My Escapist column this week is an analysis of just how monumentally incompetent EA has been with their exclusive Star Wars license.
All of this is yet another manifestation of the fact that we have executives trying to run an industry they don’t understand. It’s like a fancy restaurant being run by someone who only eats microwaved hot pockets at home and has no working understanding of what people want or expect when they dine out…
Welcome to Restaurant d’arts électroniques
- People waste a lot of resources when they visit our restaurant. Can we charge them for each napkin and every shake of salt, and explain we’re offering them the choice because they’re not being made to buy napkins they don’t want?
- People don’t always drink all the wine we give them, so let’s replace the wine glasses with plastic tumblers. Those will contain less wine per serving, and we’ll also save money on breakage.
- McDonald’s is making a lot of money with Happy Meal toy tie-ins. Can we add something like that to our filet mignon? What if we reduced the total number of dishes on our menu and re-branded them as “Value Meals”?
- Sometimes people don’t use the knife or the extra spoon (what is that thing for, anyway?) and we end up washing that stuff anyway. Can we just have people request specific utensils and dinnerware at the start of the visit? I calculate that would save us $0.12 per diner.
- Stop decorating the walls with all this stuff. The food will taste exactly the same with bare walls and we’ll save tons of money.
- I just ran the numbers, and we could fit 50% more people in here if we adopted cafeteria-style seating.
- Doesn’t all meat taste basically the same? We can cut our costs by switching to cheaper meat and using frozen vegetables instead of fresh.
- Profits are down and less people are visiting our restaurants. I guess the market is pivoting away from high-end dining? Oh well. Nothing we can do about that. There was no way I could see this coming. I’m not Nostradamus. I suppose we can just raise prices on salt (and then under-salt the food) to make up the shortfall.
- God, I’m such a genius. This company is lucky to have me.
In the past I’ve claimed that EA was good at business but bad at videogames, but now I’m worried the current leadership is just plain bad at everything. Even if you know nothing about videogames, you should still be able to look at the box office money Star Wars brings in and realize the potential. If Andrew Wilson had even a rudimentary grasp of things then we should be drowning in Star Wars games. Granted, they would be mostly terrible because he can’t tell a good game from a bad game, but even a know-nothing MBA fresh out of Harvard ought to be able to wrap their head around the value of licensed STAR FREAKING WARS products.
Andrew Wilson had one good ideaGood for revenue, not good for games. ten years ago. It made a lot of money, and since then the business world has just assumed he’s some sort of genius, despite how hard he’s worked to prove them wrong. I can understand this going on for a few years, but we’re now six years into his campaign of error and I wonder how much longer this can go on.
For the first few years there was always a little doubt in my mind. “Running a company is hard. You don’t get put in charge of something as big as EA unless you’ve got a gift of some sort. The executive decisions look dumb from where I’m sitting, but maybe these guys know something I don’t. Maybe this would all make sense if I understood the financials. As much as I personally hate loot boxes and the live services model, maybe this really is more profitable.”
As the years have dragged on, it’s become harder to justify this sort of open-mindedness. From the outside, it’s harder and harder to entertain this idea that Andrew Wilson is playing 4-dimensional chess. It seems the simplest narrative is the most plausible, and the incompetence of EA’s leadership is producing a never-ending cascade of outrage, controversy, missed opportunities, “disappointing sales”, brain drain, and brazen IP destruction. There’s no hidden agenda. No secret plan. No twist ending. This is exactly as stupid and destructive as it looks on the surface.
I’ve heard people suggest that another videogame crash is coming. I think the industry is too diverse and complicated to “crash” in the 1983 sense of the word, but there’s plenty of room for executives to lose their jobs and for fresh contenders to join the fray. Like the enormous waste of the WoW clones that went broke trying to copy WoW rather than trying to make a good game, sometimes you need to wait for natural selection to run its course. EA and Activision are coming off as increasingly desperate, flailing around and hoping for a miracle. Heavyweights Netflix and Amazon are apparently spinning up game studios of their own, and social platform Discord is getting into the storefront business. The new console generation is on the way. Valve finally made a new videogame, and it was bad and nobody wants to play it.
Like the narrator ominously tells us in the movie trailers, “The world is changing.”
I doubt we’re headed for a crash, and I’m not even convinced we’ll get a proper market correction, but we’re certainly partway into some sort of disruption. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.
 Good for revenue, not good for games.
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