Experienced Points: How to Fix Electronic Arts

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Mar 26, 2013

Filed under: Column 120 comments


I admit I’m preaching to the choir, but sometimes it’s just important to say things so that you can say you said them. Now I’m on record saying that EA needs someone who is an active part of gaming culture in order to make meaningful and productive decisions.

I suspect a few people will mis-read this or take my thoughts to some sort of extreme and argue that (say) Richard Garriott would make a horrible CEO of EA. Of course, I’m not suggesting they just find someone with no other qualifications other than “really enjoys playing and producing videogames”. The person also needs to be smart, well-spoken, have solid business acumen, and a concrete understanding of what’s wrong with the company. Is that asking too much? No, not for ~$1 million in take-home salary and a few million more in options and bonuses. I’m not against ludicrous executive salaries, but I am against offering ludicrous salaries to ordinary people.

My fear is that EA is just going to find another fifty-ish money-man to run the place. They’ve consistently made that same bad decision for the past decade, and doing something radically different from that would require a change in culture or powerful external forces. Yes, EA isn’t nearly living up to their potential, but they aren’t in severe enough trouble for the leadership to do something wild or unexpected. You can’t overcome that sort of organizational inertia without a good old-fashioned panic. EA is struggling enough to know they’re in trouble, but not nearly enough to take the sort of extreme corrective action they need.

As always, I would love to be proven wrong about this.


From The Archives:

120 thoughts on “Experienced Points: How to Fix Electronic Arts

  1. The Rocketeer says:

    And wouldn’t you know, Yoichi Wada just stepped down as president and representative director of Square-Enix following large and continual losses by the company.

    Riccitiello was an overtly toxic influence on EA, but I have to admit ignorance on Wada’s leadership of S-E. It’s true that he’s presided over some pretty dark times, but he is also the only president the company has known since forming in ’03, and I have no idea how his departure or replacement will affect them.

    S-E has become less and less influential as a developer, but more and more influential as a publisher, and some really great/successful titles have been made with Square’s money; Eidos alone gives them such Twenty Sided favorites as Deus Ex, Tomb Raider, Hitman, and Thief. I’m sort of baffled as to how such a storied company with so much killer IP, old and new, at their disposal keeps losing money hand over fist.

    I bitch about Square-Enix, but I really do love the company, and nothing would make me glad like seeing them reclaim their place as a development and industry megalith.

    1. First, a clarification: Square Enix was both the publisher AND developer of both TOMB RAIDER and DEUS EX. Those were both done by internal studios. So they are doing well as a developer too.

      That said, Square is failing in a similar way to EA: completely unrealistic expectations (like Dead Space 3 and 5 million). Their CEO quit with this quarters earnings report. Some of the data in that report, were these sales:
      Sleeping Dogs: 1.75 million
      Hitman: Absolution: 3.6 million
      Tomb Raider: 3.4 million
      Which, according to Square, all failed to meet their sales goals. Which is crazy. What sane person would have expected better sales than those? The last two nearly in the top ten for all games in 2012.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        It’s a semantic difference, really, but while Square does own those studios and brands, they didn’t originate any of that intellectual property, and I think it’s important to distinguish between the work of Square, the studio, and the work of other studios owned by Square.

        In fact, S-E’s only remaining in-house IP’s are Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and SaGa. Even Dragon Quest is being farmed out nowadays, and only the first Front Mission game was developed in-house.

        Sleeping Dogs was really neat, by the way. I’m surprised it wasn’t talked about more than it was, but not that it didn’t sell better than it did.

        1. GiantRaven says:

          Sleeping Dogs was my favourite game of the year that wasn’t FTL or XCOM, and Jackie Ma was probably the most resonant character I encountered in a game that year.

          It was a great game, fun to play and a great pastiche on open-world games and the movies it takes inspiration from. It’s the kind of game I would expect to see from Tarantino, if he made games.

        2. “I think it's important to distinguish between the work of Square, the studio, and the work of other studios owned by Square.”

          Why? I am legitimately curious to what difference does it make. All of Eidos, Crystal Dynamics, etc are ALL Square Enix.

          This is the same question I have for those who argue that the problems with SimCity are the fault of EA or that Bioware isn’t to blame for Mass Effects problems. Maxis and Bioware are not independent companies. They are, for all important purposes, EA. It’d be like blaming a bad Chevy Volt on GM, but absolving Chevy of any blame.

    2. Yoichi Wada always seemed more on the Enix side of things than the Squaresoft side. Enix depended on one cash-cow franchise while Squaresoft was the one trying out wild, crazy things to its’ existing franchises, even trying to make new ones.

      And that’s the problem: He treated every release using the same standards for success as S-E’s most successful franchises. “Tomb Raider didn’t sell as many copies as Final Fantasy XIII, so clearly that means it was a failure, and not just me being sloppy with the math.

      Under his supervision, we saw the collapse of a once great franchise, and the flustercuck of the Fabula Nova Crystallis project(which is why we aren’t getting a Kingdom Hearts 3).

      And then when they re-released Chrono Trigger, they complained that a game that everyone already owned didn’t sell a hojillion-zillion copies to warrant a sequel(even though it was already made, so the development didn’t cost him very much anyway). And when they tried microtransactions and DLC, it was such embarrassing gouging that it made horse armour look reasonable. In that sense, he’s not too far-removed from your Riccitiellos and your Koticks.

      Wada led a corporate philosophy of clueless incompetence and greed for ten years. Good riddance, I say. Him and Jonny stepping down are only going to be good for video games.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        Well, more than ten, since he held the same positions at Square Co. since late 2000, and I doubt those ~3 years molded him too much.

        It’s all news to me; as much as I keep track of what the company is doing, Wada himself was never really reported on in the same way that Riccitiello or Kotick were and are. Even so, he helmed that company for so long, literally through its formation (by merger, at least), that to gain his familiarity with the company and its running, even by someone far more capable than him, would take ages, maybe longer than the company even has, if worse should come to worse. And because he ran it for so long, the culture that he inculcated into Square-Enix and all its taskmasters must be so ingrained that rewriting it will take even longer than that.

        Of course, if they really are getting desperate for money, or reach that point, who knows what they’ll do? For better or for worse, that day might not be far off.

  2. shiroax says:

    Is the column back now or just until you run out of things to say about EA? And on Tuesday? Why two on Tuesday and none on Monday and Wednesday? Did you pick the day?

    Is the old dork background gone for good? I really liked it.

    1. Shamus says:

      Column is back. I dunno why Tuesday. I am glad I’m no longer the last thing of the week, posted at the end of the business day on Friday. It always made me uneasy that if an embarrassing factual or grammatical error slipped through it might stand until Monday morning.

      1. krellen says:

        If I were putting a new regular thing on the Escapist, I’d put it on Tuesday. It’s kind of an empty day right now.

        1. shiroax says:

          With Experienced Points it’s the fullest day, 2 videos, 2 columns and comic. Only double column day according to the schedule at the bottom of the site. I think Wednesday needs a column, just 2 videos on that day.

          1. krellen says:

            They’ve added four features since the last time I looked at their update schedule; used to be just The Big Picture on Tuesdays.

            Also, Wednesday needs nothing else. ZP being on Wednesday probably already stresses their servers to the limit.

            1. shiroax says:

              They just went and added more things on Tuesday. Is ZP still the most popular thing? I guess it started the whole talk fast while still images are on the screen thing, but it hasn’t been my favorite thing on the escapist for a long time. It’s not even my favorite thing on Wednesday since ENN became a thing.

