Experienced Points:
Electronic Arts: Greed Is Not the Problem

By Shamus
on Feb 18, 2014
Filed under:
Column

I’m kind of wishing I’d taken a different angle with my column this week. I wanted to talk about why EA is a badly run company, but I’m worried we’re going to get dragged into an argument over the definition of “greed”. I’ve run into this debate before, and I’m kind of kicking myself for not preemptively deflecting it.

In short: Some people say “greed” meaning “wanting more when you don’t need more”. So, asking for a raise when you already make the standard salary for your field and have enough to live on, or raising prices when your company is already solvent would both count as “greed”. The OTHER definition is a sort of monomaniacal pursuit of more, even when it results in making less. So if you charge $50 for a hamburger when the restaurant next door only charges $5, that’s greedy.

My mental definition of greed is #1, and I’m basically accusing EA of #2. If your mental definition is already #2, then I suppose the article will come off as strangely self-refuting: “EA’s problem isn’t greed, it’s that they’re greedy!”

Anyway, I know I’ve played this tune in the past, but the recent Dungeon Keeper fiasco drove me to write about it again. My beef isn’t that EA made a stupid shallow bastardization of a classic game to make money, (although that is a problem) it’s that they did so in a way that isn’t even clever or profitable. The game begins haranguing you for money before you’ve even settled in, before you’re even invested in it. A well-designed game would let you build half your dungeon and amass a bunch of (actually worthless) in-game gold, and then gradually ramp up the money required to keep going.

“I can’t quit now! Look how far I’ve come! Oh, it’s only a dollar to keep going. That’s reasonable, right?”

Then four days later:

“I can’t quit now! I’ve put a week into this and I’m so close to the next milestone! Oh, it’s only another five bucks to get rid of these messages for a whole day? I guess that’s fair. Say, I wonder how much I’ve spent so far…?”

Instead, Dungeon Keeper just starts panhandling before you’ve even settled in. I could understand some clueless indie making this blunder, but EA should know better.

My grief is reminiscent of my problems with Taco Bell back when I was a young man. I wasn’t mad that I was an overworked, underpaid peon. I was mad that all the corner-cutting was for nothing. If you’re going to screw me, the least you could do is make sure you’re not going to be hurting yourself in the process.

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From the Archives:

  1. shiroax says:

    Haven’t you done this exact column already? Point for point, if not word for word? Or was that somebody else? Or was it everybody from Escapist, one at a time?

    • bucaneer says:

      It appears to be a mix of the main points of these two columns from 11 months ago, with different examples and (perhaps) a more clear structure.

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      And, frankly, as long as EA’s not getting any better about it, they’re still the top-shelf bad example and columns will continue to be written. So long as the columns don’t become lazy about it (this isn’t) and EA continues to provide fresh examples (they have been), it seems perfectly reasonable and fair.

  2. Adam says:

    You are, of course, preaching to the choir. I knew there was plenty wrong with EA already. But what is it that Valve does differently (organizationally-speaking) that prevents them from spiraling into nonsensical loss, despair, and incompetence?

    EDIT: Oh look, I’m cyan now!

    • Tizzy says:

      Well, for starters, Valve is NOT releasing episode 3. ;-)

      Actually, I don’t know the answer to this question, I am not especially knowledgeable about the company, but I thought that one thing that WAS missing from Shamus’s account was the why Steam?

      Shamus makes it sound like Gabe Newell and accomplices had a clarity of vision for the future that was way beyond their peers. It may be so, but I am not so convinced.

      The real problem was not so much to build a distribution platform, but rather to make sure that people flocked to it. When HL2 came out together with that new Steam thing, and you HAD to go through Steam to play, many did not care much for the idea, or the strong-arm tactics used. I didn’t like Steam (still don’t, btw).

      But people, including me, put up with it. Because they really wanted to play HL2. Because Valve had already established themselves as a company that produces outstanding products with an unusually good quality control.

      So public opinion was not ready to embrace Steam. And when it started out, it had a fair share of hiccups if I remember correctly. But the majority of players were willing and eager to put up with this because they trusted the company that much.

      You simply cannot buy this kind of goodwill.

      • Humanoid says:

        I have a marginal degree of greater choice since I haven’t, and don’t intend to, play any first-party Valve games. I therefore started with no residual goodwill towards them, and certainly haven’t developed an iota of it in the way they’ve conducted themselves since. Personally I trust Gabe about as far as I can throw him ….which wasn’t meant to be a weight joke, I swear, but turned into one. Much of it revolves around the fact that every change they’ve made involves the inducement of people to stay online longer and more often, and the bastardisation of the offline mode as a result of that. The goal is transparent enough – to make Steam as ubiquitous a piece of software for gamers as Windows is.

        I have a soft-boycott of Steam that ultimately doesn’t really do anything but make me feel better. DRM-free priority is obvious (Humble Store before GOG because they take a smaller cut), but even for fully Steamworked games, I always choose to buy from reputable third-party sellers such as GreenManGaming, Gamersgate or Gamefly, even at a marginal premium (usually there isn’t one). I don’t buy from the Steam store – period.

        Just this month I tried my first Uplay game, Might and Magic 10. It’s a game that’s available on Steam but requires Uplay nonetheless, so it’d be idiotic to buy it on Steam and double the DRM annoyance factor. I was as anti-Uplay as anyone during the worst excesses of their always-on phone-home DRM, and still am, but this game is activate-once-then-forget, which is much more palatable and is either better or at worst equivalent to Steam’s policies.

        But I digress. The point is this: it has an offline mode that actually works. “What sorcery is this?!”, you might ask. It automatically starts in offline mode if requested, and doesn’t bug me with a dialog box to confirm it. If I want to go online once in a while, it remembers my preference is still to start in offline mode and doesn’t force you to manually reenable it each time. And if I close it, it’s closed, no hiding in the task bar. That said, it’s still a pretty rough-around-the-edges piece of software, the cloud syncing kept failing, but screw cloud-syncing, I disabled it globally shortly afterwards.

        • Humanoid says:

          That said, it’s interesting that the upcoming South Park game, an Ubisoft property acquired from the carcass of THQ, will not require Uplay on top of Steam. I wonder if it’s because it was too much effort to retrofit it with Uplay compatibility given most of the game was produced under THQ’s stewardship, or if it indicates a softening in their approach to DRM. Probably the former.

        • ET says:

          Double-DRM is the reason I still haven’t played WARP.
          I mean, I’ll put up with a one-time copy-paste of a CD key (which Steam helpfully provides you, for games which use this) or something else easy and mostly innocuous.
          But there is no way I’m signing up for Origin in it’s current state.
          Maybe in another year or two, but not now.
          So now, that game is just sitting there in my Steam library, like a cancer. :|

          • Volfram says:

            Double-DRM is why I haven’t played anything by Crytek and one of the reasons I’ve passed over most things that used GFWL.

            GFWL was especially boggling since every one of those I played also required Steam.

        • Ringwraith says:

          Steam’s offline mode is weirdly inconsistent across various people.
          I never had a problem with it until randomly a mostly-offline computer started forgetting the password every fortnight, without fail.
          Then, after a re-jig of the room, it stopped doing it. It was all fine again.
          I honestly have no idea.

          Uplay does also do that thing sometimes where it cannot access the servers, and prompts you to go online to go offlines, except it can’t. Although Steam does still normally ask to go into offline mode while it cannot connect, much like Uplay (normally) does.

          • Nimas says:

            Ha, and people say feng sui is fake. ;)

            • Ringwraith says:

              Well, it was a rearrangement involving switching one computer out and putting a newer one in, while shifting the remaining computer back into the old one’s space.
              So it was actually physically unplugged and reconnected.

            • I blame digital ley lines.

              Take a desktop computer or server that’s had more than a year of running satisfactorily. Doesn’t matter the brand or OS.

              Now move it somewhere else. Unplug it, move it, then start it back up. All computers hate this. Eventually, they will punish you for removing them from “their spot” to some other place where the ambient zeroes and ones are alien and displeasing. They protest by not working for no discernible reason for an indeterminable period of time.

              This is why laptops are so prone to fatal errors. We move them around too much.

              • Volfram says:

                Given how some of the computer repair jobs I’ve done went, your theory may have merit.

                (Once upon a time, I copied a hard drive’s contents to a new drive, copied them back, and the computer went from utterly unusable to completely fine. It was WEIRD.)

        • Rack says:

          Whenever I try to start Far Cry 3 I have to confirm I want to play offline 5 times or spend an hour and a half updating UNoPlay. Either UNoPlay has improved or M&M10 isn’t using the full fat version.

        • Tizzy says:

          I completely understand where you come from. When I had a gaming PC, I used to start steam with the modem turned off (the only way to play offline, at least back then, as far as I know).

