Former EA Developer Rages Against the Madden

Former EA Developer Rages Against the Madden

image

A.J. Dembroski had some interesting things to say about Madden, Electronic Arts and his coworkers during a recent outburst on Twitter.

Twitter is an interesting forum. It's kind of like booze. You can't get yourself into too much trouble with just 140 characters, after all, but then you post another message, and then another, and pretty soon you're in full-on rant mode and saying things you're going to seriously regret when you wake up the next day.

That may or may not be the case for ex-Madden NFL developer A.J. Dembroski, who unleashed a torrent of tweets a couple of days ago about his time working on the franchise. The whole thing started off well enough, with comments on the good friends he left at EA and a statement that the company "treats their people well." But then it starts to go sideways.

"I am glad to be rid of them. It wasn't what I'd imagined. It wasn't what I'd hoped. Sadly, any corporate involvement in a creative business is doomed to fail. Because creativity is stiffed by corporate culture. It's sad that so many brilliant people at EA are held back by corporate structure," Dembroski wrote.

"I'd go so far as to say J.R. [John Riccitiello] is a good dude, but he doesn't understand GAMES. He thinks of them as a collective of statistics," he continued. "I think Metrics are the worst things to happen to gaming. Breaks everything down to numbers, without the benefit of reason. So a football game wants to reach feature [parity] with Call of Duty... without the realization that theyre different fuckin games."

And if you don't care for how Madden 13 worked out, don't blame him. "For the record, the only thing from M13 that I did that actually shipped was the draft class stories. Everything else was redone (poorly) by our asshole of a lead designer," he wrote. "There were 4 designers on CCM... 3 of them competent. The incompetent one undid most of what we did and fucked it all up... I did a lot of the legacy tuning, but that got redone as well. Two other designers, one of which is gone, one is still there, worked their ass off to make things work, but again, their shit was undone."

A few tweets later, the realization that he might not be doing his career any good seemed to set in, but he carried on anyway. "I'm so frustrated right now, and YOU people get lied to so much, I kinda feel like I'll find something on Karma," he tweeted. "but seriously... don't trust EA. Not because they're bad. They do good by their people, really. But because they're robotic. Paint by numbers. They see video games as a collection of features. They don't understand the artistic aspect of it."

It's a pretty epic blowout, and one that likely means he won't be working in any EA-owned studios for awhile, but it also touches on a fairly obvious yet often unspoken truth. Electronic Arts isn't "evil," nor is Activision or Ubisoft or any other major publisher you care to name. They're corporate entities, whose primary responsibility is to shareholders. Tale of Tales makes art; Madden makes hundreds of millions of dollars over annual iterations. You simply cannot have any meaningful degree of creative freedom with a property like that.

Dembroski deleted his outburst and has gone almost completely silent on Twitter, but alas, as we all know and keep forgetting, what happens on the internet stays on the internet. You can find out what he really thinks at pastapadre.com.

Permalink

So you could say his work-experience was quite MADDENing.
...
I'll show myself out.

OT: I'm quite curious what the future holds for big time publishers like EA or any comparible company, they will stay around for sure but their relevancy will diminish no doubt.

I always pictured EA as being personified by a sort of non-creepy relative of Slender Man. Bland Man, to be exact.

Bland Man's life has to fit in metrics because shareholding stats indicate that metrics are important to gamers. Bland Man looks at a work of art and doesn't see the emotional charge in it - he only sees its net worth. Bland Man's appearances are always meticulously calculated to garner the most gains and produce the least losses possible. Bland Man never takes risks - at least not without weighing his options for years on end with his panel of shareholders and market analysts. Bland Man takes his coffee black with two sugars and reads the Financial Post.

And ONLY the Financial Post. Novels are far too complex for his dull and Cartesian mind.

He still does stalk you, though. Not to take you or Hollow you, like his spookier cousin. He stalks you to determine in which demographic you're more likely to fit. Because everything and everyone needs to fit in neat and easily quantifiable boxes.

Seriously, any passion that might have driven EA in the past is gone. Riccitello is focused on results, and ONLY results. Any pretensions of altruism or actual care for the medium are lukewarm lies being uttered because he just can't afford to rile up the company's numerous and diverse target demographics.

Well, it's interesting to see an ex-employee complain about their ex-employer. EA and the rest do seem like companies that only care about sales, I mean what corporation wouldn't?