              1. Jarenth says:

                Isn’t Zero Punctuation the main source of like half of the Escapist’s traffic? I remember reading something in that vein sometime, but I’m not sufficiently committed to the idea to find a source.

                I love me some ENN / Checkpoint, but that’s no longer an Escapist thing.

                1. 4th Dimension says:

                  It is now hosted on Penny Arcade megalith.

              2. Neko says:

                I stopped following ZP after The Escapist started choking me to death with Javascript to load more Javascript to load Flash that needs more Javascript. It just wasn’t worth the effort any more.

        2. X2-Eliah says:

          If their schedule is indicative, then sundays, saturdays and wednesdays are much less-filled. Even shifting onto Monday would merely even tuesday out.

        3. If I were putting a new regular thing on the Escapist, I'd put it on Tuesday. It's kind of an empty day right now.

          Any day with Jim Sterling, Bob Chipman or Ben Croshaw in it is an empty day, I think.

          If I had the money, I’d pay Shamus twice what the Escapist is offering him to put it on his own website.

        4. Steve C says:

          Lies. If you were putting a regular thing on the Escapist it would be dark sunglasses.

  3. Paul Spooner says:

    That shirt is still bugging me… Here, fixed it.

    So, would you be a good choice for CEO of EA? Even if not, I think it would be fun both to imagine and speculate on the outcome.
    Day 1: People keep asking me questions. Why won’t they leave me alone?
    Day 2: I’m trying to go over these figures. They tell me we’re legally bound to blah blah blah. Business is complicated

    Day 36: When will my Seclusion Chamber be ready? I will enter as a man. I will emerge, an Archon.

    1. Syal says:

      So now we know that Shamus is actually Boogiepop.

      1. Spammy says:

        I’ve spent the last five minutes trying to wrap my head around the idea of Shamus being Boogiepop and my brain doesn’t work to picture it still.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Also fixed. My work here is done.

  4. Primogenitor says:

    Maybe they already do – maybe its the type of person who played Madden in their frat house.

    EDIT: Not that I mean that in a particularly disparaging sense – I’m more suggesting that EA need someone who has played a wide variety of different games and thought about them in their context. Rather than someone who always buys the latest version at full price and doesn’t think about the game beyond “pew pew bang bang”. (again, not that there isn’t a place for that, but maybe that place shouldn’t be in change of a multi-national game developer).

    1. Tizzy says:

      Good point! Over at the Escapist, there is a comment that essentially says: get rid of all micro-transactions.

      They put micro-transactions in games because they WORK. You CAN fault the suits for having no sense and trying to shoehorn micro-transactions where they don’t belong, or turning them into macro-transactions, but understanding that “video games” is not a monolithic structure and embracing the different demographics and products must be key to continued success in this industry.

  5. My first thought when reading this kind of column is that what is it going to do?

    But then given the viral nature of the Internet, what one person writes, causes another to put up a critique and so on.

    +1 to those that think it is going to be another money man, but I think that they may push that person’s gaming credentials.

    I think that you are right about the core point: it takes a gamer to make games.

    The other way it could work is if a smart money person is brought in, and they buy studios and LEAVE THE DEVS ALONE to build quality products. Still protential for messing things up though.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Well, one doesn’t buy things to leave them alone. “Buy” means spending money on something so you can control it. What you’re suggesting is more like “investment”.

      With that said, yes, it may be a better business strategy to invest in good game companies that are already profitable than to buy poor developers and try to “make them profitable” through brute force.

      1. @Paul

        Agreed with much of that. I was thinking of Boiware when I said that, they were a thriving studio, and if they were left alone to continue making great products, they would have done well.

        Other poor studios often have IP which can be harvested promoted and polished into new products.

    2. John the Savage says:

      Tasteful, Understated Nerdrage had a video that explained how this was functionally impossible. Even though it is EA’s best interest to leave Bioware alone, the culture of trying to please the people above you on the corporate ladder will bleed down into Bioware and affect the final product. It’s called “Tone from the Top”.

  6. X2-Eliah says:

    Hm. A growing industry, you say? But is the videogame industry/market truly growing these days? None of the companies who existed in 2007/2008 have recovered from the stock market crash; plenty of big, good developer/publisher houses are having issues (remember thq? How about squeenix? even nintendo is teetering). As for indies, well, can everyone just please shut the hell up about indies already? We don’t hear much about the failures BECAUSE THEY FAILED. Smallscale failures don’t make the news.
    Also, a growing industry usually means a normal opportunity, if not demand, to get a job in it. Anyone know/follow aspiring gamedevs? So, how’s the industry working out for them these years, eh?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      That’s kind of… depressing.
      I mean, I’ve been thinking of the game industry as this thriving thing, coming into bloom, (overrun with weeds to be sure, but alive) ripe with possibilities.
      But, if you’re right maybe the good times are over. The best times are behind us. All that is left is the deepening twilight as entertainment, innovation, creativity, and joy slip down the corporate gullet and are slowly digested over a thousand years of inside jokes and cynical marketing schlock.
      We should have enjoyed it when we had the chance.
      We should have seen the golden age when it was still around.
      The world has grown cold.
      Our souls are black.
      The end is nigh.
      We mourn.
      We die.

      Or you’re not quite on the mark, and there is still something worth living for… Which could it be?

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        Or I could be on the mark, but not so obsessed with videogames that the industry’s decline equates to death. If you require a blooming gaming industry for a reason to keep living… Dude/Girl, get help. Now.

        But don’t let reason stop you from snarking via unnecessary pathos.

        1. Mephane says:

          Dude, that was a poem, and I even found it quite good. Do not interprete too much into it, especially not about the author.

      2. It’s suffering from the same thing plaguing a lot of jobs: The idea that the middlemen and investment bankers are the rock stars who get all the money and the creative people, programmers, the ones who actually DO and MAKE things aren’t worth a cut in some suit’s bonus.

        Creativity? Pah. Anyone can pull an idea out of their posterior, so why pay premium for it?
        Art assets? I know people in Brazil who will design our characters and backgrounds for pennies.
        Coding? Work 80 hours a week or you’re fired. You’re also responsible for implementing all of the marketing department’s bad ideas on time and under budget, and it’s your fault if those ideas sink the whole thing.

        That may be overly cynical, but consider the current crisis in visual effects studios/workers/animators for movies. The choice is to undercut yourself or watch the project you wanted shipped to Asia where it can be done for even less while the studio heads rake in millions.

        1. Fawstoar says:

          Just because the industry is heavily flawed does not mean there’s no room for change. Is that not the entire point of this discussion?

          The recent rise of successful games from smaller developers (“indie” seems as meaningless in the games industry as it does in music), Kickstarter included, points to the possibility that the stifling production lines perpetuated by EA may not be The Best And Most Profitable Way To Develop A Game.

          Creative work is exactly that: if the devs aren’t feeling that their work is meaningful enough to warrant the proportionally low salary they receive, people will leave the team and/or the final product will lack any artistic/creative vision. Compare a game like Human Revolution, developed by the ambitious and motivated Eidos Montreal, to a game like Mass Effect 3, developed by the clearly uninspired, not-really-Bioware-anymore Bioware. I have no idea what the sales figures are, but one of the two definitely pleased its audience significantly more than the other, which enraged them.