          Whenever I turned the internet tap back on, I was always frustrated by Steam causing a lot more traffic than I wanted for no good reason (e.g., updating games that I’d never even played once! that’s what you get with bundles…)

          Finally, the program seemed to work pretty well for most users, but better not have any problems, because the help pages were minimal to say the least. I finally gave up on it; glad I don’t have a large steam library.

          Been excited by GOG ever since they opened shop, but ended up not ever using their services. Not yet anyway… But anyway, I can appreciate the difference.

        • Dreadjaws says:

          I think you’re being absolutely unfair to Steam. Valve is not trying to push people to be more online all the time. They simply realized that’s where things are moving and they are tagging along, rather than staying behind.

          Why? Well, because that’s the only way to keep up. Remember how many problems, say, Nintendo had for refusing to add online options in their consoles. Things only sped along for them when they realized it was foolish and added online support.

          And really, why would it make you feel better to boycott Steam? It’s not like they’re doing anything evil. Yes, the service is not 100% ideal, but it’s far better than most of the alternatives, and their pros far outweigh their cons. Take a minute to analyze this: before Steam sales, when did you had the chance to pick up a new copy of a game at 85% off?

          Also, if you really think not buying directly from the Steam store somehow harms Steam, you’re ridiculously naive.

          • Humanoid says:

            Initiatives like the trading cards, and indeed achievements in general, beg to differ. They are inducements to stay online and tied to Steam, because Steam’s goal is to ensure the ubiquity of Steam. Every little new feature is designed to tie the user down to the Valve ecosystem, and the “all my other games are on Steam so I demand this game be on Steam” syndrome is proof positive, and if you don’t think that can have a negative effect on developers then you haven’t seen entitled people demanding Steam keys for crowdfunded games even after a better, DRM-free version is promised. That’s money straight out of their budgets.

            Annoyed as I am with mandatory Steamworks titles like Fallout New Vegas, it’s by far my least concern. I get that the publisher demanded DRM and Steam was the form of it chosen for the title. But when Valve have convinced people to jump up and down demanding Steam integration for titles who have no business being locked down by their framework, it’s harmful. Rationally one would first choose to buy from the Humble Store, who take something like a mere 5% (it might be 10%, not sure, but still much much lower than anyone else), before GOG then Steam (both 30% as per the precedent set by Apple).

            An example I previously have experienced: the developers of Expeditions: Conquistador initially released their game under the choice of GOG, GamersGate or Desura downloads. That covered all platforms. Later when the game was made available on Steam, demands were made to have that copy even though the full experience was already available elsewhere. The developers relented and provided Steam keys to individuals who asked, and that’s money out of their pockets. Pertinently since this article is about greed, well, I’d say this was a case of greed. But it’s also exactly the type of behaviour that Valve wants to see – of it being their way or the highway.

            I don’t think my little protest is going to affect things one bit, but that said, I am somewhat curious what the final distribution is from the sale (as opposed to the known 30% cut from direct sales). If it results in one less cent for Valve then I’m happy to have denied them that one cent.

            Look, I’m not saying Steam is a disastrous imposition, but it’s been a net negative to my gaming experience and will treat is as just that.

          • syal says:

            “if you really think not buying directly from the Steam store somehow harms Steam,”

            It avoids helping them, which is all it needs to do.

          • Steve C says:

            I also don’t like Steam. Everything Humanoid said, is ditto for me. I do not like how the framework is grafted onto every game. Even ones that are free to play and can be downloaded direct from the developer that are also available on Steam can’t be unhinged from Steam if you got it from Steam.

            It feels like an invasion of privacy. For example I was given a game as a gift on Steam. It sucks. The person who gave it to me can see when and when I’m not playing it. It’s a little awkward. Then there’s the friends list itself. You can track who’s friends with who. I. Do. Not. Like. That.

            Then you’ve got the whole offline thing where it forces me to log into steam just to play in offline mode. Even if I’m not connected to the internet. I find that irritating.

            I see why people like Steam. Some people like games as a service. I’m not one of those people. I didn’t use it at all until I bought a humble bundle which (to my surprise) gave me Steam keys.

            • Tom says:

              Seconded. To this day, I refuse to get steam (one reason why I LOVE the humble bundle, as they tend to release standalone, drm-free binaries for formerly steam-only games); I’ll admit more on principle than practicality.

          • Tom says:

            Thing is, it’s not an option. It was never an option. From the start, games on steam could *only* be played if you signed up to steam.

    • guy says:

      Valve does everything differently.

    • Will Riker says:

      I think the short answer is that Valve understands games. The company is run by people who are gamers and game developers, so they have the knowledge to know how to please their customers and to suss out trends (like digital distribution) before they really take off.

      EA is run by suits–most of the people high up in EA’s org chart have run all different kinds of companies. John Riccitiello, before becoming CEO of EA, was CEO of a sporting goods chain and a baked goods company. The upshot is these people don’t understand games, not deeply anyway. They understand how to sell products, and they don’t really think that selling games is any different than selling sporting goods or snack cakes. That’s why they continue to make blunders that gamers manage to see coming from miles away.

      That’s not the whole story, but it’s a huge part of it.

    • Lord Nyax says:

      A while back somebody sent me a copy of Valve’s employee handbook. I’ve lost it since then, but you may be able to find a copy somewhere online. The long and short of it is that Valve has a extremely unorthodox organizational structure. Their org chart is two lines: Gabe at the top (as the owner) and everyone else in one long row below him. Meaning, there are no managers. There are no bosses. There are no officers. Nobody hands out work assignments. Instead everybody just works on what they want to work on. They give each other performance reviews instead of being given one by a boss. If someone wants a raise they’re judged by a group of their fellow workers who decide if they deserve a raise. When somebody has has an idea for a project they just start talking to their coworkers about it. If enough people are interested they form a group and start working on it. There is a huge company emphasis on hiring good people and giving them the freedom to do what they do well. Which is another reason why it’s so hard to get hired by Valve: everyone wants to work there because of their organizational policies and their success, so they can choose from the cream of the crop.

      • Humanoid says:

        Might explain why they’ve got nothing meaningful done for a good while now. :P

        • Duffy says:

          I was going to reply tongue in cheek but then got curious so I wiki dove a bit to get some specifics:

          At a quick glance it looks like Valve has released at least one game or property expansion each year for the last….15 years. Looking through the titles all of those games are ‘technically’ well done products and many of them are critically acclaimed. The most recent, DOTA2, is kind of a big deal in the gaming eSports world. (I was already in LoL so booo DOTA sux :-P)

          Also something to consider is that they are continually tweaking and upgrading Steam, pursuing their new SteamOS and Steam Machine initiative, and (this is very important in my eyes) they aren’t scared to cancel a project that just isn’t working.

          For a company that self runs and self publishes with only around 300 something employees that’s actually not that bad a release rate and impressively with almost no duds.

    • False Prophet says:

      Valve doesn’t have shareholders, and therefore no senior-level execs accountable to shareholders, and thus no management putting pressure on their devs to follow every shiny new trend or widget, or to adhere to grueling production schedules. They’ve managed to stay independent and privately-owned because Steam is a machine that continually generates revenue for them, plus their continuously popular franchises are profitable for a very long time.

      Thinking of similarly-sized companies that appear to retain their creative freedom, there’s Bethesda. Bethesda is owned by ZeniMax, who also have no shareholders to be accountable, so as long as Bethesda keeps making money I expect ZeniMax leaves them alone. (They’re probably ZeniMax’s most reliable subsidiary right now.)

      You can probably include Blizzard as well. They’re not privately-held, being married to Activision, but like Valve they have a constant, reliable stream of revenue in WoW. The only thing Activision has that’s even nearly as successful is Call of Duty, and bloom might be fading from that rose. So Blizzard largely gets left alone. They could afford to completely revise Diablo III something like 3 times in development, when one revision is usually enough to bankrupt most studios, that’s how much money Blizzard has to burn.

      I don’t know much about them, but I suspect CCP is in a similar boat with EVE. They’re not privately-held, but IIRC most of their shareholders are local Icelandic interests that mostly let them do their thing.

      Hypothetically, compare Bioware, who likely couldn’t afford the increasing costs of production for 7th generation (i.e. 360 & PS3) console games, had to start selling shares, many of which were bought by a savvy EA holding company hungry for beloved brands, and when BW couldn’t repay their debts, had no choice but to sell to their biggest shareholder. (This is just rumours I’ve heard, but it sounds plausible.)

  3. The Nick says:

    That’s the sort of greed that always confuses me.

    I can understand a game or a product being terrible because of cheapness or corner-cutting, but when they do stuff that neither saves money nor gets more business, it’s just baffling to me.

