Electronic Arts: Greed Is Not the Problem

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Electronic Arts: Greed Is Not the Problem

I don't have a problem with companies making money. I don't think "greed" is a bad thing. I don't have a problem with people getting rich. What I do have a problem with is wasted potential and disgraceful incompetence.

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Nice comparisons, a really enjoyable read.

Articles like this should be required reading for everyone at EA. God willing, someone will get a lightbulb over their head and realize how badly they've been screwing the pooch all these years.

Very good read, but it could be better if there were any proposed solutions. What EA does not need is someone else telling them they suck again. as stated, the world has already done that, twice.

Shamus Young:
They need an executive bloodletting and a transformation of company focus. Until then, they will continue to be a meatgrinder that turns talent and potential into outrage and disappointment.

This is a tangential solution to a difficult problem because the mass public, in this case gamers in particular, have no visibility into the share holder meetings. The problem is less likely the publicly flaunted CEO and more likely the shareholders themselves. The more stress a publicly traded company gets, the more the shareholders try to be backstreet drivers. I mean, that is exactly their right as a shareholder, but it is often where more problems arise.

IMO the best way to start a transformation here is to get very public visibility into the high-up meetings. This would force people to own up to their words and help highlight where and why the crappy decisions are made. Unfortunately, this will never happen.

To change the way a big company thinks you have to completely change the company, because so long as any of the original investors or decision makers remain, there will always be the exact same requirements being passed down from on high.

A good write up as always Shamus. You're column is always enjoyable to read.

Now that the gushing is out of the way, a word about EA.

BLEEEEEEEEEECH!

That is the word, and it's the only one I can find to describe my disdain for them as an entity in gaming in 2014. I cannot believe that in a company who employs thousands of people, no one seems to know one simple premise; No one ever got to number one by following someone else. Their current model is a map drawing them to the lower tier.

See Activision run, Run EA Run. See Activision milk modern military shooters, milk modern military shooters EA, milk!

All they need to do is shut up and let the developers make the games they want to make. Don't pressure them to make the next CoD killer, WoW killer etc. Just let the creative people use their talents. They are so incompetent that doing nothing would be preferable to what they are doing.

I wrote this in the FB discussion, but they never go anywhere, so here again:

The problem is: EA won't change, their failure is written in their DNA. Nobody would care for EA if they stopped buying companys. They are just a corporate zombie, feasting on the creative brains of successful devs. And if the aquired devs and IPs dont meet the corporate nutritional needs, the get axed. But even then EA doesnt offer to sell the IPs, maybe even to the fired devs which are making a new studio, no, they sit on it and let it rot (Dungeon Keeper, Theme Hospital...) It is the inner rot of an ultra-capitalist company.
EA approaches the game market like the movie or tv business, but games are not TV shows. Additionally, gamers and devs resist to this burning of creative energy. At least as much as they can.

But i have to disagree on one point: Yes always on and forced multiplayer were bad decisions, but Sim City hit the cliffs of its own ambitions. Their new simulation engine is a genius bit of work that just does not work for a city builder scale. In this ONE case, maybe it would have been better for EA to step in and demand "more of the same", because thats what we wanted. A modern, updated Sim City 4.
I despise EA with an energy that is amazing to myself sometimes, but on this one, its Maxis fault, imho.

I'm not sure it's fair to say everything EA puts out is shit. Theres usually some at least good stuff in their output every year, but nothing like as much as they should be able to put out.

I think I need to learn the fiddle so I can play it gleefully when that company finally burns. What isn't going to be funny, though, is the number of people who will end up losing their jobs.

Well written article, Shamus.

Adam Jensen:
All they need to do is shut up and let the developers make the games they want to make. Don't pressure them to make the next CoD killer, WoW killer etc. Just let the creative people use their talents. They are so incompetent that doing nothing would be preferable to what they are doing.

This. A publisher publishes games, ideally. A publisher shouldn't have to milk franchises ruthlessly or scramble to destroy and reassemble a popular IP because it desperately needs the shortfalls from IAPs.

We don't need games that are made with an Excel spreadsheet and a checklist. We need games that ooze passion and that go back to that core tenet EA's eighties' incarnation wanted to stick to.

Can a computer make you cry?