          1. Trix2000 says:

            It’s also easier and easier for smaller developers to get their hands on better tools, which leads to them becoming actual competition. Granted, most won’t get to that point (Sturgeon’s Law applies too) but with how slow innovation seems to be going in giants like EA, they make it easy for some of them to catch up a bit.

            There are a ton of games out there that prove you really don’t need much to make a fun experience.

          2. csm says:

            The “audience” you are referring to, is only the small vocal fanbase. Mass Effect 3 is made up of a varying number of people who play the game. Most gamers are actually casual gamers.

            Thing is a lot of people think the vocal fanbase makes up the majority of the people who bought the game. They are wrong on this.

            EA didn’t ruin Bioware by a long shot. Bioware still holds much creative control over the games they make. People just think that since EA bought them out and that they perceive EA as a multi-billion dollar money grubbing greedy company who’s only interest in making billions and billions of dollars at any cost.

            Or that they rush their games and ruin great video game companies. EA doesn’t tell anyone what to do. Just that gamers have these insane expectations. So it goes both ways. Most gamers that I’ve talked to expected Bioware to take at least 6 years to make Mass Effect 3 as perfect as it can be, yet forget that Mass Effect was planned as a trilogy long before the third game even began being made (back in 2003 as something referred to as Codename SFX).

            They also wanted to make all 3 games on the same Unreal Engine 3 and console generation (2005-2013). Instead of say, work on Mass Effect 3 and switch over to Unreal Engine 4 halfway into development, just to make all those gamers with unrealistic expectations happy.

            I tell you, if gamers were in charge of deciding when Mass Effect 3 was finished and ready to ship, they’d take 10 years to finish it. They’d end up like 3D Realms who got sued because they couldn’t finish a game by the time they said they would (eg. by allowing multiple extension of the “deadlines”).

            That’s the other thing, aside from budgets, gamers don’t think games like these have deadlines. They just think they can spend 7 years making a game. Sure it’ll be a good game, but they would totally break the budget.

            The usual argument I get from gamers is “EA should have given Bioware a bigger budget”.

            Well I got news for you kids, it’s kind of like an allowance. If your mom gives you $20 in allowance for the week, you have to stick within your $20.

            You can’t go and ask your mom for more money to buy games or pop or whatever.

            Same thing is happening with the world economy right now. Governments not sticking with their budgets. People putting everything on credit and buying stuff they can’t afford, or take out loans they can’t hope to pay back.

            I think a lot of people need a serious wake up call and a dose of reality.

            Getting back to Bioware though. They have a history of fooling customers in their previous games that go back to the 1990s days. Maybe not to the extent of Mass Effect 3, but they have done it in the past.

            The fact that they managed to not only indoctrinate Shepard, but the players themselves as well pretty much says, this is the same Bioware from the 1990s and hasn’t been corrupted in any way by EA.

        2. Rick C says:

          “Coding? Work 80 hours a week or you're fired.”

          That’s only because so many people in the industry keep doing it. If a significant number of people simply said no, the companies would have to give in on this eventually, but why should they, when they know so many people will work ridiculous hours.

          I’m a programmer, not in the game industry, and have been for close to 20 years at this point. No way would I work for any place if an 80 hour work week was standard. (I have and continue to be willing to work long hours over a short term if necessary, for example a weekend deployment, of course, but not as the regular time frame.)

          1. 4th Dimension says:

            And if you say no they’ll probably easily replace you, or might think they can replace you. Anyway you’ll loose your job. And that is the kind of oppression for which you need unions to solve. And today that feels like a dirty word.

            1. Rick C says:

              So what? Have you ever worked anywhere close to an 80-hour week? Did you read EA Spouse’s cri de couer? Nearly nothing would get me to work under those conditions. I’d love to work on a video game but there’s no way I’d work like that…which is probably why I am in a different industry, where I rarely work any more than 40 hours, get paid quite well, and have plenty of time to spend with my family.

              And I wouldn’t have done it in my 20s, either.

              And unions per se aren’t necessarily the answer: what is the answer is for people to simply STOP ACCEPTING THIS.

              1. Abnaxis says:

                And how, exactly, do you foresee your ‘solution’ playing out?

                Developers are generally passionate about their work. For every programmer that puts their foot down and refuses to work overtime, there are three more willing to volunteer to do 80 hours if it means they get to do what they love.

                Or do you mean consumers need to “stop accepting it”? Good luck with that–most consumers don’t even know what a developer or publisher is, let alone what their HR policies are. And even if consumers did somehow rally around a boycott (in contrast to all other consumer behavior to date), the developers would be the only ones who suffer as their company is dismantled by their publisher.

                No one else is going to help (government included), and individuals taking action on their own can always be let go. Labor organization is the only solution. A single programmer can be replaced; an organized collective of programmers coordinating their efforts can’t

                I’m doing my best to not swerve into political territory, but I get really annoyed when people give a “well, everyone just needs to be good people” solution to society’s ills. It’s a gross oversimplification of the issue that ignores the context of the powers at play, and never leads to any practical discussion of the issue at hand.

              2. Kat says:

                To reiterate: The reason why so many people are “accepting this” is because they are afraid of losing their jobs. There are enough people who are afraid of losing their jobs that without banding together all at once, if one person stands up and says no that person gets fired. Then everyone else shuts up and digs in for the long haul, because they don’t want to end up like that poor shmuck.

                I spent about two years looking for my job before I actually found it, and in the meantime my family lived off charity. Lots of notes about “attitude problems” and “inability to follow instructions” in my file. Two years of unemployment for that decision. And a ton of people telling me how stupid I was rock the boat.

                Would not do it again even if it means working 80 hours a week. I’d rather wreck my health than do it again.

                To me, it seems like you’ve never been in this situation before–correct me if I’m wrong. People who have been in this situation are telling you that it is not as easy as you think. It’d be nice if you listened, but it’s pretty common for people who have never been in a tough situation to think it is easier than it actually is.

                It’s also common for them to insist that the people actually going through said situation are just doing it wrong and could fix it if they would only listen to the Vastly Smarter Person (TM) telling them what to do. (This is the vibe you give when you insist that it’s an easy fix if only people would listen to you.) In the hopes of convincing you otherwise, I’ll just say what others have said above in the hopes that enough people saying it might get through to you: “Dude(tte), it’s not that simple!”

                1. Amarsir says:

                  When it comes to sticking in a job either you want it or you don’t. I don’t blame anyone either way. But you don’t get the right to reshape reality just because you don’t like the terms.

                  You’re afraid that trying to negotiate means you’ll be replaced? That means right now there’s an unemployed guy who wants the job you’re so sick of. So why should I care more about your employment than his/hers?

                  1. Abnaxis says:

                    That, right there, is the idea that is probably going to bring about the collapse of today’s society.

                    Jobs are being replaced by the thousands by automation, and we are quickly approaching a stage in human development where there is not enough work to keep everyone busy. We are going to have to re-examine the “them that work, eat; them that don’t, starve” paradigm and, somewhere along the way, abandon this idea that just because there is an abundance of labor doesn’t mean businesses get to treat people like crap.

                    1. Rick C says:

                      “doesn't mean businesses get to treat people like crap.”

                      I can’t save the world. I can make sure a given employer won’t treat me like crap, though, by not working there.

                    2. Trix2000 says:

                      There will always be jobs to be done – still need to maintain and improve all that automation equipment after all.

