Experienced Points

Experienced Points
EA Intervention

Shamus Young | 25 Feb 2011 17:00
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That was over three years ago. At the time I pointed out that it would be an inconvenience and an attack of consumer resale rights, while doing nothing to combat piracy. I think the last three years have proven me right.

Two years ago EA bought casual game developer Playfish Games for three hundred million American dollars. And then they laid off 1,500 employees. I understand that they wanted to get into the casual games business, but buying companies is expensive. You're not just paying for all the stuff you want, you're paying for all the parts you don't want. Imagine you want some paintings for your house, so you go out and buy an entire art gallery. You're buying all their stock, their team, the building, and all other company assets, even though all you want is a few paintings. This is an especially foolish move if you already employ thousands of painters, and have to fire some to buy the gallery.

This move showed that EA didn't have a vision for what they wanted to do with casual gaming. They didn't have games they wanted to make, or a passion for this new audience. They just knew they wanted to do what everyone else was already doing. Since the purchase of Playfish, the casual market has stabilized and we're no longer seeing the rampant growth we were before. EA got in late, and they paid a premium for it. I will be very surprised if they ever make back that $300 million.

I've said many times before that character matters, and that the behavior of a company is a reflection of the attitudes and values of its officers. Compare the behavior of EA with fan favorites like Valve or Stardock, companies who manage to put out strong titles and pay the bills at the same time. (You might argue that these companies aren't publishers. I'd counter by saying that Valve has transcended publishers by building the dominant digital-delivery platform.) Sure these companies screw up, but that's when we get to see what a company is really made of. The good companies admit fault and resolve to do better. The bad ones issue a canned apology and move on without learning anything.

While EA might look like a Borg cube from the outside, it's a company made up of thousands of passionate, creative people, (I know some of them, they're good folks) with a very small number of people at the top. This is good news, because it means that with a change of leadership (or even better, a simple change of heart) the company can correct this behavior. There is literally nothing forcing EA to act this way. The depressingly cynical view they hold of their audience doesn't serve their customers, their public image, their legacy as a creative company, or even their shareholders. If they took more pride in their work, they would be better off. So would we.

Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, Stolen Pixels, Drawn To Knowledge, and Spoiler Warning.

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