I don't know if it can, I even doubt it can; but this kind of ethos, this basic question, suggests that game-making should come from the heart, not from some sort of fiscally mandated do-or-die arbitrary "success". If they can ever manage to go back to that, EA's going to regain at least a fraction of its dignity.

There is no way I can say how much I agree with this.

EA offers no value in the vast majority of its products, they've been throwing any semblance of intelligent management out the door for quite a while and the end result won't be a beauty to behold. Within 10 years top they'll be sold to, hopefully, an entity that will know what to do with it.

Very nice article~

I would not be surprised if EA ends up winning a 3rd consecutive worst company in usa award. God knows they haven't tried shaking their shitshow of an image.

As much as I wish it would be for the sake of the IP under it's control, I simply don't think it's possible for EA to change at this point; it's a titanic entity that can't even find its own feet most of the time, much less keep track of anything else going on inside it; everything is is well-entrenched in the 'this is how we do things, because it worked once and we refuse to believe the market will/has changed', and I'd be amazed if the boardroom was anything but an echo-chamber with only ruthlessly-spun positive facts being allowed to be vocalized without the implied threat of getting thrown out the top-story window. Even in a hypothetical future of major shakeup reform, I firmly believe the company would rip itself to shreds from too many perspectives pulling in too many different direction rather than successfully rejuvenate itself.

Bluntly the best-case scenario right now is something catastrophic happens and kills it quickly so the IP can finally wind up in hands who actually have ideas how to use them.

TiberiusEsuriens:
Very good read, but it could be better if there were any proposed solutions.

"Be more like Valve"?

/OP I don't have anything against EA but it's nice to round up all their shit for a crash course on why-it's-evil.

So they're...not-Valve? That's EA's problem? I don't think there's much EA can do with that without pretty much demolishing everything and starting from scratch. And 'incompetent' is not a criticism so much as it is an insult. There's nowhere to go from incompetent aside from firing somebody.

Perhaps you could say the problem is a lack of trust. The big-wigs don't trust their creatives to do their jobs effectively, so the big bosses farm out work to a whole bunch of technically proficient but largely unconnected people instead of fewer and less-reliable but more inspired individuals, focus group everything (poorly it seems) to avoid offending people but also to tailor things to whatever their demographic is which ultimately renders the content pretty samey, and advertise things to death with that same blunt pandering-to-the-demographic brush.

What could solve that? I dunno. However you solve trust issues, I'd imagine. Therapy, friends, hang out with the creative teams more often, trust exercises, whatever. Point is, EA is not dumb. Quite the opposite. Their tactics just aren't tailored very well to the games industry.

On the upside every company EA takes over starts to bleed talent and rot from the inside. Wait...

Greed is bad. It leads t hoarding of assets and especially in artistic and entertainment fields stifles growth.

Other than this, I don't know what to say. It seemed more like a PR piece for Valve, and I don't really think it's fair to pan an anti-competitive group while praising another.

Eri:
Very nice article~

I would not be surprised if EA ends up winning a 3rd consecutive worst company in usa award. God knows they haven't tried shaking their shitshow of an image.

I consistently find it surprising that the company manages to win this award. They do, after all, manage to make products liked by many and the atrocities to their name amount to little more than petty squabbles about what ten bucks ought to buy someone. While no means a bastion of nobility, to assert that a company that at the very worst makes a product you don't want is somehow the worst one in the US is silly.

Compare EA to any number of banks and investment houses, or a host of companies in the agricultural industry, or a selection of companies in petroleum exploration and exploitation or any of a variety of other firms. These are companies that have destroyed lives and communities and helped foster disasters on a global scale. How is it that EA somehow manages to be worse?

I don't even think the "Greed is good" moniker is always as defensible as people make it out to be. Your article gives a good assessment of why horrible PR disasters are likely to make you LESS well off and how EA went form market leader in a thriving sector of the industry into embattled corporate disaster area in the fast shrinking 'mainstream' areas of gaming.

A great company will set out with a mission that has more to it than simply "Make piles of money". Most companies I've had contact with even in the more production line based engineering industry have had some semblance of pride in their product.