                      The issue with gaming is more that a loooooot of new people are coming in looking for jobs. Following the upsurge in gaming popularity, I keep hearing about new game development programs everywhere which churn out more and more potential hires. And when supply exceeds demand…

                      Not to say you don’t have a point, but I don’t think it’s going to be so catastrophic. People will probably adapt and find new ways to keep busy.

                2. Rick C says:

                  I have never been in a situation where it was “work 80 hours a week or lose your job.” I would rather not work at such a job. I wouldn’t take one if I knew up front that was what was involved. If the job changed I would start looking for a replacement and quit when I found one. It’s ridiculous to say you’d destroy your health first. You only get one life–why would you throw it away by letting others abuse you?!

                  If you can’t find (say) a programming job in the games sub-industry that doesn’t require 80-hour weeks, GET OUT OF THAT SUB-INDUSTRY. If you feel you gotta develop video games so badly that you are willing to take such abuse, I don’t know what to say–I certainly wouldn’t…which is why I have always avoided that sub-industry, and do regular commercial stuff.

                  I don’t know what your situation is, but learning how not to rock the boat is a useful skill and generally widens the pool of available jobs.

                  Union involvement isn’t necessary and would probably be detrimental *long-term*.

                  1. Rick C says:

                    Also, I don’t want to get in a big flame war here. If someone really wants to put up with an 80-hour week and the kind of ancillary abuse that comes along with it, fine. If you would rather work in a shit job than be out of work, that’s a valid decision. I spent a year working in a gas station because I made the bad choice of moving to an economically depressed area right after 9/11 and couldn’t find a programming job. And to put this in more perspective I’m married with children, so being out of work doesn’t just affect me.

                    And as I said I’ve never worked at a place where I HAD to work 80 hour weeks regularly. On the other hand, when I was younger, I worked for the kind of guy who would browbeat you in front of everyone else for any mistake you made–and he did it to everyone, and when I left that job I said I’d never do it again. In fact, many years later, I quit a well-paying job because my boss left, and his boss was a putz.

                    If you feel you gotta take a job no matter how bad it is, because you gotta make video games, or you gotta be working, then fine. But if you went into it eyes open, then you don’t really have a leg to stand on if you complain about how horrible it is, either.

    2. Abnaxis says:

      When people talk about games as a growing industry, I think they’re looking at the total dollars in sales. So if consumers buy (say) $60 billion worth of games this year vs. $70 billion in games next year, then gaming is a growing market.

      The problem is, that only looks at the revenue side of the equation. The other side of the equation–that is, the cost side–is also growing. That’s why you see so many big publishers treading water–despite the ballooning development costs, you still have developers who think better graphics = more emotional impact.

      Incidentally, that’s why you see so much enthusiasm over indie developers. It’s not because every indie venture is a success, but rather because the successful ones are proof positives that chasing the newest shiny graphics isn’t the only way to succeed. If you have a solid game with appropriate presentation, you don’t have to spend $200 million on a five hundred man team

      1. Shamus says:

        I’d also say games are growing in terms of cultural relevance and influence. The number of people gaming on PCs and consoles isn’t growing very fast, but the number of people gaming on their smartphones has exploded over the last few years.

        Angry Birds became, what? A BILLION-dollar game? Something insane like that. It’s completely unremarkable in mechanical terms. We’ve had flash games like it for over a decade. What makes it a runaway success is that the game was within reach (on a phone) of people, they had an easy in (free demo or some portion of the game being free) and an easy way to pay for it when the time came. (They didn’t need to fuss around to create a new Zynga / Steam / Pogo / EA account or buy Microsoft points to get it. If the phone was set up with access to the app store, they could just click a thing and buy the game.

        This low cost + convenient access + ubiquity = $$$$$ is a pretty interesting dynamic, since it runs counter to how gaming has existed in the past. Namely: Buy a specialized device designed for games, then plonk down $60 of non-refundable money for something that might be fun, then go through a gauntlet of account creation, point-buying, DRM-registering crap to be allowed to play.

        In any case, there are more gamers than ever before. They’re not playing Assassin’s Creed, but they’re spending money. Before smartphone games there was the Wii and the explosion of the family gamers. New people are jumping in, and putting money in. This is what I meant by the industry “growing”.

        But no, the number of dudebras playing Call of Duty probably isn’t going up, and the amount of money that can be extracted from those guys is pretty flat. Again, EA is bonkers to fixate on that market like this.

        1. X2-Eliah says:

          Myes, but the thing is, zynga isn’t doing so hot either. Facebook games are not really the ‘goldmine’ of few years past. Nintendo is scraping badly, esp. wth wiiu. As for mobile games – there’s a decent amount of articles about the games failing to even pay for the company upkeep due to piracy and/or less-than-superb in-app transaction methods.

          Also, the industry growing can not be measured only by [new people]x[new money]. You need to consider costs and losses. Is the net outcome an increase? Or a decrease? Or stagnation?

          1. Shamus says:

            Well, Zynga is a horrible, self-destructive and creatively bankrupt company. They made a fortune, spent it poorly, and pissed in their own well water. So I don’t know that they support the notion that “There’s no more money to be made in social games”.

            See, I’ve been arguing that the rising AAA costs is just grotesque mismanagement. We’re going to need to split this discussion off fractally if we want to examine all of those. My whole “They’re stagnating in a growing hobby” thought is based around two ideas:

            1) They are over-investing in a single, big, risky blockbuster market. (Sub-point: They’re spending too much on these titles. Like, even if you insist on making big-budget blockbusters, they STILL shouldn’t cost this much.)
            2) They aren’t exploring these other markets or trying to open up new ones.

            Now, you can argue that maybe there’s no [more] money to be had in mobile games. Or that you can’t turn a profit on AAA games outside the 18-24 male demo. Or that the family market was a flash-in-the pan dead end. Those are all interesting discussions. But my position is that EA isn’t even in a position to know these things for sure.

            Now, if you want to argue that there just isn’t any money left on the table and no other approach could do any better, I can’t prove you wrong. But I believe that there’s more money out there. And regardless of which one of us is right, EA isn’t even looking for it.

            1. Klay F. says:

              Kickstarter has proven that there is more money out there, even if only a fraction of those gamers interested in a Double Fine Adventure, or Wasteland 2 or what have you actually spend money. And Kickstarter is MUCH more than just famous names trying to cash in on their previous work. It just means that publishers aren’t willing to work for all that extra money. Yes, that extra money isn’t much compared to the latest Modern Battlefield or whatever, but the publishers act like they’d rather have ALL THE MONEY or nothing, rather than SOME money and adjusting their spending to accomodate, which as a business strategy is pretty much the most insipid thing I’ve ever seen.

            2. Hitchmeister says:

              “We're going to need to split this discussion off fractally if we want to examine all of those.”

              Sounds like a potential never-ending series of Experienced Points articles.

              1. 4th Dimension says:

                And a bounty for us.

        2. Abnaxis says:

          I dunno, Google tells me there’s at least a little growth in AAA, it’s just not very much considering the ponderous risk needed to make a AAA title. Of course that’s nowhere near the growth in mobile and indie games…

          If EA would just shoot for the AAA market in an more market-savvy manner there would be money there to be made.

        3. ehlijen says:

          Not sure if ‘dudebra’ is the new spelling or that’s a typo, but if it is a typo it’s a very amusing one. If it isn’t…I’m confused…

          1. Asimech says:

            Well, man-boobs aren’t quite the same shape as regular boobs, so you need different shapes & likely want to avoid all push-up action.

