Experienced Points

Experienced Points
How to Fix Electronic Arts

Shamus Young | 26 Mar 2013 16:00
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I know it might seem like I was just EA bashing last week. I know right now they're the guys we love to hate, and I know I've certainly done my share of gleeful EA bashing over the years. But I'm not just demonizing an already hated company because people like to share those kinds of articles. I'm focusing on EA because they're a massive company that controls a huge portion of the AAA games that make up our hobby. When EA is run poorly, the games we love suffer. We get less value for our gaming dollar and the developers we love don't thrive the way they should. More importantly, the bad decisions EA has made are understandable and explicable once we see that the problems in this company are actually common and banal. Lots of really big companies have squandered fortunes making EA-type mistakes.

So John Riccitiello has left EA. We can assume he's left because the company wasn't really thriving under his guidance and everyone is hoping that a new leader will take the company in a better direction. Of course, to avoid the mistakes of the past they have to understand how the company came to make those mistakes in the first place. If you're going the wrong direction, picking a new direction at random can just swap old problems for new ones. So how did we get here? How did a group of generally intelligent, well-educated guys go so wrong?

Like I said last week, the main reason EA is badly run isn't because the leaders are bad guys, come to ruin all our Christmas releases with their Day 1 DLC. It's not corporate greed, or that the company is "too big". The problem with EA is that it's an entertainment software company and the majority of the EA leadership doesn't have a background in software or entertainment. They are "money men" - people with a background in venture capital, management, and overseeing large established industries. Before EA, Riccitiello's job was running the Bakery Division of the Sara Lee corporation. This sort of industrial and financial oversight work is radically different from producing software in this young and rapidly changing new media. Basically, these men are out of their depth and out of their area of expertise. These guys don't work in software and don't play games, yet they're running a company that requires a keen understanding of both. They're trying to reach consumers and shape public opinion, but they don't have a firm grasp of gaming news or the culture that surrounds the hobby.

Oh, I'm sure they "play" games in the sense that they sample their own company products, but I seriously doubt any of them really go home and click away at Starcraft or Assassin's Creed late into the night. I admit this is speculation on my part, but really: Could someone who plays games and is immersed in the culture make the mistakes EA has? Ubisoft had a horrible time with their always-on DRM and eventually abandoned it. Blizzard generated a ton of negative press when the always-on requirement of Diablo III became problematic. Then EA repeated those mistakes, only more seriously and on a grander scale, even though they had recent events to inform their decision-making.

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