Adam Jensen:
All they need to do is shut up and let the developers make the games they want to make. Don't pressure them to make the next CoD killer, WoW killer etc. Just let the creative people use their talents. They are so incompetent that doing nothing would be preferable to what they are doing.

You're MOSTLY right in that respect. But you do need to keep pressure on the devs. When it comes down to it Video Game are a business. If your devs have no money left, are begging you for a few more months to polish up a new IP that has no real hype or guarantee of selling then that's when the business side has to come in and push it out the door in hopes of recouping your losses. The problem is that EA doesn't do this with risky IPs. They do this with their biggest guaranteed hits. They tell Bioware to make Dragon Age 2 in one year and then the Dragon Age IP suffers for it. They then tell Bioware to release Mass Effect 3 early, forcing the lead writers to cram in a script that hasn't been reviewed and edited by the rest of the team. They force Sim City out the door before all the server issues have been resolved, or even tested. These are the games that you KNOW will sell well, so you should be giving your devs huge amounts of lee way time wise. Instead they get worried about their quarterly earnings and explaining that to the Investors, so they force the games and act like there isn't any problem with it.

Johnny Novgorod:

TiberiusEsuriens:
Very good read, but it could be better if there were any proposed solutions.

"Be more like Valve"?

/OP I don't have anything against EA but it's nice to round up all their shit for a crash course on why-it's-evil.

I think that "Be more like Valve" is a Siren call. Good Guy Valve has shown and even directly stated that a lot of the things they do simply don't translate to conventional businesses. For all the cool things that Valve does, what we don't need is another monolithic company selling more hats. Valve isn't the only successful company, and I think a more potent demand would be, "Listen to your developers when they say something is stupid, and then listen to your customers when they say they don't like something." It's a lot easier to follow, a lot more impactful, and a lot less vague than, "be that company that you will never be able to successfully emulate." It's the same thing as saying "make the next WoW killer". Simply saying "Make the next Valve killer" won't work.

Shamus goes into good detail about how Valve does good things, but these don't immediately translate. We need to remember that in Valve, all the employees vote into company decisions more or less equally. If a crappy idea gets brought up it won't survive. At EA they'll hear "Use your IP better" but then it's still up to like 5 people to determine what "better" even means. EVERY point that is brought up in the article? The CEO and board already 'thought the same thing'. They've even proved this, like with recent issues where EA CCO thought BF4 and Sim City launches were great while the actual DICE developers were apologizing for being told to skip quality assurance testing before BF4 launch and adding back fan favorite modes that execs had nixed.

It's clear that EA already and still has all the talent it needs, but it is being squandered. The root of all these problems isn't that they aren't enough like Valve, or they need more X or Y, but that the executives and board members need to give up their constricting creative control. Telling the top of a monolithic company to give up control, any whatsoever, will never work. It will never happen. I hope for the best of luck to all EA employees. They will need it.

Here's the thing...

EA. 2008-2009.

That was a GOOD year. This was a year that had me buying several EA games. New IPs. New blood. New directions. Gamer friendly. Quality products.

Bad Company. Dead Space. Mirror's Edge. Dragon Age: Origins. Brutal Legend. Army of Two. The Saboteur. Command and Conquer 3.

Risky game mechanics. Original game designs.

They were fighting Tim Langdell to win game developers the right to use "Edge" in their games again. They had their "EA Partners" program to promote indie growth and encouraged new ideas with good back-end pay for developers. They were funding quality games with substantial support, quality DLC, and gamer-friendly expansions and practices.

... It was all downhill from there.

The mountain dew. The doritos. The controversies. The online passes. The day-1 DLC. Origin. The broken and buggy products. The poor marketing. The alteration of genres and brands. The mediocrity of the games. The desperate, greedy ploys for money.

For around one year, it was nice. It was pleasant. I was ready to give EA my support.

Within another year, all that good will had been sucked away.

I haven't purchased an EA game in over two years now. In the span of 2008-2009, I purchases over 12. I think that says everything.

I think of all the games of EA's that I used to enjoy before they became the behemoth that they are today. And then I cry.

Seriously good article though.

Ugh all the comparisons to Valve, a company that tries to stuff increasing amounts of the same anti consumer bullshit down our throats (and bafflingly gets away with it too, unlike EA and Ubisoft). Why not compare to a company that is actually doing it right (CD Projekt) rather than one that is just as bad, if not worse?