    3. Jeff says:

      Not being a bro gamer, I’m looking forward to a lot of Kickstarter projects from highly regarded professional teams (I discovered today that Richard Garriott has one up too) and I’m constantly buying things from Steam, so it certainly feels like its thriving to me.

      I rather love that the publishers are failing and the developers are completely bypassing them. At this point they’re practically like the music industry – screw the middleman, go direct with the artists.

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        Not being a bro gamer

        I am not sure if that is offensive or not. Borderline…
        Please don’t call others ‘bro gamers’ just because they don’t share your love for kickstarters/indies?

        1. Phantom Hoover says:

          You seem to think you can just brush off indie developers because we only hear about the successes, which is ridiculous when you consider that the number of successes has skyrocketed.

          1. Trix2000 says:

            I like to think the fact that we can seriously debate their effect on the gaming market at all is rather telling of how large of an impact they’ve had.

  7. Brandon says:

    I’m glad to see the return of your column, Shamus. I’ve largely been following your blog to mine your thoughts anyways, but I’ve found your insights very enlightening, so having more of them to pick through is always a plus for me.

    As always, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us all. Great read. :)

  8. Torsten says:

    A good gaming company needs the game makers, the finance, and the marketing working all together, just look at Valve. History of videogames is full of companies that made quality games but still ended up bankrupt, showing that a gamer or a programmer does not make any better company head alone, but EA is showing that capital running the decisions is not working either. What they need is someone who can trust the creators to do their jobs, but who can also lower the unrealistic expectations of gaming as a big money industry.

    I still hope that EA can change its course. Losing the largest publisher and one of the biggest software houses in general would not be good for gaming either.

    1. Hitchmeister says:

      I think if Valve was publicly traded the shareholders would have stormed the gates with torches and pitchforks over their release schedule long ago.

      1. krellen says:

        Unlikely. Valve has a nice constant income from their take of Steam sales, so investors would be unlikely to object to them producing no “product”.

        1. Hitchmeister says:

          Do you realize the billions they lose every year they don’t release Half Life 3, no matter how crappy it might be?

          1. Peter H. Coffin says:

            They are not *losing* billions by not releasing. They are *deferring income* on the supposition, right or wrong, that more money can be made by releasing a better product later. At this point, since there’s still an ongoing stream of people asking for the game, they lose *nothing* by delivering a more-polished product. The only risk they face is people getting bored with it all and NOT being interested enough to buy it. And Duke Nukem selling 3.5 million copies kinda says that the general public isn’t going to lose interest enough not to drop $50 on something that they’ve been waiting a decade for.

        2. Mephane says:

          The problem with big investors typically is that a business running fine and doing decent money is never enough as long as they believe it could make more money by implementing scheme X, with X quite often being detrimental to product quality and/or their employees, but highly beneficial for the bottom line*.

          And I think Valve is every aware of this.

          *That’s also what got us some aweful DRM schemes in the first place. Execs believed the DRM would increase revenue through reduction of piracy, and then they did not care at all about any other consequence, and would only back down when the plan eventually failed to increase sales and there is no other potential cause to blame. Some companies have already gone through that (completely unecessary, btw) learning phase, others (read: EA) are still at the beginning.

    2. Tizzy says:

      Agreed. That’s why all these calls for “let the devs work!” are laughable, as if devs were not able to run a project into the ground when left to their own devices.

      Unfortunately, that makes it too easy for the clueless bosses to dismiss out of hand any calls for a management that is listening to their devs more as a hopelessly naive proposition.


  9. James says:

    Humm Who would i like to see run EA if EA cared what it thought

    the head honchos over at Blizzard even Chris Metzen seam well liked and Blizz hasn’t made a bad game in year, Diablo 3 was dissapointing and with annoying allways on DRM, but then SC2:HoTS was amazing. and WoW still has 10 million subs and MoP was supposedly great

    or perhaps a money man, who is content to let his devs work and get a great product out so they can keep making great products

    Make money to make games
    not vice versa sort of guy
    (yes thats a diliberate TUN refrence)

    1. Torsten says:

      Would we really want to see Blizzard and EA merge like that? Neither of them has a very good track record for good business records lately.

      Somebody with a movie background could be good. Film production is not that different from game production, and there would be the background from entertainment industry.

      George Lucas is currently out of stuff to do.

      1. Mephane says:

        Enter EActivisionBlizzard under the rule of Darth Kotick.

        *cue Imperial March*

      2. krellen says:

        George Lucas has demonstrated that he is bad at heading a film production. He needs peers and superiors to challenge him.

        1. Torsten says:

          There would be the rest of the board of directors to keep him in check, and while being a visionary he has let the tech people do their job and even allowed other people to work on his creations – by expanded universe – so he trusts others to have working visions too.

    2. Adam says:

      More to the point, Diablo 3 was disappointing entirely because of the pfaff they piled on top of it outside of the gameplay (real-money marketplace, always-online DRM), not because of the gameplay itself. Taken on those criteria, Blizzard hasn’t made a bad game in even longer.

      1. GM says:

        did you enjoy the gameplay? i played till i got to skeleton king and stopped there i felt bored.

        1. Hitchmeister says:

          The failure of D3 game play was directly related to the integration of “pfaff” (to use Adam’s term). A central mechanic of such a game is the collection of loot. Loot drops in D3 were tuned to facilitate Auction House trading. But in doing so, advancement in the game became dependent on Auction House trading (real money or gold). Actual useful drops in-game are so rare as to almost never give you the thrill of “Oh wow! Look at that!” and even when something good does drop, you’re more interested in listing it on the Auction House rather than using it. It turns out, that’s not what a lot of people were really looking for.

          Some enjoy it. It just didn’t hold an audience like they’d hoped. If it did, they’d be hyping an expansion by now.

          1. Peter H. Coffin says:

            It also lost due to being… well, an awful lot like Torchlight which was already out, and the bits that they improved were a lot like Torchlight II, which was due out very shortly and expected to be a whole lot cheaper. Now there’s good reasons that D3 and the Torchlights look and play a lot alike, but that doesn’t mean that someone really needs all of them when they all fill the same gameplay “cartoon-y run around, bash things, pick up loot” niche.

        2. Khizan says:

          I think a lot of the dislike for the game, honestly, was just rose-tinted glasses. Diablo II was ~12 years old when D3 dropped. When D2 dropped, I was in high school, still.

          The people who were huge D2 fans are different people now, and absolutely nothing was going to live up to the game they had in their head, because the game they ACTUALLY PLAYED wouldn’t live up to the game they REMEMBER PLAYING.

          1. Shamus says:

            Actually, this kind of fall apart with my age group. We were adults when the game came out, and played it for years. In fact, the guys in my gaming group were STILL doing little bouts of D2 just a year before D3 dropped. None of them are playing D3 now.

            D2 really was an amazing game.

            1. Khizan says:

              This sort of surprises me, because it seems like the kind of game you’d hate.

              What, you don’t like the skill you tried? NO TAKEBACKS, deal with it. The character you built and enjoyed throughout all normal isn’t up to par for Hell? Better start all over again and plan your first skill choices with level 30+ play in mind! Want a decent item? Kill Mephisto. Hundreds of times. Hope you get Swordman’s Shield of Swording(rare) and not Wussman’s Butter Knife of Dullness(not rare).

