Shifting Gears
Clockwork Toys

EA Admits to Being Boring

Last week, the new CEO of EA, John Riccitiello, announced in an interview: "We're boring people to death and making games that are harder and harder to play." Mike Sellers put up some commentary over on Terranova, including this satirical allusion to Cassablanca:

"I'm shocked, shocked to see all these derivative sequels!"
"Your Madden/Sims profits, sir."
"Oh, thank you very much."

Now I'm not going to criticise Riccitiello for making these comments, because it's great to see an industry notable admit that 40 and 60 hour games are a gross mismatch to the new mass market game audience. (My company noted this issue five years ago...) But seriously: you have to do more than just say that we're doing it wrong.

Firstly, you must invest in original products. EA is still the largest publisher by turnover; they are still, I believe, the smallest investor in original IP. They say they're changing - but we're still waiting for the original products.

Secondly, you must either train your staff to understand the new wider ("casual") audience, or hire new staff who are willing to learn about the new audience. I will run a workshop for you if you need help with this. We need to see an end to games alleged to target a casual audience, but made by cloning the hardcore classics the publisher's staff enjoyed. This practice is endemic in the videogames industry and it has to stop.

Thirdly, you should encourage your staff to spot innovation. I took Reluctant Hero around publishers recently; one came back afterwards commenting that it lacked original features. (I wish I could tell you which publisher, for maximum irony!) What does 'original' mean if innovative narrative structures do not count? It's not like I didn't provide a thick report to explain the market value of the original features of the design, either; they either didn't read it, or didn't understand it.

Lastly, you should be willing to take some risks. They don't even have to be big risks. But if your staff believe that "it can't be a good idea, because no-one else is doing it", your corporate culture has become venomous to innovation.

I applaud Riccitiello for his comments. Now I want to see EA take action that matches this self-criticism. If they lead, the others will follow.


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Yeah. If you're going to talk the talk, you'd best be prepared to walk the walk. EA is a big rig and it'll take a while to turn it around. Hopefully the driver won't get distracted by something mid turn and forget to keep the tension on the wheel.

You know their profit marigins last year were 2.5%, right?

Yup, $76 million dollars profits they posted last year, on a turnover of $3 billion.

As a counterpoint:

I've been a dev for 9 years and if I really wanted to create "casual" games and probably make way more money that I am now I would move into cell phones games.

You have to see it too from most dev's standpoint. We came in the industry to make the games that we wanted to make and so far the industry is doing ok with it. We are hard core gamers by heart.

As an artist, I would be bored to tears creating a typical wii mini-game game regardless of the profits. It's like asking a fine artist to paint cereal box logos and cartoon characters.

I'm not against innovation. There are some amazing indy games out there that I admire: Defcon, Indigo Prophecy, Rag Doll Kung-Fu, Castle Crashers, etc. I would love to work on these types of games since they have novel ideas, great art styles to sink your teeth into, and solid mechanics.

...but if the "easy money" of the larger mass-market base makes big publishers and devs even MORE unlikely to fund indy games and some hard core titles, then I'm against it.

I don't want to see a flood of vacuous, "shiny and happy" games for "mom and pop" and have nothing left for the core audience who helped build this industry. Maybe I'm just too much of the old guard and the newer devs would be willing to do to do those things.

Hopefully we can find a balance and the sale of "mass market" games could help fund the more "hard core" titles.

John: cell phone games companies are more stable companies than most game developers, but they are not generally raking in the big bucks. But they make small games for a low budget, and support a portfolio of content - mostly licensed. In fact, the secret of the cell phone game developer is that they are economically a microcosmic publisher.

I'm not against people coming into games to make the games they want to make - but I dispute that the developers are "doing okay with it". If you are with a developer that is flourishing, you are one of the lucky ones. In the Manchester area in the UK, for instance, we have watched as one of the most successful game development regions has withered and died... More than two thirds of the developers have gone in the last few years, and many people have had to move further afield to find work.

There will always be cashflow for "hardcore" games, because the players of these games spend enough money to support this market - but this market is much smaller than the effort currently being spent to satisfy it.

Perhaps, as you suggest, we can reach a balance point where we are developing for multiple markets in parallel... It's hard to know how things will be when the economics finally settle down.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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