Yes it's the stockholders that make EA evil ~_~

Andy Chalk:
It's a pretty epic blowout

In the grand scheme of "epic blowout"s on Twitter, I'd say this one ranks pretty close to the bottom compared to so many other ex-industry people. What he had to say here is actually pretty reasonable, the whole, 'EA is not evil, they're just a business, and that means they shouldn't be in gaming' thing is completely true and needs to be realized by a lot more people.

For what it's worth to the guy, my mate has the game and the Draft class stories are basically our favourite part. We chat while he's playing his season with the Jets and how they really need a quarterback but there's none in the Draft, but there IS Davie Patterson who is the best CB like EVER (what's more I like him as he's a combo of my first name and my favourite ever rugby player, Chris Patterson). So yeah, he gets Davie in, but he's still screwed because he's the Jets... but then manages to trade away Sanchez and gets in Matt Ryan only for one player and a first and third round draft pick!

It's weird but talking about it is actually more interesting than the game. So yeah, Draft Class Stories are great.

I'm going to quote "The Common Man" (A sports radio DJ in Minnesota) here:

"This is The Common Man Program, called one of the worst sports shows ever to exist by, funny, someone who no longer works here"

EA is an easy target to go after but I'm going to go ahead and assume that this guy might just be a bitter ex-employee. I certainly have some...less than nice things to say about a few old corporations I worked at.

Andy Chalk:

That may or may not be the case for ex-Madden NFL developer A.J. Dembroski, who unleashed a torrent of tweets a couple of days ago about his time working on the franchise. The whole thing started off well enough, with comments on the good friends he left at EA and a statement that the company "treats their people well." But then it starts to go sideways.

...

It's a pretty epic blowout, and one that likely means he won't be working in any EA-owned studios for awhile, but it also touches on a fairly obvious yet often unspoken truth. Electronic Arts isn't "evil," nor is Activision or Ubisoft or any other major publisher you care to name. They're corporate entities, whose primary responsibility is to shareholders. Tale of Tales makes art; Madden makes hundreds of millions of dollars over annual iterations. You simply cannot have any meaningful degree of creative freedom with a property like that.

I wouldn't say that it went sideways at all. He seriously confirmed what we all were already thinking, and what we all have been complaining about. On top of this, he touched on the incompetent leadership of EA, something we all learned about first-hand because of Mass Effect 3, something that clearly isn't changing under EA's helm.

Were I a game studio, I'd hire him pretty damn quickly, assuming he could do the job of course.

Edit: Also, this article is VERY much related to one of the best videos on the industry I have ever seen:

EA was founded by three doctors, who wanted to make games. They wanted to make games, and to do that, they needed to make money. After going public, after the original creators jumped ship, their priorities clearly shifted.

Now, they want to make money, and in order to do that, they need to make games. And it shows.

I want to buy that guy a beer. If I was an indie-dev or even a privately owned companies like Zenimax/Bethesda or Take-Two/Rockstar, I 'd snap him up for having realistic values and respect for the job and industry... though his mouth might need a little tightening (only a little).

This might be hurting his future in the industry but for what it's worth he has my applause for his steel balls.
Drunken, slightly rusted steel balls, but nonetheless.

EA has my dislike for a legitimate reason and not fueled by the internet wagon of 'cool to hate EA' there was a time I think back in 2003? 2004? Where it looked like things might be turning around slowly but surely for them but then they fell into old bad habits and shat on peoples faces again and I felt betrayed once more.

So no. I have not bought a product from them ... since I don't know when. I think back in 2001 if squinting at my game shelf is doing me right. And it will stay that way. And this dude has pretty much reconfirmed what I already knew.

Combustion Kevin:
So you could say his work-experience was quite MADDENing.

.....really? You're the first response to this article, the first thing people will read after they read the article...and you waste it on a pun that made me facepalm so hard I nearly broke my nose?

For shame, good sir. For shame. :P

Anyways, seems like he was preaching what most people already know about EA. Of course they're not "evil", but indeed they are a corporation, and a corporation exists purely to make money. As such their primary objective is to find the pieces and the formula to turn lead into gold. "Slap in some QTE's, some cover-based shooting, co-op option, and slap on a competative multiplayer just for the hell of it. People like all those things, right? It should sell BILLIONS!"

And you really can't argue with the guy when he explained that such an approach pretty much rules out creativity...because creativity is considered a risk and a liability to the profit margin.

I believe people should be able to rant on the Internet and get all the nerd rage out of their system, without losing their job or not finding another job.