              I found D2 to be, for the most part, a monotonous and repetitious grindfest of a game, churning out boring run after boring run hoping that the lottery ticket at the end was a winner, and I am continually surprised by how many people love it.

    3. krellen says:

      Fuck Chris Metzen. He can’t even be bothered to read or remember shit he wrote himself before pushing out the next “OMG AWESOME” idea.

      He’s a hack. He doesn’t deserve his job.

      1. Jarenth says:

        He is a skilled showman and crowd-worker, though.

        1. krellen says:

          Maybe he should get a job in PR and leave writing to the professionals.

      2. Cradok says:

        Agreed. I’m getting increasingly frustrated with the writing in Warcraft; how bland and samey all the big threats are, all the unfinished storylines, the neverending stream of trolls, the re-working of old events, Green Jesus Thrall… ugh.

        1. Khizan says:

          Trolls are awesome.

          Shut up.


    4. James says:

      i just remembered something, what about CD Project RED, these guys are all round considered the best of the best of the best in gaming, the only online store to even come close to threatening Steam, by basically targeting a different market as its focus GoG is an amazing place, and their games the Witcher Series are loved, they even abandoned DRM after it didn’t work to curbtail piracy. love thoughs guys, let them fix EA

    5. Steve C says:

      Yes WoW still has 10 million subs, but that’s from 22 million at it’s peak. It’s both the most successful MMO (by far) but it’s also dying.

  10. Atarlost says:

    I think the best solution is to get rid of CEO as an all powerful position. Nobody really has the skill set required that isn’t already heading another company.

    A suit is needed for the business, but development should not be micromanaged by a suit and the suit at the top should be blocked by his contract from even attempting to do so. Essentially they need the corporate version of federalism.

    The CEO would be handling budgets for various projects, but someone else with development experience should do any micromanaging other than determining budgets. The two skill sets are hard to find in the same person, but they don’t really need to be in the same person if the Stockholders put their feet down on how the authority is distributed.

    That said, I think EA is too big and should be broken up. Capitalism breaks down with large corporations and each corporation internally acts as a managed economy with all the inefficiency that brings.

    1. Daemian_Lucifer says:

      Seeing how this is the problem of many,many companies that deal with comics and movies* for decades now,I dont think we will see any improvement in gaming industry in that regard.

      *And other industries,but Im focusing merely on entertainment here as the most relevant to the discussion at hand.

  11. zob says:

    I think you are approaching this problem from the wrong angle. As far as the powers that be concerned you (well, we) are the minority that can be ignored.

    Just read this. Another one of Cliff Bleszinski rants.

    “…If you're currently raging about this on GAF, or on the IGN forums, or on Gamespot, guess what? You're the vocal minority. Your average guy that buys just Madden and GTA every year doesn't know, nor does he care. He has no problem throwing a few bucks more at a game because, hey, why not?…”

    This is their mindset. “People are buying these games, so these unhappy people must be wrong”. As far as they are concerned we don’t matter.

    1. Peter H. Coffin says:

      And the mindset is right, as far as it goes. The trouble, as Shamus’s point is, that they could be getting so much more than a couple more bucks from the same people that they sold to last year.

  12. DaveMc says:

    Shamus, I can’t help wondering: Did you wrestle with the temptation to conclude your article with “I’m available”? You know, right after “EA needs to hire someone who plays videogames and reads gaming news for fun, not because the job requires it.” :)

    I’m not available, so you can have the job if they offer it.

    1. Hitchmeister says:

      I’m a big fan of Shamus. But I hope he’d agree with me that he’s not really qualified or suited to that job. However, the type person who I feel would be suited to that job is someone who can read, understand, and take good advice from Shamus’ columns.

    2. Shamus says:

      Heh. I did make that joke in the Podcast that went up today. :)

    3. kmc says:

      I agree. I think that people who are very passionate are often poorly suited to high-level positions in a related industry. I know that’s an incredibly sweeping statement, but here’s what I mean, and I see this all the time where I work. Someone like Shamus has very strong opinions on a whole lot of small topics. He likes to blog about it. That means that he’s personally emotionally invested in things being done a certain way, down to small-scale gameplay decisions. He would be an incredible advisor to a CEO (and maybe that’s what CEOs need, is to have a “kitchen cabinet” of gaming devotees). However, it would be maddening to have to watch your own company make decisions that you personally disagreed with because it’s not your job to make those decisions. When you’re passionate, it becomes very difficult not to micromanage and to actually take a big-picture view. Your job is to make money for you and for the investors, so could you axe a brilliant game that you would kill a man to play because you recognized it was going to be a niche game at a time when your company needed a big revenue boost? It’s why they don’t hire gamers as CEOs. It’s why military officers are legally required to not become personally attached (by romance or friendship) to enlisted people. It’s hard enough passing down orders that you disagree with, because you have to implement them well and pretend you’re happy about it; it’s much harder to be the one at the top generating them. Plus, when you lead a company, that is your life. You’re not going home and playing Half Life 3. If you *do* get to make an awesome game, you’ll never get to enjoy it. That would be heartbreaking to a real gamer like Shamus, or like any of us.

      Part of my brain thinks that it would be disastrous to try to lead a corporation with a Friendship Circle(tm), where everybody made every decision together, but there is a part that would be interested to see leadership done zombocalypse style. (Eating brains to a danceable background track? No, that’s zombocalypso.) If you had a handful of people with broad but overlapping skill sets who were all linked by a love of gaming, you could pay the whole group with that $1M but each person might be able to focus on their main area and help pick up slack in someone else’s if need be. With a little coordination, it might not crash and burn right away…

      1. Abnaxis says:

        Eating brains to a danceable background track? No, that's zombocalypso.

        It’s a zombie jamboree!

      2. Steve C says:

        CEOs aren’t magical people with a special unique skillset. They are managers plain and simple. Either you have a talent for managing people or you don’t. If you’re good at managing a 50 employee company, you’ll be good at a 5000 employee company. Do I think Shamus has the skills necessary to manage EA? Probably. If Zuckerberg can manage Facebook I don’t see why Shamus couldn’t run EA.

        A CEO’s primary role is vision and communicating that vision to everyone else. That’s why the greatest CEOs are all visionaries.

  13. Shmun says:

    So can we maybe just kidnap John Carmack and smuggle him into the building, in the hopes that if we camp him in the CEO’s office, they might relent and just hire him?

    I…I’ve got a van. And some duct tape.

  14. Zak McKracken says:

    On the topic of the 1 million salary: I think the person who would be suited for doing this job should not need 1 million dollars in order to be convinced to take it. Rule of thumb: If you’re just in it for the money, you shouldn’t be doing it.

    I’ve recently seen an example of just how much devotion (and how much negligence of private time) you can get from highly qualified people (Phds most of them) for less than a 20th of that amount, and I’d think it’s just a matter of giving someone a job that is its own reward. Not that you shouldn’t pay your CEO well, too, but … a company that isn’t doing well should maybe save the big cheques for the person who actually helps them out of it. If and when he or she does.

    1. Mephane says:

      On the topic of the 1 million salary: I think the person who would be suited for doing this job should not need 1 million dollars in order to be convinced to take it. Rule of thumb: If you're just in it for the money, you shouldn't be doing it.

      I've recently seen an example of just how much devotion (and how much negligence of private time) you can get from highly qualified people (Phds most of them) for less than a 20th of that amount, and I'd think it's just a matter of giving someone a job that is its own reward. Not that you shouldn't pay your CEO well, too, but … a company that isn't doing well should maybe save the big cheques for the person who actually helps them out of it. If and when he or she does.