Kieve:
Articles like this should be required reading for everyone at EA. God willing, someone will get a lightbulb over their head and realize how badly they've been screwing the pooch all these years.

It should also be required reading for people on this site, so I don't have to read awful bile-smelling posts about "it's because they're greedy" as if other companies aren't.

I loved this article, it's very concise and informative. Keep them up.

lacktheknack:

Kieve:
Articles like this should be required reading for everyone at EA. God willing, someone will get a lightbulb over their head and realize how badly they've been screwing the pooch all these years.

It should also be required reading for people on this site, so I don't have to read awful bile-smelling posts about "it's because they're greedy" as if other companies aren't.

I don't know the financial statistics, but isn't EA considered successful as a company? How much compared with Valve?

The writer of the article has a problem with incompetence and wasted potential - fine. But if EA went Valve's way and made better games without the microtransactions and fierce copy protection, could they also have made as much money as they did? If not, couldn't we consider the cause of the incompetence and wasted potential to be greed?

What to do with EA? You say it is incompetence over greed, fair enough. Yet I believe that there is more than one type of greed. A choice quote from Tony Soprano:-
"Remember the story you told me about the father bull talking to the son? They're up on this hill and looking down on a bunch of cows. And the son goes to the father, "Dad, why don't we run down there and fuck one of these cows?" Now do you remember what the father said? Father says, "Son, why don't we walk down there and fuck them all?"
As of now, Valve is the Bull and EA is his son. EA wants massive profit and it wants it yesterday. Valve on the other hand knows that these sorts of things are pipe dreams. They have realised that great wealth is possible, but only through skill, effort and above all patience. That is the single key thing that EA lacks right now. They want the profit yesterday and they are prepared to go to any lengths to get it. And to hell with the long term.
Though you say that we are in the dark over why it has got so messed up at EA, I have my own theory. The question is, who has the final say on corporate direction; the productive side or the financial side? Valve it seems is run by the people that produce things. They know their product, they know their market, and they know how to sell it to them. Above all, they know that they need to be doing the same thing ten years down the line, so they need to plan ahead.
EA on the other hand looks like a company run by and for bean counters. They know nothing of the product or the market, and nor do they particularly care. All that matters to them is next quarter's figures. And yet despite all their efforts, they never quite do as well as they would like. Why? Because they no next to nothing about the market.
It all goes back to Henry Ford's dictum "Take care of the service side of the operation and the financial side will take care of itself". Words that EA would do very well to heed.

Another excellent article Shamus. It's a shame that EA basically destroying itself from the inside, and isn't even aware of it.

Blood Brain Barrier:

lacktheknack:

Kieve:
Articles like this should be required reading for everyone at EA. God willing, someone will get a lightbulb over their head and realize how badly they've been screwing the pooch all these years.

It should also be required reading for people on this site, so I don't have to read awful bile-smelling posts about "it's because they're greedy" as if other companies aren't.

I don't know the financial statistics, but isn't EA considered successful as a company? How much compared with Valve?

The writer of the article has a problem with incompetence and wasted potential - fine. But if EA went Valve's way and made better games without the microtransactions and fierce copy protection, could they also have made as much money as they did? If not, couldn't we consider the cause of the incompetence and wasted potential to be greed?

EA is only technically a successful company.

The REAL measure of success, stock share, has been a total gongshow on their end for years.

Also, I think that they totally could have made more money following Valve's business model. Origin client, for instance, is now "better" than Steam from what I can tell, seeing that they're roughly equal in terms of function, except EA now offers a refund policy. Had they have started out all in the way they've ended up (ie. like Valve), Origin wouldn't be fussed about, but it started poorly, and now they won't hear the end of it.

Zachary Amaranth:
Greed is bad. It leads t hoarding of assets and especially in artistic and entertainment fields stifles growth.

Other than this, I don't know what to say. It seemed more like a PR piece for Valve, and I don't really think it's fair to pan an anti-competitive group while praising another.

Greed is, by definition, excessive. It is bad.

Can we all please drop the "Greed is good" nonsense? Greed is not a simple desire to improve or succeed, greed is excessive. It is destructive. And EA is a perfect example of it. They had it all and their greed for more led them to take harmful, self-defeating actions.

