neutral in an argument or discussion. That is rule number one," adds another user, RavianGale.
EA's history of banning gamers from its servers for even minor forum violations dates back to over a year, to the case of a banned user by the name of Arno, who was penalised for posting the question "Have you sold your souls to the EA Devil?"
Following the incident, not only was Arno banned from posting on the forum for three days but he was also unable to play any multiplayer games on EA's servers. Furthermore, he could not even activate a new copy of a game he purchased, "Dragon Age 2", according to Forbes. The game, even though has a single-player campaign, has an anti-piracy security system requireing authentication through EA servers before playing. Later, BioWare and EA admitted that it was an inadvertent punishment and asserted that the ban was meant to solely affect Arno's forum activity.
Meanwhile, another gamer by name Aaron Maximumtacos, on the BSN forum, faced the brunt of EA's ban from Battlelog forums (specific forums to discuss the "Battlefield" game series) after allegedly using obscene language. The gamer defends himself that the offensive words were actually directed at him and not written by him, though he may have reposted them as a quotation. His ban cost him loss of access to "Battlefield 3" multiplayer mode and also locked him out of "Battlefield 2: Bad Company".
The ban was followed by a confirmation, following a telephonic conversation between Aaron and a company representative, in which the gamer said he was not banned for hacking or any other form of cheating, which is supposedly the only valid reason that users are locked out of online multiplayer gaming.
EA clearly has not paid attention to (or chooses not to) the negative publicity from these actions and continues to ban users for comments that hardly imply offensive or incendiary behaviour. Trying to portray an image of controversy-free video game company, EA seems to have gone too far in the policing of its own forums.
However, the ill-consequences of such an act could have far greater repercussions than just banning protesters to get even. Fan protests are spilling out across the Internet and unmoderated forums. A failure to truly listen to their fans' complaints or even allow them a proper space to express those complaints will only perpetuate a negative image for EA that could drive away its dwindling fan-base for ever.