      Quoted For Truth. This is the underlying issue of so many of mankind’s problems today: so many people are in charge of something only because of their personal reward (money, fame, power), and beyond that do not care the least about the thing they are managing.

      Disclaimer: I have absolutely no idea how this could ever be fixed. No matter what measures to prevent this are in place, everything appears to be eventually taken over by people who are in it only for personal gain of one form or another. It’s like the entropy, you can only slow it down, but never escape it…

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        Unfortunatelly greed is one of the most effective motivators, so it’s unlikely to go out of style. The problem is sliding scale of salaries these people get, since it’s probably a bidding war to get a ‘good’ CEO to head your busines. Also they probably never go down even after the ‘star’ has left and some ‘average’ guy gets the job.

        Also more importantly it seems (to us at least) that there is allmost ZERO reprecusions for failing at the job. I mean RIchitelo more or less fell on his sword when he left EA (basically not in words he admited he was wrong), and I seriosly doubit he will remain jobless for long. Maybe he won’t head a company as large as EA, but certanly his standard of living won’t drop. And that reinforces that allmost carelesness, where CEO doesn’t really care about the product or the company. It’s just another job for him.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Actually, EA’s still going to pay Riccitello’s salary for 24 months and he gets to keep all his stocks.

          So no drop in standard of living. In fact, he gets to live off of getting fired for the next two years without needing to get any other job or contribute to society in any meaningful way.

          1. 4th Dimension says:

            Yup, and in fact he won’t remain jobless I can bet.

            EDIT: HUH: it seems I messed up my email address.

  15. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    I think the remarks are pretty much right on.

    This is a straight-forward Schumpterian creative destruction story. EA has routinized the process of making games, just like Hollywood routinized the making of movies. The result was creatively stagnant. This can last for a while, but eventually someone will build a better mousetrap. When that happens, the routinized game factory is out of business.

    Far better to have the people who want to build that better mousetrap on the inside -to the extent possible -giving you new ideas, than on the outside tearing the company apart.

  16. Andy_k says:

    The sad thing is that the CEO of EA will have to be endorsed by two groups: the shareholders and the analysts. Neither of these groups understand the electronic entertainment industry; so the result will be the same as before. Especially since as a large public company it is likely that at least some of the large shareholders are managed investment funds and the like.

    At best we can hope the new CEO actually has the wherewithal to realise this industry is different and will then go and find – and listen to – some people who have a bit more understanding…

    We can only hope. And buy indie games – For The Win!

  17. Humanoid says:

    Very tangential, but a few years ago, EA Mythic, who possessed the old Origin assets after the former was kyboshed, released boxes and boxes of archival stuff for the guys at WCnews to look at. (Which, at the risk of praising EA for anything, was a generous thing for them to allow)

    Amongst the other treasures was a planning document that gave a number of how many sales at the time would be considered the benchmark of successful-enough-to-justify-an-expansion. The number was 60000 copies. That was what was considered a reasonable target for what would have been a big-budget blockbuster game of two decades ago.

  18. stratigo says:

    I think the problem comes in the nature of large, stable companies

    Executives and stockholders are inherently conservative in the extreme. It is hard to account for the profits of something new, and thus is incredibly scary to these people to pour the kind of AAA money they think they need into entirely new IPs. So they follow the trend and try to make the same products that proved successful before.

    It isn’t that EA lacks executives with a passion or knowledge of gaming, because even then, they are likely to make the same mistakes on a lesser scale. What it needs is, essentially, entrepreneurs who don’t fear ricking large profits on something new. The problem is, in the life cycle of a corporation, EA is long past the point where it is comfortable with the seat of your pants entrepreneurial styles of management. Because it requires you to gamble heavily on not sure things, and if you fail, you loose a lot more money then even now. But if you succeed, then you make a lot more money. But constant, moderate loss is more palatable to your average stock holder then the gamble of big losses against big wins.

    So what I’m saying is that we need to find the Steve Jobs of gaming and hire him.

    EDIT: What I am hoping personally is for a crowd funding paradigm to succeed. Essentially crowd funding exists to prove to stockholders and executives that a new IP has an inbuilt market already, so funding it is not a waste.

  19. Aufero says:

    I was particularly struck by this point: “Imagine what Apple would be like if had been run by a Steve Jobs who didn’t really use or care about gadgets.”

    For anyone who started using Apple products before the mid-80s, there’s no need for imagination. John Scully, Michael Spindler and Gil Amelio were just as poor a fit as Apple CEOs in the decade after Jobs was forced out as Larry Probst and John Riccitello have been at EA.

  20. MrGuy says:

    So, I disagree, at least as far as the CEO goes.

    Sure, the “CEO as visionary” idea can work, and has worked for some of the companies you mention. But it’s not a requirement for a company to be successful. Plenty of companies succeeded without the CEO being the chief driver of the vision.

    What EA needs a great manager. What I mean is someone who empower those s/he manages to achieve greatness. They need someone who’s OK not always being the company’s expert on things, but who will bring in and genuinely listen to people who ARE experts on this.

    You need someone who will bring in people with leading ideas, and give them some freedom to try them. But within reason – you can’t just throw money at any cool-sounding idea without any sense of “will it succeed?” That’s the opposite of, but just as dangerous as, the current “only build what provably has a track record of success we can repeat” strategy. What you need is to give your creative people the ability to take chances, but also make it clear to them that those chances need to have a plausible story to get to marketplace success. Or, for things truly on the bleeding edge, understand it’s a risky investment, and so try it without betting the company on it. It’s a fine line, and requires finesse.

    To your point, you don’t need (or want) Richard Garriott to run your company, but you need someone who can manage someone like Richard Garriott. Who could manage a TEAM of Richard Garriotts, each pitching ideas. You don’t need the decision maker – what you need is someone who can make the goals and the decision making framework clear, and provide guidance on how we should evaluate those ideas.

    Help people understand that putting all our eggs in one basket is risky, so if we have 2 AAA realistic shooters already in development, we should be cautious about greenlighting a third unless we have a VERY good reason. Someone who doesn’t demand every single game be built as a potential trilogy, but can make people understand that games revisiting beloved previous titles have a built-in marketing advantage, and so we probably shouldn’t have 90% of our investment be in one-and-done titles with no sequel strategy. This is the kind of thing a good manager can do, EVEN IF the manager him/herself isn’t qualified to determine which of three sword-and-spell based games under consideration is the best. You have people for that.

    Don’t get me wrong – industry understanding is a good thing to have. But some of the most successful leaders I’ve ever worked with were NOT experts on the thing they managed when they were hired.

    1. Abnaxis says:

      I disagree.

      If I understand correctly, your idea is that the CEO shouldn’t have to be an expert in gaming media, culture or development; but rather that they just need to be able to analyze the market, and depend on the expertise of their employees when it comes to specifics.

      The problem is, this is an entertainment industry. More-so than virtually any other industry, entertainment products live or die based on public perception of them, for a multitude of a reasons. Many great games have floundered due to a failure in marketing. That’s why so much money is spent on PR by AAA companies.

      Furthermore, no matter how qualified the people under him/her are, any potential CEO won’t be able to function if they only understand gaming culture as an outsider looking in. There are too many PR landmines that look great on a balance report but work terribly in practice.