    • There is a certain belief, common among the intellectually lazy, that evil (or greed) is intelligence and good stupidity, and vice versa. Among this group, a certain veniality, even the most stupid decisions, are treated as if they were cunning, simply due to being selfish. No choice need be sensible or even remotely sane, as long as it can justify itself with shallow demands.

      Hence EA simply couldn’t understand the reaction Dungeon Keeper, or for that matter why Square was completely blindsided by the reaction to Final Fantasy All the Bravest. In both cases, poor decision making had become endemic, and in the lack of even average and adequate thought or planning, a sad and rather unimaginative form of greed reigned.

      Your pardon, oh Muse of the Internet, if I yet feel overly grandiloquacious today.

      • Mephane says:

        Yes, part of the problem certainly is that EA is suffering from a chronic case of Dunning-Kruger.

        • Followed the link. That is a very interesting concept.
          And it explains the whole nature of modern finance-oriented management. That is, there is an increasingly widespread school of thought that if you understand business/finance, you understand everything you need to know about how to run any business whatsoever . . . that since money is fungible, the techniques for managing money are not just relevant, but the only thing relevant, to running any business that involves money. Similar things go for certain business hypotheses about how organizations work.
          The boggling thing has always been, how can people actually believe this, and apparently continue to believe it as they start trying to manage firms and have no understanding of the specifics of the business? I suppose Dunning-Kruger isn’t exactly an explanation–leads to the question “So why are people like that?”–but it certainly casts some light. They can’t tell they’re incompetent at the specifics of the business because incompetent people can’t.

      • Karthik says:

        Grandiloquacious? Did you mean grandiloquent?

    • ENC says:

      Such as? I already know you can’t cite examples because EA have never disclosed individual financials for titles so I already know you don’t know anything about it. At best you get things lumped together, like Crysis 2, FIFA and BF3 all making around $1b together, or Simpsons: Tapped Out and FIFA for mobile games making about $90m.

      That is the amount of depth we get and only on a very few select categories so there is no way what you’re saying has any proof.

  4. A. Hieronymus Bosch says:

    Not to be That Guy™, but shouldn’t it be an homage (second page)?

    Edit: Oh, hey, we can edit again! Also, not too wild about the cyan (just sayin’).

  5. Ethan says:

    I think being greedy isn’t just wanting more than you need. To me, it’s more about wanting and trying to acquire more than you deserve, when your needs are already met. A well-off person isn’t greedy if they decide they want more money, then get a better job to earn it. They’re greedy if they try to get it through underhanded means, because then they don’t deserve it.

    EA’s problem (going by your columns, I haven’t actually kept up with industry news) is that they’re a big company charging a lot more than people feel they deserve for their products/services. The number one lesson they should take from Valve is how to make customers feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.

    • Neil W says:

      EA’s problem is they are bad capitalists. Rather than attempting to make money by meeting their customers’ needs and charging for the privilege, they are creating products to charge money for, and hoping that customers turn up.

      If anything I would say that their greed is unbalanced by not having suitable amounts of pride. Rather than ask “Is this a great product that people will want to buy?” they seem to ask “What’s the best way to extract money from people for this product?” It’s a subtle difference.

      (The relevance of the other deadly sins I leave as an exercise for others)

      • Tom says:

        It’s worse than that. I think that for EA, games are no longer the product. The players are. The players are what need to be manipulated and controlled to produce money; the games are just plant at this point.

        Hence, when nobody liked the mass effect 3 ending, their response was not to put in a different ending that people would like, but to tack on an explanation of why the players were supposed to like the original ending. They weren’t trying to fix the game, they were trying to fix the players.

        Electronic arts are about as far away from art as it’s possible to get. Any artist in any field would know that it would be instant career suicide to go around telling people who didn’t like their latest work why they should have done.

    • Humanoid says:

      I’m probably more drawn to the line between someone being greedy and someone being savvy. Instinctively I tend to think that the former is a chaotic stupid version of the concept, which kind of fits what EA is doing.

    • Volfram says:

      I’m prone to question anyone who starts throwing around the word “deserve,” whether they be a marketing expert or a politician. Most of this is that my upbringing taught me that the most anybody really deserves is to die in a ditch, so most of us are ahead of the curve there, and anybody who does get what they “deserve” should be pitied, because it kind of sucks to end up like that.

      My definition of “Greed” is more in line with Shamus’s interpretation: wanting more, and I’ll be the first to advertise that greed is behind my motivations for most things I do. I’m not doing you a favor, I’m buying your good will.

      All life forms are inherently greedy. It’s how natural selection works.

  6. Michael says:

    I don’t agree with your definitions. The idea of wanting more than you need is very vague. Our true needs are very, very few, but having only that much (money/time/whatever) would be pretty miserable.

    It seems too much like an attempt at adding morality into the equation. Greedy people are bad people because they exceed some arbitrary level of wanting more stuff that gets subjectively assigned by whoever is judging whether or not they’re greedy.

    I would say that greed is more like ‘wanting to be ever happier’, and to some extent everyone is greedy, and that’s a good thing.

    • syal says:

      Greed is an addiction; you don’t want more money because you’re planning to spend it on anything, you want more money because you can get more money. You don’t want candy because it tastes good, you want candy because it’s there somebody’s going to get it and you want to get it first.

      Compulsive accumulation, I guess I’d call it. You don’t want the object, you want the feeling of acquiring something.

    • Shamus says:

      I love how I predicted this and it happened anyway. I guess some people can’t help themselves?

      Wulfgar: This goes for you too.

      I’m not going to haggle over the word, because like I said, that wasn’t the point of the article. EA’s problem is not that they charge too much for things, it’s that they don’t know how to use the things they already have.

      • It’s almost like they think they rightfully deserve their customers’ money yet resent having to supply something of value for it. I’d say they might have forgotten HOW to supply something of value, but there’s so much “we can’t be arsed, be happy with what we gave you” attitude at EA.

        • Volfram says:

          There it is! EA aren’t greedy, they’re Entitled!

          • I won’t link to it for fear of running (more?) afoul of politics, but there’s an article in the Daily Intelligencer section of the New York Magazine website about a reporter who crashed a party of Wall Street’s wealthiest.

            I don’t know if anyone from EA was there, but if the wealth level is any indication of attitudes across the board? It’s entitlement with sheer contempt for everyone who isn’t them.

            • Volfram says:

              If what I’ve heard from the opposite end of the financial spectrum is any indication, it’s not a direct correlation between wealth level and Entitlement. I’d suspect there’s either no real correlation, or a two-phase system, where people at the extremes tend to feel Entitled, with the rest of us in the middle looking at the messes they keep making and saying “Seriously, what is WRONG with you people!?”

              • Abnaxis says:

                Speaking as someone from a poor background, I’d say offense somewhat taken.

                Especially when you consider that a majority proportion of the people who are the most staunch supporters of entitlement reform candidates happen to reside in that lower phase.

                • Volfram says:

                  I’d ask for more details, except I suspect that would go far beyond the “no politics” rule. Instead I’d invite you to contact me through my personal blog(which can be reached by clicking my name) where we can attempt to converse peacefully there, but… I don’t see a way for you to get my E-mail through that, which is probably a spam control measure on the part of WordPress.

                  Regardless, I would invite you to contact me through my personal blog. I figure at worst, you could comment on one of my posts.

                  I saw some flaws with my statement right after I posted it. It’s a more complex issue than can be summed up in a few words(or sentences… or paragraphs…), and even “The Rich!” aren’t all bad.

                  I figure if someone is rich, it’s generally a sign they’re doing *something* right. You don’t get rich by being terrible with money.

                  • Abnaxis says:

                    Meh, I don’t think there’s enough taboo stuff there for a full-on aside. I looked back at my post, and I suppose I was being a bit touchy.

                    Also, there’s apparently been a large shift in the last 5 years that I wasn’t aware of. It used to be the case that you were more likely to find someone against social welfare among the most poor than your were among the most rich, but that’s changed since the last time I paid attention a few years ago, owing to a huge uptick in disapproval from the wealthy.

                    Still, people making less than $30,000 being 70% against entitlements (source: Pew Research Center) is a far cry from “Poor people are entitled.”

                    I think there are a number of problems thinking “rich people must be doing something right,” but yeah, not touching that with a ten foot pole here. I suppose if you’re still interested we can talk on your blog.

              • And of course by contrast the middle class never feels entitled to anything.

                Personally, I think there’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of feeling entitled to things. In the US, for instance, you used to feel entitled to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, free speech, immunity to unreasonable search and seizure, and so on. In Canada we feel entitled to some of that stuff plus decent health care, peace, order and good government, eh?

                It’s just best if it stays in some sort of proportion. “Entitled to make millions selling dreck to people who won’t get their money’s worth” is maybe an entitlement too far, is all. I don’t think anyone should really be able to be “entitled” to something only a minority of people can ever conceivably have.

