Experienced Points

Experienced Points
How to Fix Electronic Arts

Shamus Young | 26 Mar 2013 16:00
Experienced Points - RSS 2.0

Nobody that uses Steam on a daily basis is going to look at Origin and think it's a comparable product. The changes to the Dead Space franchise (turning a spooky game that runs on fear and isolation and turning it into a set-piece action shooter with multiplayer and microtransactions) is so ludicrous it sounds like parody.

Videogames are a young medium built atop rapidly-changing software which runs atop a rapidly changing internet and which is experiencing a continual revolution in how products are marketed, purchased, and consumed. If your company makes soda, fast food, running shoes, or pantyhose, then you'll have to cope with a revolution about once a generation. If you're making videogames, then you've been experiencing multiple concurrent revolutions, all the time, for decades. Every year technology is changing the way we play games, the kind of gameplay they contain, how we produce them, the devices we use, and how we buy them. You can't watch the market research and sales figures and assume you know what's going on. If you want to be a major player in this industry, you need to play videogames.

Leadership takes vision. And you can't have a vision unless you have passion. The leadership of EA does not have a visible passion for videogames. Imagine what Apple would be like if had been run by a Steve Jobs who didn't really use or care about gadgets. Imagine a Starbucks where the decision-makers didn't really care for coffee and just thought of their product as any other beverage. Imagine a Whole Foods Market run by a John Mackey who wasn't really into the health food scene and just thought of his products as groceries. These companies are all success stories and have experienced amazing growth precisely because they adapted to their chosen market and anticipated consumer needs. That kind of leadership is impossible if you don't intimately understand the products and customers.

The EA mindset has been to watch what sells and make more of that. This sort of reactionary decision-making prevents innovation and breeds stagnation. If you're running EA, you need to be able to look at a policy or a game and decide, "Is this something the consumer will buy?" If you need to spend fifty million to make the game before you can figure out if people might want it or not, then your leadership is nothing more than a fabulously overpriced Magic 8-Ball. In fact, what we have at EA over the last few years is worse than random. They're stagnating in a growing market, running previously-successful franchises into the ground, driving up costs, and chasing philosophies that have proven to be failures elsewhere.

Ideally, the new EA leadership - whoever it turns out to be - will be more than just a single person with a fresh org chart. EA needs leaders with backgrounds in software, entertainment, online retail, and consumer electronics. EA needs to hire someone who plays videogames and reads gaming news for fun, not because the job requires it.

Shamus Young is a programmer, a novelist, and despite his grumbling he really would love to see EA flourish.

Comments on