      Take DRM, for example. On paper, it looks like a fantastic idea. For a one-time up-front development cost which amounts to a drop in the bucket compared to development costs of an actual game, you have the potential to drive out the competitive services offered by pirates. The only downside is that some customers won’t be able to use the product due to compatibility issues, but frankly that’s invariably going to happen anyway due to the nature of the PC market.

      The problem is, DRM is a blatantly stupid idea. It shows an utter disdain of the customers and ultimately drive more people to pirate, not less. However (and this is the important part), you will never, ever be able to summarize that fact in an objective, statistical fashion. No focus group will be able to convey the futility of DRM. No expert in the field will be able to conclusively show you the downside of DRM. On paper, DRM will always look like a low-risk, high-payoff option. You have to be entrenched in gamer culture to understand, and properly react to, piracy and DRM.

      1. Olly says:

        “You have to be entrenched in gamer culture to understand, and properly react to, piracy and DRM.”

        Which is exactly what you would hope some of the people working in EA are… The real issue seems to me to be that the voice of such staff members is either not being raised or it is not being heard. Either staff are afraid to voice their concerns for fear of losing their jobs (see the super replacable 80-hour/week programmer comments) or no official channel exists within the EA organisation structure that would allow such concerns to be naturally brought to the attention of senior management.

        Even if a staff member raised a specific concern through appropriate channels with their line manager there is still the risk that the line manager would not promote this concern for fear of their own career prospects.

        Any new CEO for EA needs to be prepared to counter this (admittedly entirely perceived) culture within the organisation and truly shake things up to encourage those that are closest to the ground to speak up and to allow their voices to be heard.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          It doesn’t matter if the voices are being raised or not, they can’t be heard, through no fault of their own or their management.

          If a CEO is soliciting advice from experts, they aren’t looking for opinions. Any CEO who went to their shareholders and said “we are discontinuing DRM because expert opinions say we should but there’s no data to back it up,” would quickly be replaced after shareholders scratch their heads and wonder why the board didn’t just hire the expert in the first place.

          CEOs are looking for trends supported by current data and practices in order to better inform their business decisions. They then take all that data, together with their own intuition and business acumen, and decide where to steer the company. However, as I stated in my previous post, the gaming market in particular is absolutely rife with ideas that look good on a spreadsheet but flounder in practice, in addition to opportunities that only reveal themselves to someone savvy in gaming culture.

          I would posit that this is the reason we see so many large AAA companies under performing today. You need ineffable knowledge about gaming culture in addition to objective sales data, and an outsider can only make use of the latter. The only way around this is to hire CEOs that know something about gaming from the inside-out.

          1. MrGuy says:

            So, you’re basically blaming dumb shareholders instead of dumb management.

            First, “why didn’t the board hire the expert in the first place?” Is far from a rhetorical question. “Why did we hire this excellent manager who listens to gaming experts to run the company, when we could have hired a gaming expert who’s a lousy manager?” Because “knowing gaming inside and out” and “being able to run a large company well” are different skills. The best generals are not generally also the best marksmen. Not also the best tank drivers. Not also the best logistics officers. Thinking the CEO can and should be the expert at everything is a romantic ideal. Not a practical one.

            As to why they wouldn’t fire someone for taking a move that isn’t the safest one, I will grant you there needs to be sme trust that this person knows what they’re doing. But ultimately, shareholders care about success. As you poojt out, many AAA game houses are underperforming. There’s room to demonstrate success.

            Try this on at the annual shareholders meeting:

            “Look, we decided not to go DRM free, but we seriously reduced the scope and intrusiveness of our DRM. This out us a bit in uncharted waters, but the results speak for the,selves. We generated over 90,000 positive stories about lur company in the press. You can’t buy that kind of goodwill going into a launch. And, yes, there was piracy of the game, but from the metrics we’ve put together, the number of pirate compiles for Gears of Duty 7 aren’t significantly above the industry average, and by some account s are lower. Meanwhile, pre-order and launch day sales were at near-record levels. Our customers want this game, and they were willing to pay for it.”

            Success is king. Success usually means a leader who listens to smart people and uses them well.

            1. Abnaxis says:

              “Blame” suggest that I find fault. That’s not the case. I do not “blame” shareholders, dumb or otherwise.

              What I am saying is that, by the nature of the system, all CEOs of publicly traded companies have to be able to justify every business decision they make. They can either do that with numbers, or they can do that with charisma.

              Numbers don’t work. There is not a number that exists that you can point to in order to say DRM is a bad idea. Or rather, there are, but those numbers are meaningless and any shareholder who was comforted by them probably would be categorized as a “dumb” shareholder.

              And DRM isn’t the only example. Take graphics, for another one–if you put any focus group (or, incidentally, gaming critics) together, show them a game with bad production value versus a game with good production value, they will overwhelmingly favor the shiny bling and voice acting. When EA’s competition is unveiling the newest, shiniest, most bump-mapped content, any potential CEO is going to have problems standing up in front of everyone and saying they’re cutting back on graphics spending.

              Any CEO trying to justify correct decisions had better have the clout to back it up, because they can’t count on statistics. Even if you managed to find a CEO with a small enough ego (not that I’m criticizing–they have to have an ego if they want to lead) to defer to gaming industry experts (which, incidentally, don’t really exist in any credible sense), somewhere about the tenth time that CEO makes a move that is contrary to what the numbers tell them to do they’re going to get the axe.

              It is going to take a veeeery long time for any changes in company policy to show any measured success. There are 10+ years worth of earned gamer apathy and backwards company culture to correct. Maybe you think that finding a CEO who is an expert in both gaming and finances is asking too much (I would disagree–yes, they’re two different skill sets but there are plenty of people out there with skills in multiple fields, especially in computer-related industries) but s/he needs to have at least a little gaming enthusiasm and credibility. It’s the only way s/he can survive making the right decisions.

              1. Shamus says:

                It’s the Steve Jobs problem: “Can you show the financial advantage of making a device with no buttons? Can you, smartass? No? Consumers are demanding more features, which means MORE buttons, not less. Now cover that device in buttons!”

                Other people have suggested a money-man leader with a game-savvy adviser. That sounds easier to pull off, although I can’t think of any historical examples. Maybe that’s because the adviser is invisible to those of us on the outside. I don’t know. Either way, you need just the right person for the job: The leader either needs to know gaming inside and out, or they need the humility to realize just how much they don’t know and be willing to constantly bet their reputation on the input of their Grand Vizier.

                Which is harder to find: A CEO with a gaming background, or a CEO with humility? It is harder to track down Bigfoot or Nessie?

  21. Paul Spooner says:

    I think the point of “Game Publishers should diversify away from the Dudebro market” is well taken. If their latest investor relations material is anything to go by they should be reaching out to a diverse set of markets (slide 3), instead of putting all their eggs in one basket. Unfortunately, slide 10 shows us what “diversifying” means to EA. Amazing.

  22. Neko says:

    Seeing Richard Garriott become head of EA would give me perverse pleasure. Electronic Arts will have entered a new Age of Enlightenment. Know that the time has finally come for the one true CEO of EA to take his place at the head of his people! Under his guidance, EA will flourish, and all of the board members shall rejoice and pay homage to their new… Guardian.

  23. SteveDJ says:

    Hmmm, why is the post on The Escapist all in italicized, light-gray? It is very hard to read… :(

    (Or is my browser at fault – which wouldn’t surprise me – Win8 (64) with IE 10.)

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