A little more honest talking and open-mindedness will do the world good.

sad reading the print ads for EA back in the early days when they tried to make a place that was creative, where it was for electronic artists. these days they work to a money making formula

I have a feeling that some very un-metaphorical booze also played its part in the degeneration of his tweets.

Honestly, for a lot of it I have a hard time thinking of anything even EA themselves could honestly get infuriated about. It's not like they can deny with a straight face that they care about profit more then art, and he goes out of his way to say that doesn't make them 'evil'. However, when he starts calling former co-workers "assholes", that's when you start thinking 'You should probably stop digging that hole you're standing in now mate'.

Bvenged:
If I was an indie-dev or even a privately owned companies like Zenimax/Bethesda or Take-Two/Rockstar

Take Two are a public company.

RJ 17:

Combustion Kevin:
So you could say his work-experience was quite MADDENing.

.....really? You're the first response to this article, the first thing people will read after they read the article...and you waste it on a pun that made me facepalm so hard I nearly broke my nose?

For shame, good sir. For shame. :P

I don't know what you're talking about. I think it was a FANTASTIC pun. hehe, maddening...

OT: I don't wanna be "that guy" who does nothing but praise Valve, but look at their corporate structure, then to EA's, then back at their games, then back to EA's. Sadly, EA's games are not as good as Valve's, and it's pretty obvious why.

I am sure most of us were aware of this for a long time. It doesn't take a genius to see through their masks really.

If they don't make good games don't buy them. Their profit model fails. People act like EA is holding a gun to their head and making them purchase their shit. If people didn't like it they wouldn't buy it. The major downside that he is complaining about is a lack of innovation, because innovation is risky. If consumers wanted innovative products they would buy them more regularly. Instead it is up to indies to innovate and the corporations mimic that innovation. It isn't the corporations fault for not wanting to risk bankruptcy on a risky venture, it is the mindset of consumers that prefer the safety of games and features they are comfortable with.

That said, he worked on Madden. Did he really expect innovation on a sports title? I mean, c'mon. There is only so much that can be done to make a sports game new a different. It is just there to be a regular profit stream selling to those that want an updated roster and likely only buy a couple games a year.

MAIN POINT: When creativity and innovation is wanted by consumers it will be profitable.

Awesome. It's just a shame he stopped drinking (or maybe passed out) before reaching the point where he tells everyone how much he loves them. That would have been perfect.

See the problem here is that if you're a gamer who has played any of their games you'd know all of this and get your games elsewhere.

So basically... he's telling us nothing we didn't know before?

Even if I'm labeled as "that guy who defends EA", I know myself what their intentions are. It's a fair, valid criticism of the company. And you know what? I don't care.

The only questions that should concern anyone is this:

"Is the particular game with their logo on it fun to play?"

Let's see, BF3 I still find to be the better FPS on the market now. Definately better than MW3 and BlOps2, but that's my opinion.

I enjoy the Dead Space franchise.

That's basically it. I don't buy games because the company is great, and I don't let them being "robotic" or downright "EVUL" prevent me from enjoying a good game (provided said "EVUL" company is capable of creating good games in the first place.)

RhombusHatesYou:

Bvenged:
If I was an indie-dev or even a privately owned companies like Zenimax/Bethesda or Take-Two/Rockstar

Take Two are a public company.

Ah yeah I forgot. Then why aren't they as shitty as EA/Activision?

jetriot:
MAIN POINT: When creativity and innovation is wanted by consumers it will be profitable.

Consumers like innovation. A truly innovative game will in most cases sell well. But innovation is a very vague concept, and a big corporation like EA isn't likely to focus on such an elusive thing. When a truly innovative game happens, nobody thinks "Yep, this game is full of fresh ideas." They just break it down, find the things that supposedly make it sell so well, and then blindly stuff them into their own games. And it's done by all kinds of developers, not only by the slaves of EA. The only difference is that a small-time developer won't hire market analysts to tell them that adding audiologs to their game will boost the sales by 2,138%, they'll just think "Hey, our game needs audiologs, for exposition and shit. Game X did it, and it was really good, so why not?"

Tiamat666:
I believe people should be able to rant on the Internet and get all the nerd rage out of their system, without losing their job or not finding another job.

A little more honest talking and open-mindedness will do the world good.