        • ET says:

          I’m hopeful that enough people up top at some point realize why being viewed like that, is such a problem.
          Long-term, if people only buy their products because they have a monopoly or vendor lock-in (cough, Microsoft, cough)…well then people will switch products when a competitor steps into the arena, won’t they?

      • Joshua says:

        Well, I’d say that it’s because the “greed” word is thrown around rather carelessly, as if too imply that the person/company *wanted* too much and therefore they were “greedy”. What they really meant to say is that the individual in question acted unethically and/or stupidly to get what they wanted.

        So, saying someone is greedy leads to an obfuscation of the issue, when better analysis could be done to determine the problem.

        I’d say their problem is more of a Marketing Theory issue, like a Push vs. Pull strategy. They’re too busy trying to figure out what they want the customer to buy and how to force them to do it rather than figuring out what the customer wants and figuring out a way to supply it.

        • Trix2000 says:

          This is really how I see it. I don’t care how much money people want to make, whether it greatly exceeds their needs/wants or not. The issue to me is when people expect to just be given the extra without equivalent effort.

          A single individual can work harder towards better jobs/education to increase their salary. A store can put more effort into customer service and stocking the right items to keep people coming back for more purchases. A company can put the time to figure out what its customers want in their products and react accordingly – improving desirable features and fixing problems. All could be driven by a desire for more money, but I think it’s hard to deny it to them when they’re willing to go the extra mile to earn it.

          The impression I get from someone like EA is that the company as a whole is not putting forth the effort to understand things, and instead resorting to lazier methods. It’s ‘greedy’ in that they are operating under the expectation that they should be making a lot of money, when they don’t (or can’t) do enough to figure out how to earn that money.

          Personally I don’t hate EA… but unless they put the time into making things that I want and like (in all senses, not just specific games), I see no reason to buy their products.

  7. Yerushalmi says:

    You’ve made the EA vs. Valve comparison before. At the time you used a very effective analogy of two fast food restaurants, which stood out so much I still remember it well.

    EDIT: Ah, no, it was Activision. Here: http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=9611

    Yeah, I know, I undercut my “I still remember it well” assertion :p But only regarding the companies involved, not the analogy itself.

  8. Alan says:

    After some thought, I’m concluded that I often use “greedy” to mean “willing to make people unhappy to make money.” I suspect others use it similarly. It seems more important to me than wasted potential and disgraceful incompetence.

    By all accounts Candy Crush Saga is excellent at harnessing its potential and is more than competently executed. It’s also an incredibly greedy game that makes people unhappy in an effort to create an addiction-like cycle.

    Conversely, I think Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator is wasting a lot of potential and, to be charitable, makes a large number of technical decisions I can’t fathom. But the author is trying to make money by making his customers happy. (I am!) Not greedy.

    When Half-Life 2 forced Steam down my throat, it was incredibly greedy. It sucked and made my experience worse. Valve got something out of it, but I didn’t. But today Steam is perhaps best known for sales that offered incredible value. The client still frequently sucks and often makes my experience worse. But overall, it’s making me happier. Not greedy.

    The definition fits a lot of other situations where a company or behavior is described as greedy. Wal-Mart. Enron. LIBOR manipulation. The mortgage-backed security fiasco. Tax evasion by wildly profitable corporations.

    • Kian says:

      That definition isn’t very portable. What makes someone unhappy varies from person to person, and with it the ability to perceive if others are unhappy about something. So even people going off of the exact same definition will have different views on whether someone is acting greedily or not.

      • HiEv says:

        No matter what definition of “greed” you use, it will be somewhat subjective. You can’t get around that.

        But this definition is more about the intentions of the perpetrator than the effects on the victims. It’s about a willingness to do harm to others for your own advantage, regardless of whether or not there are actually any victims of that greed.

    • HiEv says:

      I heartily endorse this definition of “greed”.

      It gets down to the roots of the failure regarding cooperation, fairness, reciprocity, and empathy, which are the basis for morality. “Greed” is a moral judgment, so describing it in terms of how much you want doesn’t really address that problem directly, while describing it as wanting things at the expense of the wellbeing of others does.

      • syal says:

        This is probably a better definition than the one I gave earlier. But I’ll add another bit; greed is a willingness to hurt someone, including yourself, to get something you want. Going after something so singlemindedly that the costs of doing do don’t matter to you.

        Basically, a mouse that goes after trapped food is also greedy. (At least, like, the bucket trap style, where it’s obviously a trap.)

  9. Wulfgar says:

    I don’t know if i define greed same way you do. There is something not right in way you use this word.

  10. Roy says:

    I would define greed at least in its most negative sense as “Wanting for the sake of having.”

    In relation to corporations like EA the negativity comes from the fact that the money earned is only earned in the pursuit of more money. The end point is the hoarding of money. If the company had any kind of greater ambitions, artistic or otherwise it would immediately become more tolerable.

    • Tizzy says:

      It seems that, when people are throwing around he g-word, it’s also not just on general principle, but because they feel personally attacked. It’s not “they want money”, but rather “they want MY money”. And The subtext is: “without having earned it.”

      When a company asks a lot of money for things that we deem worth it, we don’t hold it against he company. We might curse the poor state of our finances, but seldom begrudge the company.

      • Kian says:

        The problem with companies like EA isn’t that they want more money for the sake of having more money. I couldn’t care less why they want more money. That’s up to them.

        The problem is that they don’t act in a way that leads them to have more money. Even though they want more money, and they’re clearly willing to go to great lengths to get it, they’re not effective at making more money. Instead they act in a cartoonishly simple-minded fashion. For just one example, lets consider what’s become known of their HR disasters.

        They push their employees to the breaking point, even though it is well known that that produces worse quality output. Pushing your employees costs you money, as it encourages them to seek employment elsewhere, which forces you to constantly be training new people who will then take that institutional knowledge with them.

        This might have been an effective model in a factory a hundred years ago, but it doesn’t work when your employees’ knowledge is what adds value to your product. The managers at EA are so far out of touch with what the proper way to handle a software company is, that they actually add into their schedules a period of crunch time.

        Crunch is a consequence of a failure to manage time properly. The people that should manage time are the producers and managers along the chain of command, but as the ones that pay the costs are below them, they have no incentive to fix their mismanagement. Instead, the people above them, being even more out of touch with reality, probably encourage this self-destructive and self-defeating behavior.

        If they were competent, and their only desire was to make as much money from making games as they possibly could, they would treat their employees better, not worse. It’s not greed that causes them to exploit their employees, it’s just incompetence.

        • ENC says:

          Uhh…. they are effective at making more money. Sure the shareprice tanked during the GFC (as did every American company’s) but seriously, 100% returns on capital gains since 2009 is pretty bloody good for investors. Even a quick read of the 2013 financial report could tell you that.

          • There’s an element of “Hollywood” in their output, though. Many movie studios are seeing huge returns on their films, yet can one say there’s a ton of originality and innovation going on? Over 90% of films being made are sequels, reboots, or based on existing IP. Similarly, EA has its sports games and bro-shooters to make up for its SimCity-style debacles, and even those “hits” aren’t awesome genre-busting products. They’re very, very safe.

            Perhaps one could say that, for management/investors, it’s become more about getting that return than it is about getting that return by making an incredible product. This happens in most industries, I fear, when a certain level of success is reached. Why innovate when you can just keep doing what you’re doing? Why try something new when you can just buy up companies who are doing new stuff and then (through will or incompetence, see: Popcap) snuff them out?

            I’d say that the definition of greed in this case is when money becomes more of a goal than the quality and/or brilliance of the product being sold. It’s the extension of franchises rather than taking risks.

            • AyeGill says:

              Well, in that case, the problem really is that EA are greedy. They’re making decision that screw the customer (or at least, that we don’t like) in order for them to make more money, and it seems to be working.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Thats not greed,thats laziness and stupidity.When you see someone make a product and profit off of it and think “hey,I can do that,its easy”,without researching why the product was so successful,thats stupid and arrogant.No,you cant just replicate something someone else did without first finding out why it worked,and then finding out where to make improvements.Simply thinking “Hey,that feature X is popular,so lets inflate that 10 times” is just lazy,and of course it wont work.

    Now if you want to talk real greed,thats the candy crush saga saga.Smartly abusing the system you do understand in order to screw over a bunch of people and rip them off,thats greed.Thats far worse than EAs stupidity.

  12. Ben says:

    I played DK2 and love it, and still go back and play it once every few years, but… Is anybody else actually kinda liking the new DK? Mostly the PVP aspect of it seems interesting. I haven’t gotten into it too much though, so I’m not really sure yet.

    • zot says:

      “Haven’t got into it much” is a great understatement. After a first look it seems like any significant advancement would take lots of money or weeks of real time.

