Revenge of the Jedi
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 March 2013, 10:53 am
The CEO of EA, John Riccitiello "stepped down" (company-speak for "got fired") this week. And pretty much every gamer with a grievance against EA pointed at his pet peeve with that company and declared that this was why the CEO had to go. Be it always-on DRM, SimCity server outages, excessive use of DLC and item shops, the ending of Mass Effect 3, or the whole Star Wars: The Old Republic, somebody cited it or all of them as reasons for John Riccitiello leaving.

In a way that is both true and not true. On the one side, CEOs don't leave because they made a decision some of their most vocal customers dislike, nor because a single new product among many didn't meet expectations. On the other side a long string of bad press sooner or later depresses earnings. And ultimately a CEO is judged on how profitable his company is. EA isn't doing so well, with the share price depressed since the financial crisis and the latest quarterly earnings down. That is what the CEO took responsibility for and stepped down.

What gamers dislike about EA is that it lost touch with traditional PC and console gaming. Or as John Riccitiello said in his farewell letter to EA employees: "You are number one in the fastest growing segment, mobile, with incredible games like The Simpsons: Tapped Out, Real Racing 3, Bejeweled, SCRABBLE and Plants v. Zombies.". Of the PC/console games he only mentions Battlefield and FIFA, while many of the other game brands have been run into the ground. Maybe being voted the worst company in America really doesn't matter, but what does matter to shareholders is that their CEO has a winning strategy. And ultimately EA's strategy was not a financial success. Mobile gaming might be "the future", but it doesn't look like a very profitable one for big companies. Not if small developers can make mobile games which are as good or better on those mobile platforms.

If any single game is the main culprit of the downfall, it must be Star Wars: The Old Republic. Not because it was the game with the biggest outcry from unsatisfied customers, far from that. But SWTOR was probably EA's most expensive failure. You need to sell a *lot* of cheap mobile games to make up for a flop like that. At some point a company is simply too big to rely on Bejeweled and Plants v. Zombies for their daily bread.
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