Ehhhh, Kinda.

yes open, and honest conversation about working in a corporate environment is all well, and good, but at the same time there is this principle in business (I forget the title of it, but was going to explain anyways)

that 1 good review/account/story/transaction might get you the same, or another customer
think about the last time you saw a fastfood restaurant do a "free ______ no purchase necessary" if you enjoyed it you might have thought to yourself "huh I might want to eat this again" and you probably told at least one friend about it (maybe more)

and 1 bad review/account/story/transaction will lose you that same customer, and 10 potential customers
that same "free ______ no purchase necessary" you eat it, and get sick, and know that it was the only possible thing that could have gotten you sick (within reason), or maybe they actually charged you for it. you will probably go out of your way to tell even people you don't know about it.

though this principle does have a failing when you consider: does a good equal a bad, or does one outweigh the other most of the time from a business setting the bad will dwarf the good almost to an exponential level, and this is why so many companies mission statements include the words "best" "customer service" "satisfaction" (not all necessarily at the same time), or flavors thereof, or will dump a good portion of money into Customer Service, and/or Quality Assurance, and in some cases might even give these sections the ability to not only affect the production that is going on, but stop it, or directly modify it (this is not as common as it should be, but does happen ex: Unity Team), and why some companies (even middle man companies) will try to bend over backwards to correct even something minor (ex: Paypal for any shit they get they will literally eat their own shit out of your hand to make a customer happy for a legitimate complaint)

coming back on point (in a sudo-roundabout fashion) if we take this "one tenth principle" (don't think that is the name) and then attribute it to a single employee/representative "the reason I got sick after eating that free ____ was because they found out one of the cooks didn't wash their hands after going to the bathroom" then that cook will almost 90% of the time be disciplined (it should be 100% but oversights, and "oversights" happen). now if that employee is fired (depending on how sick the person was, or if this was incident #5) that employee will also have a health violation on their record, and how likely do you think they are to get another job if the next employer sees that violation, and the next "acceptable" candidate has none.

now moral of the story is that when it comes to PR if we know that personX has basically made their previous place of business look like the "9th Circle of Hell" to work for (granted some credit should be given if we know that it is true, but "we don't work there, so we should assume that it is at the very least and ok place to work) what is the likely hood that they might do the same for us even for something minor. now you might be thinking to yourself "this doesn't hold water that if personX badmouths their previous place of business they will automatically do it for every place they work for" to which yes, and no "there is no history of anything until it happens", and "once there is history of something happening the likelihood that it will happen again increase ten fold for every occurrence"

to put this in terms that most people are very likely to have experienced: did you ever know anybody who would only ever say negative things about other people, but only when they were not there, and then thought to yourself "I wonder if they do this same thing about me when I am not around them" and then gave a good deal of thought (maybe more then your willing to admit) on considering them a friend.

so in short the reason that this person might not receive the "admiration" of potential employers is because after he was removed from his last one he did not have "admiration" for them.

Yellowfish:

jetriot:
MAIN POINT: When creativity and innovation is wanted by consumers it will be profitable.

Consumers like innovation. A truly innovative game will in most cases sell well. But innovation is a very vague concept, and a big corporation like EA isn't likely to focus on such an elusive thing. When a truly innovative game happens, nobody thinks "Yep, this game is full of fresh ideas." They just break it down, find the things that supposedly make it sell so well, and then blindly stuff them into their own games. And it's done by all kinds of developers, not only by the slaves of EA. The only difference is that a small-time developer won't hire market analysts to tell them that adding audiologs to their game will boost the sales by 2,138%, they'll just think "Hey, our game needs audiologs, for exposition and shit. Game X did it, and it was really good, so why not?"

Customer like good innovations. The problem with innovating is you don't know how it is going to look in the final product. When you are spending millions of dollars to develop a single title there is no turning back if one of your innovations goes south. Consumers punish poor innovations as they should. This is why they attempt to focus test new features. They are attempting to insure their features our well received and don't flow losing them millions of dollars. Businesses are perfectly fit to making games BECAUSE they have a profit incentive. You buy it if you like it, you don't if you don't. Companies that make good games are rewarded. Companies that make bad decisions and bad games are not.

EA is not the evil empire and its employees are not slaves. They are conducting a fair trade and all parties are benefiting or they would not participate in the trade. If you don't like their policies or their games don't buy them and stop pretending to be injured and disgusted because other people buy them. It should be none of your concern.

I can't help but wonder how much of this is just "I got kicked out" Butthurt.

uncanny474:

OT: I don't wanna be "that guy" who does nothing but praise Valve, but look at their corporate structure, then to EA's, then back at their games, then back to EA's. Sadly, EA's games are not as good as Valve's, and it's pretty obvious why.