      Since I’m not willing to invest either of those things, so there’s no way I am ever going to see any new and interesting parts of the game, no matter how new and interesting they may be.

  13. MelTorefas says:

    I really enjoyed the article, and I think you are 100% right. I am in the same camp, finding their wasteful incompetent bungling and horrendous treatment of human beings far worse sins than the price-tags on their horrible games.

  14. rofltehcat says:

    I’d say “EA hire this man!” but it’d probably mean throwing you to the wolves :(

    What about “EA hire this man and give him a big axe to chop off some heads!” ?

    • Shamus Cop! Hmm… Somehow I can’t see Shamus in aviators. Maybe Uni-Shamus would work better.

    • lucky7 says:

      And then have him make a video game about his experience.

      “Shamus goes to EA: The Musical!!!”

      • Mephane says:

        Now I have to think of Little Britain’s “Musical: The Musical” sketch. :D

      • Volfram says:

        Given it would be created and produced by the Spoiler Warning crew, “Shamus Goes to EA: The Musical” would probably be an epic and hilarious game, and I would definitely play it.

        I couldn’t even imagine a video game musical before, and now I want one.

        • Shamus says:

          I’d rather have a “Dungeon Keeper” or “Evil Genius” kinda game where you play as the bad guy: Squeeze the dev team as hard as you can to make your AAA game. Promise bonuses for stuff employees can never achieve, fire people just before they become full-time employees and then hire them back again, use tactical lawsuits, mandatory crunch time, pacify angry employees by firing managers who were just doing what you told them, use threats, etc. You’d have some kind of “Shenanigans” value that – if it gets too high – you end up with a scandal or a lawsuit. So you have to treat people as badly as possible without them getting mad enough to quit or sue.

          I’d play that.

  15. MrGuy says:

    While it’s in no way a refutation of the story that “EA is squandering opportunities to make more money by their own shortsighted tactics,” unfortunately it’s a bit of a myth that EA’s management is actively running them into the ground.

    I’m looking at their financial results for 2013, which (among others) can be found here

    Here’s the net income/loss for EA over the last 5 years (REALLY hope this comes out….)

    ……………………………….2013…..2012…..2011…..2010…..2009
    Net income (loss)……$98…….$76….$(276)…$(677)..$(1,088)

    What this means is that, over the last 5 years, EA has gone from LOSING one BILLION dollars in 2009 to MAKING 100 million dollars in 2013. They’ve improved profitability each of the last 5 years.

    They haven’t really done anything for the stock price, so it’s clear Wall Street isn’t overly impressed at this. And if you look back further, on a longer timeframe, they were even MORE profitable before 2008 (when they moved into the red for 5 years in a row).

    But at the end of the day, they’ve gone from a massive loss to a modest profit with reasonably steady growth. You could certainly argue they’d have been even more successful and profitable if they’d made better decisions. But regrettably these aren’t the kind of long term results that get management fired. It gets them rewarded.

    • guy says:

      Given the value of the IPs they have, that is absolutely the sort of results that get executives fired. For reference, Activision-Blizzard made 1.1 billion dollars in 2012.

      • ENC says:

        Tell me again what NPAT has to do with share price and dividend issues? Do you really think the highest NPAT wins for shareholders? Granted Blizzard do issue dividends but that also means it’s a company you expect to hold onto for lower returns, the kind of thing someone retiring would do. Your pension fund wouldn’t care, they’d be just as inclined to invest in Blizzard and try for capital gains which occur just as much for them.

        • krellen says:

          Quick note: “NPAT” is “net profit after taxes”. ENC is very bad at defining his terms.

          If we didn’t have a horrible broken financial system, making a profit would, in fact, be what wins for shareholders. The idea of buying stock and then selling it for a quick profit, based on stock price alone, is an inherently destructive one, and one that is directly responsible for the economic crisis the world is still recovering from.

          Short-term profits benefit no one in the long run, because all the money in the world won’t save you when the economy collapses entirely.

          • guy says:

            Additionally, two minutes with Google sufficed to tell me that since 2009, EA’s share price change was +67% while Activision-Blizzards’ rose by +105%, and Activision-Blizzard has a market-cap of 13.87 billion to EA’s 8.79 billion. Granted, EA puts up similar gains from their lowest point, after their price crashed in 2012.

          • Scarily, there are algorithms out there that trade in milliseconds for profits based on share price alone. They account for over half of trading currently going on.

            They’re also learning to use a kind of predator/prey model against each other. Again, this has nothing to do with the actual companies or what they do, make, or whatever, it’s just all numbers with the goal of making the dollar amount for a given bot increase. There are plans afoot to make this system even faster using laser-based communications.

            I’m wondering if it’ll eventually get to the point when the stock market is meaningless as a measure of value of a company per se instead of the result of a kind of graphics-free bot-run Unreal Tournament variant. Not to mention it renders us meatbags kind of useless as traders unless we can code new bots… or survive in the wasteland on radroach meat and bottle caps. :)

            • ET says:

              In general, I think, humans are really bad at noticing trends, when they happen a little bit at a time.
              Eventually, robots will take over more unskilled jobs which people use to pay their way through university.
              Starbucks? Coffee brew machine.
              Steamroller/Forklift operator? Robot.*
              Garbage man? Robotic trucks.

              * Heck, this one’s already happening, and the only reason it’s still “good” is that the robots are serving other humans, who no longer have to do back-breaking labour lifting things onto/off of pallets.
              The robots carry stuff across the warehouse, and put it within reach, so the humans just pick things off of shelves and put them in boxes, so they don’t have to bend down/over.
              How long until the humans at those particular positions are replaced with robot arms?

              • krellen says:

                Replacing humans with robots is fine, as long as we as a society also accept that maybe humans don’t need to work (or work as much as they currently do).

                So long as we cling to the idea that everyone must “do their part”, have a job and “earn their keep”, replacing humans with robots is a destructive practice.

                • ET says:

                  I’m hopeful that society will catch on to that idea.
                  Maybe lower the requirements for “full time” to 20 hours per week from 40, or have tax incentives/penalties for companies who are displacing workers.
                  I’m actually wondering why there aren’t already penalties for displacing workers, with workers from [insert-country-name-here].

                • Abnaxis says:

                  I think this is where the next big crash is going to come from, at least in the US.

                  Anything that doesn’t require creativity or critical thinking can be replaced with a computer. This is a massive, massive proportion of jobs, and it is becoming cheaper and easier to replace people every day. At the same time, the “them that work, eat” mentality is so deeply ingrained in American culture, there is no way society will react fast enough to cope with the changes.

                  I’m guessing sometime in the next 10-20 years, these two phenomena are going to clash, and the result is going to be an ugly, possibly violent mess. It’s a shame–I mean, we’re basically talking about transitioning to the Jetsons era, where computers take care of all the menial tasks so people can focus on what lights our passions. The trip from here to there is going to be painful though.

              • Except these aren’t really trends. These are bots that look for indicators, patterns, etc. that take place in slices of time your stopwatch doesn’t measure. Often, the ‘bots use their own portfolios to lure other bots into behavior (buying or selling) that they can take advantage of.

                Besides, these bits of code only know trends from numbers, not from any actual familiarity with the companies, services, or products involved, unless A.I. tech has taken a huge leap forward somewhere. They can’t tell an Apple share from a Chrysler share apart from whatever data fields they’re programmed to look for, which means it’s all pretty much pure math and not truly an investment as far as I’m concerned. This kind of activity could be done over colored beads or wood screws, since all that’s happening is attempts to make one’s pile of them bigger and nothing else.

                • ET says:

                  Yeah, I think I didn’t explain that well enough.
                  The trend I was referring to, was the trend of corporations replacing humans at every level with computers/robots, wherever possible.
                  (i.e. A decision made by a human, to employ robots, such as high-speed trading bots.)
                  Stock market trading, warehouse workers, pick-n-place machines – that’s stuff that’s already robotified, over the past 10-20 years.
                  And the number of types of jobs keeps growing, that they’re replacing humans at.

                • Richard says:

                  Most of what these bots do is “arbitrage”.

                  Basically, in market A the share can be sold at $1.00, while over in market B the share can be bought for $0.99.

                  So if you can buy and near-instantly sell a lot of them, you make a useful profit that covers the transaction costs.

                  The act of doing this pushes the two prices together, as sellers push their price up in response to a large purchase and buyers down due to the large sale.

                  That means if you’re slower than the others, you will lose money due to transaction costs and the risk of the price difference inverting.
                  Of course, by delaying just right you might take advantage of an inversion and…

                  The upshot is that a human trader gives the price a nudge, and the bots then amplify or damp it depending on their goal setting.

                  Thus madness could easily occur.

