If you haven’t heard the news it turns out that John Riccitiello, the chief executive office of Electronic Arts, announced yesterday that he’s leaving the company; not only that but the news was met with so much glee that EA stock prices actually went up by 3 percent after the news broke!
If you’re not familiar with EA, they are hands-down one of the biggest game publishing companies on the market right now. Between EA and other mega-game publisher Activision, the two firms have their fingers on nearly every high profile IP out there. Now where Activision has been going strong for the most part – it’s amazing how many millions of subscribers that Activision-owned Blizzard still has for World of Warcraft, considering it’s little more than a shell of its former glory – EA has been going through some serious shit lately with Riccitello at the helm, and I for one am not glad to see the man who oversaw some of the biggest gaming blunders in the industry ‘leave’ the firm.
EA has a seriously poor reputation as a game publisher, and it’s certainly been earned. The number of development studios that EA has bought and then run into the ground reads like a laundry list of once-great developers, like Maxis and BioWare. The destruction of otherwise excellent franchises such as Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and countless others is as tragic as it is legendary, Origin, EA’s online storefront, is little better than a pale imitation of Steam with the added benefit of Origin allegedly snooping about your computer without your permission. It didn’t help that EA was awarded the Golden Poo award last year after being voted the worst company in America.
But the biggest nail in the coffin – and the one that probably got Riccitello looking for greener pastures – wasn’t the fact that EA was awarded this “prestigious” honor under his watch. It probably wasn’t even the fact that EA was caught red-handed using automated bots to spam a petition in an calculated effort to garner support with the LBGT community. It probably wasn’t even the fact that Star Wars: The Old Republic was such a colossal failure of a subscription-based MMO hat it went free-to-play in less than a year. No, the death knell for Riccitiello’s tenure as CEO was most likely the PR nightmare caused by the recent release of Sim City, which was plagued with massive problems stemming from the inclusion of an always-on DRM solution that required the game to be connected to the internet at all times – a move that was disastrous.
Instituting an always-on requirement is almost always a risky and controversial move when it comes to games that have a strong single-player component. The inclusion of always-on DRM was a serious black mark against Blizzard’s Diablo 3 last year, as server problems at launch made it impossible to play offline by yourself, though in retrospect it makes sense for a game that was designed around a heavy focus on co-operative play over the internet like the earlier iterations of the Diablo franchise. However, including such a “feature” in Sim City – an exclusively single player experience – was interpreted as nothing more than a blatant and intrusive anti-piracy measure that accomplished nothing more than to lock out paying customers from playing the game they legitimately purchased.
EA defended the move by declaring that the always-on internet connection allowed trade between player-created cities and that it was such an integral part of the game’s programming code that it would have been literally impossible to provide a single player game mode that eliminated this inter-city trade feature. Meanwhile, you can go into the game’s debug mode and, with a little finagling, turn off the always-on requirement, effectively making it a single player game and allowing you to actually enjoy the product you purchased, so it’s obvious that EA’s statements of “there’s no way we could have created the game with a single-player mode” are the kind of corporate spin that, once exposed, can completely and utterly ruin a company’s reputation.
EA has since gone on to provide a list of eight games that Sim City purchasers can go on to select from in order to get a free copy as a kind of mea culpa for the whole debacle, but the damage has been done and Riccitiello has been given his walking papers. This latest calamity, along with the countless other examples over the past few years, have effectively destroyed any goodwill consumers might have once had for a company that used to have a well-earned reputation for solid, customer-driven games in the past; I can only hope that once EA selects a new CEO he or she will help to reform the company into something more closely resembling its former glory.