Life, The Universe, And Gaming — A New EA CEO Would Be Bittersweet
Or: Why Electronic Arts is merely a pretender to Activision’s throne in hell.
If you’ve been paying any heed to recent industry rumours and reports then you might have seen the news that EA might be firing their CEO this July. That’s right, John “The future is digital” Riccitiello might well be out of a job come August, if rumours are to be believed.
And I can’t really say I completely like it…
Now I know there are some of you who scoff at anything Electronic Arts, and will visit every news piece from them, on this site or any other, to post your hatred for them in the comments before heading back to playing Mass Effect, Rock Band or Battlefield online, but I implore you to hear me out (well, read) and allow me to provide your darkened minds with insight, that I may shed light on some revelations you may not have ever even realised of the company you claim to abhor.
Before I go on, because I know by the end of this I’m going to get called out on it, let it not be said that my opinion of the company was recently swayed in a positive light. If anything, the advent of such things as Origin and Online Passes has had negative connotations for me. But the truth is that before these things, I loved EA. I would even go so far as to defend them on websites, for I truly believed in them. Some would say my mind was young and full of folly, but I would say that I cared enough to look at the good as well as the bad. Many people don’t get that about me.
In any case, let’s continue with John Riccitiello.
Most recently, I heard the man speak at the Electronic Arts press conference at E3 2012 where he, quite infamously for me, followed his introduction of the keynote with the following line: “A few years ago, the game you bought, was the game you got,” without so much as a hint of sarcasm. Does he perhaps not realise that the game we buy, quite ironically, is the game we want to get, not half of it now and half as DLC? Or is his hubris such that these thoughts seem irrational to his mind. Kind of a cunt so far, yes?
In truth that’s what he might seem like on the surface but at his core, he is really a businessman who looks at the company more as a medium for profit than a medium for entertainment, and the question you all need to ask yourselves is; is that a bad thing? Consider if you will that EA opts to go solely as an entertainment medium (no current publisher does) and gives us everything we want, removing digital content and shipping everything possibly created within a game in the box, catering specifically to the core gamer and investing millions each year into new, risky IP. How sure are you that such a plan will succeed?
I’m here to tell you all today that the core gamer is not a big market. We are just a very outspoken market, who will frivolously debate gaming online while the far larger contingent of casual gamers are too busy working, social networking or just typically doing things that don’t involve gaming websites. They play loads of games each year just like we do, however their choices of title would have you, the core gamer, frothing at the mouth. I know I could never understand why people cared for a Wii at all, it’s quite honestly a toy that incorporates digital in my opinion.
But John Riccitiello is himself a gamer and even still, even though the company needs to focus on the casual market as well as the core market, he looked out for us once. Make no mistake that when he joined the company around 2007, the following years saw the releases of such games as Crysis, Dead Space, Dante’s Inferno, Army of Two, Mirror’s Edge, Skate and my beloved Dragon Age: Origins. There were further acquisitions later on as well as sequels that I didn’t care to mention (but you already know them) but look at how many really big games the publisher has released since then? Now consider if you will the years 2003 – 2006. How many games can you name from the publisher that don’t start with Medal of Honor, Need For Speed, Battlefield or FIFA? Command & Conquer, okay. What else?
Would it then shock you if I said that since the circa 2007 employment of John Riccitiello, the company’s average game releases per year dropped from 66 to a paltry 22 this past fiscal year? You wouldn’t tell, would you? That’s because behind the scenes, Riccitiello has been working for the core gamer. He’s just not had the luxury of other publishers in being able to charge ridiculously (borderline extortion) high prices for games he knows will sell in the tens of millions regardless… Activision. In my mind, I don’t see how any other publisher could hold a coin to Activision when it comes to shady, underhanded business practice, but more on this later.
People hate EA. You all do, I can see it in your faces each time you read a news piece regarding the company.
The one thing I cannot defend is the Online Pass system. Who the fuck approved that, really? I’ve gone on and on and on regarding the topic and I just cannot see it as anything more than the publishers getting greedy and demanding what they feel is rightly theirs from the act of second-hand resale. That’s like Toyota asking for a cut each time you sell one of their cars. It just wouldn’t fly anywhere else.
Now, a few weeks ago Jim Sterling released this video to the internet as part of his Jimquisition series, have a look at see what he says on the matter:
Please watch the video. It saves me having to type out another thousand words that nobody will read.
One of the key points Jim ‘It has to be through the penis‘ Sterling brings up is the pricing of EA’s games. I dare you to name me three triple-A titles releasing before 2007 that cost less than R500 for consoles and R250 for PC. Nowadays they’re everywhere. And why? Because when Riccitiello took over as CEO, one of his promises was that he would drop the price of triple-A titles (here’s where the ‘but he also dropped the quality’ argument comes in) and boy did he deliver. Sure you might argue their quality, everyone tries to, but you can’t deny that getting games like Crysis 2, Dead Space 2, Dragon Age 2 (lolol), Medal of Honor and various other titles for around R500 is not too bad, compared specifically to Activision who are actually raising their prices, such is their gall, and charging way too much for Call of Duty games and the like. Then having the fucking nerve to close down good studios like Radical Entertainment thereafter… I’ll stop before I break something.
As for the rumoured replacement Peter Moore, currently the publisher’s COO, he’s a great guy don’t get me wrong, and he’s a gamer too. Most notably, he revealed Grand Theft Auto IV by sliding up a sleeve and showing a tattoo on his arm. That is how you reveal a game. He’s also a really great speaker who is respected for telling it like it is, and has gained some reverence among the gaming populace for disliking journalists and not being afraid to show it, while still proclaiming his love for gaming.
But John Riccitiello was a similar sort of person before he took over the role.
In my opinion, as with many companies I suppose, though the CEO gets the final say on matters, there are times when the board of executives will make a decision and the CEO simply goes along with it — as will be the case if they do let go of Riccitiello. And while Online Passes are inexcusable and Origin understandable though unnecessary, you can’t help but feel as if Riccitiello has done a lot of good that has been overshadowed by the bad that is a board of executives calling the shots as their wallets see fit. You could argue this both ways so I won’t elaborate too much on it, and just leave it as a suggestion.
While some of their recent sequels have been considered sub-standard by comparison to titles from other publishers, you cannot deny that the company has released some good games this year and will continue to do so in future. They’ve already promised new IP. This year we had really great games, the likes of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Mass Effect 3 (inb4 ending) and SSX. More are coming. Say what you will of them having only seen a few trailers.
As far as I see it, the CEO position in Electronic Arts is an important role because it puts a face on the company. While I won’t argue that once that face starts to sour in the public image (especially considering EA were voted worst company in America), it’s time for a change, at the same time you need to consider what is being lost. Here’s hoping the promotion of Peter Moore (or whomever else) to CEO, if it actually happens, won’t impact such things as the pricing of games and the acquisition of new, great studios to develop new, great IP. And hopefully EA will start to earn the reputation it deserves, not the one the core gamers have given them.
They’re just misunderstood is all. I’m sure we can all identify with that…