                  I used to wonder what the transfer function of a stock market looks like, before I realised that some people’s careers really are based on working that out.
                  That’s just too horrifying for words!

                  • A “Tobin Tax” (tiny tax on all stock market transactions) would kill this whole model by making the cost of the transaction bigger than the tiny fluctuations being taken advantage of. Just one of the handy things about such a tax.

            • Abnaxis says:

              I have always felt like the stock market is nothing more than a money factory for the rich. People can use money to make money, while expending as little effort and thought as possible to do so. Bot traders exemplify this more than anything–apparently, it was too inefficient to do analyses, just pass the it off on a computer because hiring a human trader takes too much work. That money needs to start multiplying itself already!

          • Volfram says:

            “Quick note: “NPAT” is “net profit after taxes”. ENC is very bad at defining his terms.”

            Thanks, that was helpful. Do you suspect ENC is also an EA fanboy or shill? I think his default Gravitar is probably highly reflective of his actual appearance.

            • Shamus says:

              “Do you suspect ENC is also an EA fanboy or shill? I think his default Gravitar is probably highly reflective of his actual appearance.”

              Please don’t go there. I REALLY don’t want this to be personal.

        • MrGuy says:

          “Tell me again what NPAT has to do with share price and dividend issues? Do you really think the highest NPAT wins for shareholders?”

          Buh? This is investing 101. Stock is an ownership share in the company. Rational* investors seek to maximize their returns over time. To the extent stock prices are rational, they are supposed to be exactly a risk-adjusted measure of the expected long term NPAT over time.

          NPAT is the ONLY thing that’s a win for stockholders. It’s either an accumulation of cash that the company can pay as a dividend, or money the company will re-invest in the company (leading to MORE profit later). This is assuming rational (there’s that word again!) management who can properly evaluate how to best use that cash.

          That’s different from saying CURRENT NPAT is necessarily a win – the idea is long term maximization, so a rational well-run company might take a loss or reduce profitability in the short term in order to make more in the longer term. A loss making company might be highly valuable if they’re growing fast and going to be highly profitable later. But even that’s about long-term NPAT.

          If you don’t think profitability is the thing that’s a win for shareholders, what are you suggesting in its place?

          So, yeah – my original contention was that EA’s strategy over the last ~5 years appears to be “working” – they’ve taken a huge loss-making company and turned it into a profit-making company. Could they have done better? Maybe – it’s hard to compare actuals to “might have been” definitively. But unfortunately from a purely business perspective, they’re not doing poorly.

          * Whether stock prices and investors are truly rational in the way most economists’ models expect them to be is a bit of an open question.

          • guy says:

            Bear in mind that the years they took huge losses in involved the acquisition of some very valuable properties. They should be seeing pretty high returns on those investments, and they aren’t. I guess they have stopped buying up more licenses to set on fire, and paid a halfway-reasonable price for StarWars, but they’re substantially in the hole on their big investments.

    • ENC says:

      If you read further you’ll see in 2011 they restructed their company massively, moving from 40+ AAA titles per year to a dozen AAA titles per year (or at least that was the goal) and you can tell it definitely helped putting more money into fewer big games (as much as people may like to whine game budgets are too big).

      Also Shamwow, DK not profitable? It’s still way too early to tell mate. But for reference, their 2 biggest mobile games make over $90m combined (FIFA and The Simpsons one) so it’s not an unprofitable business model.

      For those figures, you’ll also have to remember that there’s also one-off acquisition related expenses, as well as the restructuring (which was the majority of the 2011 loss).

      There’s also no reporting differences that I can see, at least going back to 2009 so the loss is consistent. You also have to remember these numbers aren’t cut and dry; what the business is ‘truly’ like and what’s reported are 2 separate things.

      With that being said, the GFC did hit them hard as they were already a low-revenue retention business and don’t have the luxury of small CoGS like Blizzard and Valve have, so I really don’t understand why people hate on them (irrational enough as it is before this is taken into consideration) for just trying to stay afloat.

      I know people here aren’t inclined to do any research, but really Shamwow. You’re commenting on the success or failure of games you literally have no idea how well performed. (None of us do actually because they aren’t disclosed separately in the financial statements) You’re also commenting that they HAVEN’T changed focus when 1 minute of research would show you the 2011 and 2013 restructurings? I mean really, I thought I knew you better than this. You’re also talking about how the ‘company is incompetent’. What? It’s a capital gains company. You buy and you sell, you don’t hold for a long-time. That’s the whole POINT of a capital gains company unlike Nintendo who routinely issue dividends to keep the share price consistent. It’s doing fine on that front.

      As much as you don’t know about business Shamus, if you’d bought EA shares during their lowest point in the last 5 years and sold them right now you’d have made DOUBLE YOUR MONEY BACK.

      • Shamus says:

        If you’re going to pick a fight with me, you’re going to use my real name or you’re going to get lost.

        “DK not profitable? It’s still way too early to tell mate.”

        I didn’t say it didn’t make money. I said Dungeon Keeper failed both as a homage to the original game and as an attempt to jump on the free-to-pay mobile bandwagon. I stand by that. It’s a crap game. It might make some money, but it’s never going to make Simpsons: Tapped Out kind of money, because it’s built wrong. Or are you insisting I buy the company line that the game is doing just awesome thanks to some silent masses, and the universal hatred of critics isn’t a bad sign?

        “You’re also commenting that they HAVEN’T changed focus when 1 minute of research would show you the 2011 and 2013 restructurings?”

        From the article, which apparently you quit reading:

        “EA doesn’t need to change a few policies or fiddle with their org chart. They don’t need another game of musical chairs in the boardroom. They need an executive bloodletting and a transformation of company focus.”

        That’s EXACTLY the thing I’m talking about. They “restructure” without actually changing the things that need to be changed.

        “As much as you don’t know about business Shamus, if you’d bought EA shares during their lowest point in the last 5 years and sold them right now you’d have made DOUBLE YOUR MONEY BACK.”

        That’s some serious cherry-picking of prices. And it ignores the overall trend of the stock just waving up and down but not producing any long-term growth.

        And as I said in the article, it’s not about how much money they did or didn’t make, it’s about how much potential they wasted.

        So yeah. Your tone sucks, you didn’t pay attention to what I said, and you made it personal. Don’t do that.

    • Steve C says:

      The ROI on EA is pitiful. Wall St is right not to be impressed. Assume it was possible to sell off EA’s assets at what they are listed on it’s balance sheets. Investing that cash in a basic savings account would be more profitable than giving it to EA to make games. That’s sad.

    • Tom says:

      Dare I even suggest that maybe seeing financial profit as the *only* measure of success might have something to do with EA’s reputation at this point? (Note that they’ve won the “worst company” award twice in spite of turning around their financial situation!) Is there no room for just a simple desire to make damn good games and gain public goodwill and critical acclaim for their own sake, as opposed to seeing these just as intermediate routes to money, anywhere at the top?

      How does Valve compare on that score?

  16. MrGuy says:

    Huh. My comment disappeared. Sad panda.

    Edit: And now it’s back again. Weird comment behavior is weird.

  17. Smejki says:

    #1 or #2? Neither. Economical relationships where one takes and other gives are normal, healthy. Changes of parameters in a particular relationship are inevitable and natural. Basing the definition of greed only on comparison of the changes in same or similar relationships among other entities is a flawed approach I think. What matters are intentions in relation to predictable consequences. So for me greed is defined by the “After us, the Deluge” attitude to raising a profit. It is the arrogant parasitic self-centric mindset that stands behind greedy actions I think. And what I have seen from EA for some last 3 years is pure greed. And it is getting gradually worse. Hell, I don’t mind when someone is making billions but I can never get over situations when people are getting screwed no matter what numbers are in. Imho it makes no difference if you are being intentionaly screwed or the screwing is retrospectively approved by not addressing issues. People responsible for final decisions of EA are greedy. There is little difference between EA and King.com.

    Another more simplistic although similar if not the same definition of greed depends on mere perception of consequences of particular decisions. If either side percieves the other’s actions as being destructive they are more likely to call them greedy. If you are constructive however (or at least non-destructive) nobody gives a damn how much you make and what is the delta of your profit. Illusive perceptions may make the true nature of actions a bit blurry but I think this definition is true to the nature of a common man.

    BTW, Shamus, you may find this story interesting
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1294225970/kingdom-come-deliverance
    It tells a bit of how the publishers think, or how they were thinking prior to launch of the new consoles.

  18. Smejki says:

    oh noez, my post disapppeared. How so?
    EDIT: Wha the? It’s back. false alarm alarm!

  19. Steve C says:

    ____ is simple-minded, reactionary, out-of-touch, short-sighted, slow to correct mistakes, and are seemingly indifferent to public opinion. They’ve pissed away a fortune in potential revenue and tarnished the names of valuable franchises.

