Riccitiello’s Departure Is Proof That EA Is Flying Too Close To The Sun
By now you should all know that Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello has resigned from the publisher. This should come as no surprise to anyone since it was rumoured since the middle of last year. But now that it has actually come to pass, specifically at this point in time, it almost perfectly shows that Electronic Arts is slowly but surely losing the plot as a games publisher.
For the moment let’s talk about the timing, before I really dig into the publisher itself. Riccitiello’s tenure as CEO comes to an end soon, and he could just as well have stepped down through the natural passing of his term and allowed for some other person to take over as CEO. Instead, he resigned. Not just that, but immediately following the release of sales charts for Dead Space 3 and Crysis 3, the two big Electronic Arts titles to release so far in 2013. Those were somewhat underwhelming, weren’t they? Perhaps proof that maybe gamers are money conscious after all, and perhaps simply dangling something pretty in front of them isn’t enough to garner attention after all.
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Perhaps then Riccitiello staked his job on the success of these two franchises’ threequels; threequels which, I am going to be brutally honest here and say, absolutely fucking nobody in this Earth or any other Earth in the multiverse saw as gigantic successes in the making. From the very first reveals of either game early last year, we saw one thing and one thing only: lukewarm success (read: nowhere near their ridiculous sales estimations). Whether it was hubris on his part or overwhelming to the point of blinding faith in his development teams, who knows. But I personally think it comes down to something else entirely, which I will get to.
The truth of the matter is that it’s been a while since Electronic Arts has achieved industry-wide acclaim for a single particular title. The last I can think of is Mass Effect 3 and even then, that ending saga is enough to put anyone off from speaking further on it. Prior to that, which was their big blockbuster title which has achieved success the likes of Half-Life 2, Doom 3, BioShock and Assassin’s Creed? Probably the first Crysis and the first Dead Space, actually. Now granted, Electronic Arts have previously said that they’re working on a whole range of new IP for the next generation of consoles so that’s fine. But why then does Riccitiello have to resign, if he knows that there is good stuff coming?
It is my belief that EA needed a fall guy and Riccitiello was that person.
I think that EA are a proud and powerful publisher who once had their heads screwed on right. I previously put out a column on why I think a new EA CEO would be bittersweet wherein I explained how Riccitiello was once this really great guy who truly wanted to make a difference in gaming. And he was. He really, really was. And it’s that guy whom I feel terrible for now, because of who he has become and because of what this poisonous industry has turned him into. He’s the guy who introduced the world to the first Crysis, the first Dead Space, Mirror’s Edge, Dante’s Inferno and so much more. He’s the one who helped EA to acquire BioWare and effectively bring Mass Effect and Dragon Age to PS3 and PC. He’s the guy who called for cheaper games, which we now have. Granted he didn’t do all of that himself and he certainly should not take credit for any of it, but he told the world of his dreams and we ate it up because at the time, we could feel that he truly meant it. Then last year he went and made that god-awful statement that previously, the game you bought was the game you got. That was, in my mind, the beginning of the end for him.
But Electronic Arts as a publisher… I mean, I loved EA. I have defended EA on many, many occasions. If a game is published by EA then I am almost always willing to try it out. Have a look at my Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning review last year for proof of such. And next to Activision… I mean, does anyone really believe that Activision has a saintly bone in its metaphorical body? This is the studio which closed down Radical Entertainment last year following a well-received Prototype 2. This is the studio that is trying to shove as much Call of Duty (or similar such style) down our throats as possible. This is the devil incarnate. How the fuck does EA manage to keep up, let alone stand out?
EA regularly puts too much pressure on their big franchises and attempts to milk them for all that they’re worth. Yes, Ubisoft successfully markets Assassin’s Creed merchandise and media in practically every possible form. Yes, Activision gets to put out a Call of Duty game which has double the game’s value worth of DLC releasing for it that gets bought by many, many people. But EA, dear sweet EA, you cannot attempt to shove all this Dead Space, Crysis, Need For Speed, Army of Two, Battlefield, Medal of Honor and everything else down our throats and expect us not to gag a little.
I still harbour some frustrations over Dragon Age II’s reception, where it is my belief that EA put too much pressure on BioWare to produce and the company was forced into a situation it wasn’t comfortable in. Likewise, when Mass Effect 3 released with day one DLC and an ending that was originally planned to be expanded upon through DLC (The Truth, as it was once known). Likewise, when BioWare’s co-founders retired which is something I feel was forced. Likewise, when Slightly Mad Studios put out that atrocious Shift 2 Unleashed so soon after the excellent and aptly-named Shift in the Need For Speed series. Likewise, when a Mirror’s Edge sequel kept leaking rumours and getting canned over and over. Likewise, when Dead Space 2 attempted the most tacked-on and horrendous multiplayer since Halo 3. I could go on…
EA achieves a modicum of success with a title and then starts to get greedy and in its hubris, believes that the core market can go and fuck themselves because it can get rich off the mainstream market. But oh EA, cute and innocent EA, don’t you know that Activision already has the mainstream? Stick to selling those guys Madden, FIFA and The Sims, and start catering more to your core audience or more people like John Riccitiello are going to come along, make promises and then fail to deliver on them over a long term.
I’d like to call this point in EA’s history, ‘Icarus Rising’.
May their fall be wondrous and humbling.