My column this week is a look back at Spore.
At the end of the column I say that (spoiler) I’d like to see Spore get another chance. I should qualify that by saying that I’d like to see Spore get another chance at being made by Will Wright and the creative team at Maxis. Which isn’t actually in the cards. Wright has moved on, and other important names are gone as well. EA unloaded a bunch of people at Maxis, and my guess is that EA has shed all of the creative people in charge of coming up with new gameplay mechanics and systems to simulate, and has retained the content-producing people for the purposes of cranking out Sims titles and DLC. If this were a car company, then they’ve fired all the engineers and held onto the assembly-line workers.
So Spore II simply isn’t in the cards. There’s a lot of fancy tech you need to make Spore work, and the people who invented that tech have moved on.
The EA plan is pretty simple: If a game makes above threshold X, then it’s a success and you begin pumping out sequels and DLC and mobile version.
But Shamus! That’s what executives do! They’re just doing their job, which is to make money!
Once you’re paying someone millions of dollars, they ought to be offering leadership. They need to have some kind of knack for perceiving or predicting trends, or discovering previously unknown customer demand. Steve Jobs was reportedly a massive jackass, but I have to give the guy credit that he was good at doing exactly this. His team didn’t just copy products, they invented them. EA leadership is nothing of the sort. They have no understanding of their audience and their entire decision-making process could be boiled down to about 100 lines of computer code.
Remember when EA bought Playfish? They didn’t see the rise of the casual market until it had come, rolled over them, and left. They didn’t get around to entering the casual market until it had basically peaked, and ended up paying a premium (over 300 million dollars) for a small-fry studio when it was clear they weren’t sure what they needed or wanted. (Technology? User base? IP? Talent?) They closed the studio just a few years later. It was a reactionary move by people who had no vision or insight.
This happens sometimes in business. Sometimes losers run things because they’re insulated from their mistakes. Sometimes a complete moron will have a good run at the blackjack table. If I put a monkey in the driver’s seat of a tank and turn him loose on the freeway, eventually people will start to say, “Man, that monkey is unstoppable. He must be a great driver!” EA gobbled up a lot of valuable IP and talent around the turn of the century, and the leadership has been coasting on that inertia for over a decade now. The combined income of FIFA, Madden, and Battlefield means that their tank keeps rolling no matter how clueless they are, or how many opportunities they blow up.
There’s nothing to be done about it, of course. But it’s worth pointing out the emperor’s lack of clothes every now and again.