    The difference between MS and EA is that MS is successful. MS can be a dick because it’s profitable to be a dick. EA is a dick because… it’s run by dicks. Dicks that do things like “go into people’s houses at night and wreck up the place” for no particularly good reason.

    • Daimbert says:

      The difference here, though, is that Microsoft can act dickishly because it has such a dominate position; no matter how bad Microsoft is, their dominance of the business and gaming OS market means that people will buy the products anyway, as long as they work. EA never had that dominance, but had the franchises and monetary clout that no matter how badly they treated people — employees and to some extent customers — their games would get bought. Except that if they change and fumble their franchises, people won’t buy the games anymore, and they’re sunk, especially since they have competition. The Sim City and Dungeon Keeper fiascos really seem like EA screwing up their games so that people won’t buy from them anymore, which is the last thing they want to happen.

      It used to be that EA was a company where you would pretty much buy their games, because they were great games and the name was known and reasonable. Then people were buying the games IN SPITE of the name because EA wasn’t seen as a good publisher, but had great games. Now people are starting to not even want the games anymore. That’s what EA has to fix.

      • ET says:

        I’m hopeful that other businesses or FOSS will erode enough of Microsoft’s dominance, that they’ll have to start making resource-efficient, non-crashing computer programs, with good interfaces.
        (i.e. Not trying to force a UI clearly built for touch-devices onto people who need a UI that works well on a keyboard-and-mouse desktop.)

  20. patrick johnston says:

    I just wanted to chime in that I currently work at Taco Bell and it hasn’t gotten much better. Thankfully I’m just a lowly grunt so I don’t have to put up with most of the corporate hassle, but i am observant enough to pick up on most of it. At this point my assumption of an average big company is “greedy” and stupid.

  21. stratigo says:

    Valve will most likely become EA when Gabe leaves it. There seems to be a cycle in this kind of stuff. Valve runs the way it does because Gabe is an innovator. When he retires, some random suit with no experience will take over the company and run it like he runs a company that sells toiletries. Because executives are usually conservative and iterative, not innovative.

    • ET says:

      Valve might actually turn out decently when Gabe leaves.
      They’re not traded on the stock market, and they have a pretty decent corporate culture, if their training manual is anything to go by.
      So, I’m hopeful that somebody internal to Valve will take over, and with any luck, it’ll be somebody as good or better. :)

    • krellen says:

      I have a theory that most problems in creative industries boil down to non-creatives in charge. Valve is evidence in my favour, as are both Activision and EA. It bears out to non-video game industries as well: DC is doing a spectacularly bad job with all it’s non-Batman titles (and, personally, I hate the direction they’ve gone with Batman as well), while Marvel, which allows Stan Lee to run things, is producing hit after hit.

      Business people might know how to make physical goods and get them sold, but when the art of creating is your business, business people should be relegated to advisory positions, and should absolutely never be the last word on anything.

      • SlothfulCobra says:

        The thing is though, if you don’t have business people in the mix, you won’t be able to manage things. People need their salaries to be paid, expenses need to be kept in check, and profits need to be maximized. Mismanaging IPs and making things to formulaic is bad, but forgetting to pay people is worse. A lot of creative-run businesses fail before they get too big, but when a business-run creative business fails, it’s massive.

        It’s really just a matter of managing hats. Creative people need to put on business hats to understand the business side of things, and business people need to put on creative hats to understand the creation side of things.

        • krellen says:

          That’s why you have business people in advisory positions. You get someone with business sense to tell you the costs and downfalls to a project, and then the creative in charge can decide whether they think the market will bite or not.

          The important thing here is this: creative companies are, literally, innovation-driven. You win creatively by creating the next big thing. Business people can only learn from the past; they can only repeat success. They are, almost by definition, not innovators, and cannot run companies that rely on innovation for their very success.

          (This is not to disparage business people; it’s just the fundamentals of business are inherently at conflict with the fundamentals of innovation. “Business sense” is pretty much the diametric opposite of “risk taking”.)

      • Abnaxis says:

        I think the same thing, but then I remember the sheer number of companies that have gone under, particularly video game companies, precisely because they had creatives in charge. Infocon and Interplay are two counters to the idea of having genre savvy leaders.

        Unfortunately, it seems like it takes such a diverse set of skills to properly run a big creative corporation, it’s like a lightning strike. You need business savvy people with a passion for games. That’s not so easy to find.

        • guy says:

          You can substitute business savvy people who trust people who have a passion for games. Not as good as combining them in one person but much better than turning all decision-making over to someone who has no idea what they are doing.

          • Abnaxis says:

            But…but a career CEO willing to defer to a game nerd is even more rare than a business savvy game nerd.

            Business leadership positions don’t tend to attract humble people, probably because it’s hard to be humble when you’re setting the direction for a multimillion-dollar behemoth. You’d have an easier time finding a unicorn to lead.

            • Ciennas says:

              Just you wait- We’re going to engineer a unicorn sooner or later- and while we’re at it, we’ll make it a gamer nerd too, with a good horn for business, too.

              Then you’ll see! YOU’LL ALL SEE!

              But seriously, keep an eye out for unicorns- a couple of decades from now I expect they’ll start appearing. Because somebody will realize there’s a market for it.

  22. RTBones says:

    I think much of this boils down to good old-fashioned business sense. Both Valve and EA are in business to do one thing – make money. The difference between the two is that Valve seems to understand games and gamers in a way that EA likely never will largely because of the culture of the two companies. Valve is largely run by a bunch of gamers. As has been mentioned, EA is run by suits who have a responsibility to their shareholders. They dont really seem to care about the games they produce, as long as they make money, because that is what keeps the shareholders happy. Put another way – EA sees something like Madden as a simple cash cow. Regardless of how good or bad it becomes, as long as Madden makes money for EA, they dont care. The customer experience doesnt matter as long as the money continues to roll in.

    Valve, on the other hand, seems to understand its market. It understands that if you offer a product people want and make it relatively easy for people to obtain (sales) and use it, people will come. EA does itself no favors with the liberal use of a ban hammer, draconian DRM, Origin’s reputation (earned or not, current or not) as “spyware” and software client issues. Steam has a problem of constantly updating itself and a finicky offline mode. A large part of Origin’s problem is…Origin.

    I have often wondered what the numbers would look like if you did a side-by-side comparison of Mass Effect 2 revenue numbers between Steam and Origin. Dont get me wrong, I have my issues with Steam – but given the same title on Steam and Origin, I’ll buy it on Steam every time. If the price is higher on Steam, I’ll just wait – because unlike Origin, I know just about everything on Steam will go on sale at SOME point.

  23. tengokujin says:

    So, the tl;dr for your article is that EA is penny-wise and pound-foolish? :p

  24. Zeta Kai says:

    The stock price fluctuations are particularly damning; the entire company would have made much more money in the same amount of time if they had just liquidated their assets & bought US treasury bonds or some other safe investment. Especially since they would no longer be paying salaries for thousands of tech employees, and upgrading software/hardware, AND funding massive marketing campaigns. Hell, it’s possible that if they had liquidated & then just buried the cash, they would have lost less money overall to devaluation than they would have spent on unprofitable endeavors.

  25. SlothfulCobra says:

    EA’s at that awkward corporate stage where it’s lost the people and spirit that made it big in the first place, and it lacks anyone with any zeal or enthusiasm to guide the company as a whole, so right now its only purpose is to keep existing, and that means making stockholders happy.

    I can only imagine how much of a nightmare it is to make videogame production look good to stockholders, though. Normally you’re supposed to summarize things quarterly, but developmental cycles last way longer than that. It’s nothing short of a miracle that EA managed to develop sports games, which are probably the one thing in the games industry that can look good on a quarterly basis.

    I think most people have known for a while that EA’s been stagnant, but a comprehensive corporate restructuring could be risky business that could make stockholders panic. On paper, buying up companies that are already doing well seems like a great idea with almost no risk, so that’s what EA’s been doing, for better or worse.

    • Alex says:

      “On paper, buying up companies that are already doing well seems like a great idea with almost no risk, so that’s what EA’s been doing, for better or worse.”

      On paper, working as a cook seems like a decent idea, but not if you’re Typhoid frickin’ Mary. EA buying franchises people like and rendering them down into pure offensiveness before pouring this unholy paste back into the husks of once great companies is very much for the worse.

      • Ciennas says:

        Stealing the souls of companies and then stuffing the shell with a terrible substitute, then punishing your employees for following your terrible choices to the letter and punishing those who do not the same?

        All while making everyone who bothers visiting your kingdom suffer under toxic anti-consumer policies?

        This sounds like a fairy tail vampire. But as a business.

        Is it possible to get the current EA management to… improve their knowledge in some way? Or are they hamstrung by investors who demand a return?