A little disappointed with this article by Shamus, first time I've not agreed with him that I can recall in years.

Blood Brain Barrier:

I don't know the financial statistics, but isn't EA considered successful as a company? How much compared with Valve?

There is no way to compare, since Valve is not a publicly traded company, it is privately owned. So therefore they are not compelled to release any statistics or numbers they don't care to.

Jasper van Heycop:
Ugh all the comparisons to Valve, a company that tries to stuff increasing amounts of the same anti consumer bullshit down our throats (and bafflingly gets away with it too, unlike EA and Ubisoft). Why not compare to a company that is actually doing it right (CD Projekt) rather than one that is just as bad, if not worse?

Seriously. This whole article came off as a gushing love letter to Valve, not the supposed EA critique the header offered us. The only example Young could be bothered to provide of wrongdoing on Valve's part was the silly L4D2 fiasco?

Misleading journalism at its finest.

Jumwa:

Can we all please drop the "Greed is good" nonsense?

Especially since it wasn't supposed to be a positive slogan in the first place. Gordon Gekko was not supposed to be the bloody good guy.

A little disappointed with this article by Shamus, first time I've not agreed with him that I can recall in years.

I've disagreed with him before, but I could see where he was coming from. Not so much here.

Blood Brain Barrier:

I don't know the financial statistics, but isn't EA considered successful as a company? How much compared with Valve?

Jumwa:

There is no way to compare, since Valve is not a publicly traded company, it is privately owned. So therefore they are not compelled to release any statistics or numbers they don't care to.

We can look at EA, though. EA has posted consistent losses over the last couple of years and seen hits to their stock price.

I don't know if Valve is doing better, though I have a hard time imagining a company where so much of their money is involved in DD doing poorly.

While I agree with all of your analysis of the organizations and their comparison I must protest that Greed is not the problem. Inherently I believe greed is the issue. Specifically it's the exclusive pursuit of profit and the rampant belief that no force is as important to the industry as the bottom line.

If you ask any member of Valve or EA what the primary purpose of their company is they will likely say something along the lines of "we make video games". But if you follow them around for a month or more the majority of any given EA employ's job would be spent on overhead work for maintaining the bottom line. Stuff like staff meetings, projections and analysis work, being micromanaged, conference calls, filling out paperwork. These activities are the sort of work organizations come up with when they are paranoid about wasting money or not meeting the bottom line. It is meant to keep people accountable for what they spend their time on and how they use resources but really it just justifies larger budgets, wastes the time of employees, and splits the focus of anyone who is really supposed to be creative. It also means to many people have the ability to say no to a project while not enough can say yes. Conversely doing the same for a valve employee would likely be the opposite, their meetings are likely clean and efficient with smaller oversight, less emphasis on keeping paper trails while more is placed on actual results. Creativity is likely encouraged as is collaboration, in EA a dev team isn't likely able to go talk to a staffer in another department without managerial approval while Valves teams most likely intermingle.

I've worked in corporations that are publicly traded for ages and I see a lot of difference between a company like EA's focus and one like Valve's. yes they are both a business so they both want to make a profit. But EA's view is that only profit matters, while Valve wants money too but they are open to other types of goals as well, from making good games to opening up new markets or building a device everyone wants in their home. They measure success in meeting a goal, any goal, not just quarterly share price and bushel game sales. Its a culture of fulfillment vs a culture of greed. You can be fulfilled by having money but money isn't the only way you are fulfilled. Usually a person can sense when a company is being disingenuous, its nice to have mission statements but when your mission is obviously just a formality while your actions are only about money, the result is low satisfaction and a lot of customer rancor. A company that can see their mission statement as a thing to fulfill them will succeed better than one that doesn't. The company that sees every action they take as a thing that fulfills them will succeed in spite of the odds and become a new Valve in their own time.

EA isn't the only company suffering from the issues talked about in the article, though. Capcom is another company suffering from the same symptoms and public mistrust. Then again, major companies in the game industry tend to almost have a life cycle, as those companies that we grew up with have grown from perky start ups to large publishing houses that may or may not be slaved to a mind numbing group of shareholders, which may or may not be other companies/firms.

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