Depends on what particular part(s) you're looking at, Valve's "Semi-Anarchist" structure may work out very well for them creatively, but it really doesn't lend itself well to the technical side of things, and it shows (Origin runs WAY smoother than Steam does[1], and I've had TF2 take 5 minutes to load a single map[2] once)

[1] though that could be partially due to Origin being a bit more basic
[2] not even a particularly big one

Yeah, nothing that we didn't already know.
No one seriously believes that EA is actually evil evil and wants to harm others and that Riccitiello is the spawn of the devil. They are just greedy bastards.
Yes, they're a company and a company needs to make money, in order to exist but there are many ways to make money. EA chose the greedy bastards way. There are many companies who do really well without trying to squeeze every single penny out of their customer's pockets.
"They're just doing business" is just a really poor excuse to me.

Riccitiello said himself in 2008 that EA squandered Westwood, Origin and Bullfrog by trying to get the creative process down to a spreadsheet. "You can't just buy people and attempt to apply some business school synergy to them... It just doesn't work." is what he said, and by all accounts it looks like he hasn't listened to his own advice.

EA is making the same mistakes as during his last term and the results are bound to be the same - dead, squandered studios. Pandemic's already gone, Mythic's been shuffled around, downsized and re-branded an unhealthy amount of times, the BioWare brand they built up around SWTOR is being currently dissolved, with their biggest franchise being moved to an internal EA studio. I wonder if BioWare Edmonton will only be downsized after DA3, or straight up closed.

What's that? EA is a soulless, corporate sequel factory that crushes artists' souls? How is that news?

GREED isn't evil?

Good for him venting, fuck EA. Easily one of the absolute worst publishers on the planet and I steer clear of damn near every single game they sell for a good reason.

If I want art I'll go play an idie game, when I want big spectacle I'll go play a AAA blockbuster, etc. They all have their place within the industry and within the hobby. Everyone plays games for different reasons; there isn't one right way to play, or make, games. To each there own! :)

J.R. is a complete jerk and has no soul. He is a numbers only corporate schmuck and he has stated as much himself. Origins exists just to block EA on Steam. Project $10 exists so EA can generate more hatred than money from one project. It has been very effective in that regard.

The other companies mentioned, Ubisoft and ActiVision, are examples of corporate whores that might fare worse when compared to EA. Ubisoft is headed by a lying dog that has foisted DRM, that has repeatedly attacked his paying customers, and Bobby the Kotick stated repeatedly that he has removed the fun in making video games all while leading a company that its parent is trying to dump because of that self same monster had to cough up hundred of millions for forcing developers out under false pretenses just so Bobbi can keep their cash.

I am sorry, but these companies are evil incarnate. Their leaders are evil and have a history of evil. There is nothing to save in any of them. The only companies that are worse currently are Microsoft (a convicted monopolist on two continents) and Sony, the most incompetent security firm in existence.

Saying it is the fault of the stockholders is BS pure and simple. It is the fault of the leaders. Leaders are what drives the direction of companies large and small. These men are evil and under their leadership the companies have all become evil and incompetent in the very fields the companies exist in. They universally have no love for games, the gaming industry nor any customers.

Horrid people, leading companies into infamy doing horrid things to the world and their customers because of their own yearly bonus. Don't be confused and think there is any other reason then the bonuses due them for these actions.

Aeshi:
I can't help but wonder how much of this is just "I got kicked out" Butthurt.

uncanny474:

OT: I don't wanna be "that guy" who does nothing but praise Valve, but look at their corporate structure, then to EA's, then back at their games, then back to EA's. Sadly, EA's games are not as good as Valve's, and it's pretty obvious why.

Depends on what particular part(s) you're looking at, Valve's "Semi-Anarchist" structure may work out very well for them creatively, but it really doesn't lend itself well to the technical side of things, and it shows (Origin runs WAY smoother than Steam does[1], and I've had TF2 take 5 minutes to load a single map[2] once)

Alright, what dimension are you living in? Origin runs like a one legged donkey smacked up on painkillers and is so poorly designed a 12 year old could have done it better.

If you mean load up times, well I just booted them both up and Origin prompted me about 4 times and then chugged, while Steam just had a long load up. I don't have a whole lot against EA, what I do hate is Origin and them forcing it on us, and I know, I know, Valve did the same, and steam was crap when it came out, but EA has had somewhere near 7 years and could learn from Valves mistakes, but they didn't. I just think it's a crap system.

[1] though that could be partially due to Origin being a bit more basic
[2] not even a particularly big one

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here