        What’s poisoning EA here? Could they start to recover, and what would it take?

        • Alex says:

          “Is it possible to get the current EA management to… improve their knowledge in some way? Or are they hamstrung by investors who demand a return?

          What’s poisoning EA here? Could they start to recover, and what would it take?”

          Their extinction. The best thing EA can do for the industry is change. The second best thing is to go out of business.

          • Ciennas says:

            No, I was serious. What aspect of themselves do they need to change? I know that they abuse their employees, and that they lack a fundamental understanding of what their audience wants from them.

            But how does one actually go about convincing the head of EA that there is a viable and much better overall approach to this that isn’t ‘look at Valve’?

            Because while Valve’s model and structure are good, they’re not the ones that EA has, and inertia will keep it that way, barring a massive calamity.

            So, how could they keep their structure and make everybody happier?

            • Alex says:

              EA would need to do two things:

              Abandon the strategy of creating products they know people will hate, but hate slightly less than they like them. For example, tying games that people want to Origin, a program they don’t want.

              Stop accidentally making products people will hate out of incompetence. For example, CNC4, a Command and Conquer game that has none of the stuff that made people play Command and Conquer games.

            • Tom says:

              They can’t. It’s their top-down authoritarian hierarchy that is a major component of the problem. For the EA bosses to fix the problem of lacklustre, by-the-numbers, out-of-touch, smacks-of-executive-meddling games they have to stop being bosses.

              There is no royal road to learning video games.

              • Unfortunately, at this point I doubt they could change effectively. I mean, take Valve. They’ve got this unconventional organization setup, which I think is really cool. And they’ve got lots of enthusiastic people with high morale who really want to be there. So it works well.
                Now take EA. Say they changed to Valve’s unconventional organization setup. But they’ve got employees who are already bitter and cynical with low morale who wouldn’t be there if they could find a better way to make money, like robbing graves. What will those employees do? Produce creatively like Valve’s employees? Ahhh, probably not.

                So EA may be kind of stuck.

            • Patrick the Bio-capitalist says:

              They would have to let go. Let go of their profit driven grip they have on the production of games and let creators create. Let their programmers free to be creative.

              Think of a traditional “publisher”. Do you think there is some editor on the other side of a phone barking at Stephen King to have 20 chapters done by next month? No. How long did it take Motart to compose? When the pope nagged DaVinci how much longer it would take to paint the ceiling, what was his answer?

              Video games aren’t math, they’re poetry. Sculpting. Painting. Writing. Composition. Subtlety of the unspoken. A visceral understanding or one’s audience.

              Coding encorporates all facets of creativity in a way no other art form ever has.

              Monolithic companies do not know creativity. They cannot know it because you cannot define it. They know math. Excel files. Numbers. They cannot comprehend creativity in the same way a computer cannot comprehend anything other than 1 or 0.

      • Or if your name’s Ella and you specialize in salmon.

  26. Heaven Smile says:

    ““I can’t quit now! I’ve put a week into this and I’m so close to the next milestone! Oh, it’s only another five bucks to get rid of these messages for a whole day? I guess that’s fair. Say, I wonder how much I’ve spent so far…?””

    Yes, we know the name of that song:
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GamblersFallacy

    • SlothfulCobra says:

      It’s not gambling if you can’t ever win.

      • Heaven Smile says:

        Oh, you “win” something, but its not something that can be useful in real life.

        And what little enjoyment you “win” by doing is diminished by the fact you could be playing the real Dungeon Keeper right now (or Startopia, Quest For The Mighty Loot, Evil Genius, War For The Overworld, Dwarf Fortress, What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord?, and Tyrian)

  27. Heaven Smile says:

    How many lines does EA has to cross so people STOP protecting it with the “its just there to make money”? dont you all know companies are made in service of US, not for themselves?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaAH-cv2ybo

    Why do you KEEP these monster alive?

  28. Someone says:

    The Sims 2 was said to be the most popular game of all time, so of course EA ruined it utterly by putting people who disliked The Sims in charge of Sims 3. (I read the previews before the game came out and the developers kept criticizing the Sims franchise and saying they were going to make it better. They did not.) It makes no sense and it didn’t make as much money, obviously, as a true, good sequel would have. But EA never learns.

    Greed = doing stupid, destructive things for money. Especially when you could do something good and still make money. EA is greedy.

  29. Sean Riley says:

    My problem with the argument is this.

    In 2007, the end of year stock price for EA was $58.41. This was the ‘good time’ for EA. They released between 2007-2009 the following franchises: Rock Band, Skate, Army of Two, Dead Space, Mirror’s Edge, Spore, Brutal Legend. None of those games had exploitative marketing, even the original Dead Space played it pretty straight.

    By the end of 2009, their stock price had tanked to $17.75.

    Despite it all, I’d have to say EA’s current strategies may not be great, but they’re working better than when they tried to behave like other companies.

    Edit: Penny Arcade said it first. Of course they did.

    • Shamus says:

      It’s true, they tried to make some new IP and they lost their shirts. And I’m sure that loss is driving their behavior right now.

      I don’t know enough about their financials to know why that year hit them so hard, but if the only lesson they took away from those years is “Innovation is bad” then it just goes back to my main point: They don’t get the business they’re in.

  30. Patrick the Bio-capitalist says:

    I think you all are mistaking greed for foolishness.

    To use the hamburger analogy, it would be easy for EA to justify charging $50 per cheeseburger as long as their profits remained in the black. As in; they compute that on any given day X number of hamburgers will be sold. If 100 cheeseburgers are sold between them and their closest competitor, and each charges $5 per burger (quality being moot) each company should theoretically sell 50, and net $250 in the process.

    BUT..

    If EA concludes that it can charge $50 per cheeseburger and still sell 6 cheeseburgers, realizes $300>$250 and doesn’t give a damn about the other 44 people next door. They simply have to compute when the increase in cost of THEIR hamburgers pushes their total margin into decline.

    Where EA falls short is in the projection of X. They have no idea how many more games they COULD have sold by NOT cutting corners or producing flawed games. There is no way of predicting or estimating this since each game is a unique entity that is produced once, not a mass produced hamburger that is the same every time and has a static rate of sale. EA has no way of computing how much money they DIDN’T make on a particular title because their craftsmanship pushed them to buy a different game from another house. The number of titles sold in any given year isn’t a static figure like 100 cheeseburgers per day. There are entire gamers who only purchase 1 or 2 games a year. Others may purchase 20. The things that factor into total number of physical units moved depends on so many variables it is impossible to fully quantify if any one title truly lived up to its potential. Did it underperform due to sloppy gameplay? poor MMO support? overuse of DLC? Or any one of a 100 other reasons….

    How many units of EA games were NOT sold because people were suddenly/fanatically obsessed with Angry Birds?

    Title A sold 1 mil copies. They had projected 1.1 mil. Is that loss of 100k units do to a shitty game or because everyone became obsessed with some free app that allows people to guiltlessly murder green pigs via projectile/exploding birds?

    There simply is no way to compute how many people went next door and bought someone else’s cheeseburger. And as anyone who has ever worked for a monolithic company can tell you, if it cannot be quantified in a standard equation then that monolithic company is incapable of recognizing it as a real value.

    Since the entity is unable to compute how many titles they DIDN’T sell, and more importantly WHY they didn’t sell, the only thing entity can do is buy all the houses, franchises and titles and make it impossible for you to buy a game not made by EA. Then the equation is one sided and X stands alone.

    It’s not a matter of greed but a matter of vision.

    Monolithic corporations are no more capable of understanding human nature (consumers) than a computer is able to understand anything other than a “1” or “0”. They can see how much money how much they themselves make, and other competitors are making, but have no way of knowing how much of that money COULD (SHOULD?) have been theirs.

    This lack of vision is also what makes them incapable of knowing what it takes to make good games and satisfy their customers…which causes them to lose more…which means their competitors make more…but they can’t see how much more…and you can see where this is going….

  31. Aside from the Gundarks (which Luke looked strong enough to pull
    the ears off of), Ahsoka tells Anakin he’ll
    need to stay in a Bacta Tank (which Luke spent some time in after being attacked by the Wampa), etc.

    Penciled by PAUL RYAN, JOHN BYRNE, VINCE MIELCAREK, DWAYNE TURNER,
    AL MILGROM, KIERON DWYER, RON LIM, HERB TRIMPE, RON
    FRENZ, MIKE VOSBURG, COLLEEN DORAN, ERIK LARSEN, TODD
    MCFARLANE, SAL BUSCEMA, MIKE ESPOSITO & ALEX SAVIUK
    . In 1988, the King’s Quest series scored another first:
    its fourth game, The Perils of Rosella, was the first major PC game to support a dedicated soundcard – specifically Adlib.

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