Electronic Arts won’t be joining some other big game studios in publicly supporting abortion and transgender rights, Kotaku has learned. Asked about it during a May 24 company-wide town hall meeting, the gaming publisher told staff it couldn’t take a stance on every public issue and that “being an inclusive company means being inclusive of all those points of view.”
The remarks came during a meeting with company leadership to discuss topics like EA’s upcoming games, corporate strategy, pay raises, and other issues on employees’ minds. Following the news that the Supreme Court is reportedly preparing to overturn landmark 1973 abortion decision Roe v. Wade, one of the topics was abortion rights. Another is trans rights, with Texas recently ordering gender-affirming healthcare for minors to be investigated as “child abuse.”
According to one source familiar with EA’s town hall yesterday, many employees called on the company to make public statements in defense of both abortion and trans rights. Chief people officer Mala Singh responded that the company only speaks out when it will “actually have a positive impact” and it is a “consistent perspective” among all 13,000 employees around the world, based on a transcript of the meeting verified by Kotaku.
“The thing about the world today is there is a lot of division, we know this right, we see it every single day, but the thing that unites us is that we’re all here to make amazing games and experiences for our players, and that is how we have the most positive impact on the world,” Singh said. “These things are hard and they’re personal and we all have our own perspectives and sometimes we won’t speak, and that will be upsetting and I understand that, we really do.”
In the wake of the explosive Roe v. Wade news, some companies, like Microsoft, have announced plans to help pay for out-of-state travel in the event abortion is made illegal where an employee lives. EA confirmed to Kotaku that it is working on its own way to provide these benefits through its existing company healthcare provider. “We will have a benefits update to share with you soon, and please know that we are monitoring any new developments that could impact our employees,” Singh told staff on May 13. One current employee said Singh also encouraged staff to take advantage of the company’s donation-matching program.
“We’re not going to comment further on the Global Town Hall, as that is a company confidential forum,” corporate communications director, Lacey Haines, told Kotaku in an emailed statement. It continued:
That said, we work to create an environment where our employees can talk about complex issues in our world today. We do this in a number of ways, from Town Halls to Slack discussions, group dialogues, surveys, and more. From all of that, we recognize these topics are deeply personal, and we know that there are many strong opinions, and some will be disappointed when we say that we’re not making public statements because we’re focused on the ways we can support our people around the world as their employer. That is what we’re doing, in this case, making sure that people have access to the healthcare benefits we provide as a company, even if those aren’t available locally.
In recent weeks, Destiny 2 maker Bungie and Halo Infinity co-developers Certain Affinity made statements condemning attacks on reproductive health and transgender rights. But other companies have been much more cautious to weigh in.
In a bizarre May 12 email first reported by Bloomberg, PlayStation boss Jim Ryan mixed anecdotes about cats with calls for staff to respect “differences of opinion” on the issue. A few days later, The Washington Post reported that Sony would match a $50,000 donation by Spider-Man studio Insomniac Games to the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP), but required Insomniac and its staff to keep silent about it. Kotaku understands that some EA employees feel similarly frustrated and hemmed in by the company’s silence.
Once source of dissonance for a number of developers throughout the games industry is its response to the Black Lives Matters protests following the killing of George Floyd in 2020. Dozens of studios and publishers, including EA, put out statements saying they supported the movement and calling for an end to systemic racism. EA in particular donated $1 million to racial justice organizations.
Some staffers feel that EA supports diversity and inclusivity when it’s good PR, but is unwilling to take a stand when the stakes are more controversial. However, the publisher did join Gearbox Entertainment and others in sponsoring a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News denouncing Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s “anti-LGBTQ+ efforts” in the state. It doesn’t appear that EA ever publicized the ad on its social media, however. A week later it did tweet a statement calling for an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
When asked if it had promoted its advocacy for transgender rights, EA pointed Kotaku to the following statement attributed to an EA spokesperson:
We are committed to building a culture of inclusion for our employees, players and community. We’re proud to join the Human Rights Campaign, along with others in the business community, to stand against discriminatory laws and policies being introduced in Texas, Florida, and other states across the country.
But the ongoing wave of enraging headlines isn’t letting up, as the U.S. passes its milestone of 1 million covid deaths and sees one mass-shooting hate crime in Buffalo, NY followed by a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas—the deadliest since Sandy Hook in 2012.
In lieu of public statements, Singh instead encouraged developers to make use of one EA benefit: “healing circles.”
“I know these have been tough issues, whether it’s the shootings that happened recently in the U.S., the Roe v Wade issues, these are hard,” Singh said. “And so, one of the other things you’re going to see is we’re going to be making some more healing circles available through Modern Health.”
According to one current employee, these Circles are group mental health sessions designed around specific topics offered through the company’s healthcare provider. Singh called on staff to “join and process” the events going on with each other and praised the strength of the community within EA.
“But please know that every single time one of these things comes up we really put a great amount of care and thought into it, and consider multiple perspectives and then decide what’s in the best interest of EA and the various communities of stakeholders we have, including our people, our players, our fans and stakeholders, [and] our shareholders.”
Update 05/25/2022 5:40 p.m. ET: This article has been updated with comments from an EA spokesperson.
Update 5/26/22 1:05 p.m. ET: Added more information about the healing circles referenced by Singh and donation-matching program.