EA CEO QUITS; COMPANY SCRAMBLES TO FIND NEW ANTICHRIST
Like most cool people in the world, I play an inordinate amount of videogames. Much of my life is rather mundane and unfulfilling, you see, and as such it’s nice to escape into a world where my problems for the day include slaying epic beasts or nefarious foes and embarking upon tremendous adventures rife with grand heroes and monsters, rather than slaying hours of my life at work and embarking on unbearable commutes, rife with the unwashed and derelict.
This is not an uncommon thing by any means, as in recent decades our little corner of the universe has swung drastically into chaotic turmoil and unprecedented levels of stress and fear mongering, making the desire to escape into anything that isn’t our species’ impending regression into primates identifiable at the very least.
After all, music and film are topics that we discuss here at The Monolith heartily and with passionate fervor, as they too distract and soothe the tension of a modern culture that breeds anxiety and woe. So why then, is the ever evolving art form of gaming not granted the same attention?
The gaming industry has set unmovable roots alongside its peers in the movie and record industries, and boasts an income to rival both combined. This is because of the unique and engaging experience it offers. Rather than simply listening or watching, video games offer the unprecedented ability to actually do, effectively casting the player as the lead role in their own film, cancelling out inane distractions like economic collapse and political instability in favour of a much needed sense of captivated immersion in a universe where they have the power to control their lives in an immediate and satisfying way; a luxury that many people can’t afford in the real world.
However, like any other industry, there are hurdles it must overcome as it gradually finds its maturity. Currently, the majority of these struggles pertain to excessive piracy control, franchise exploitation, and the tireless repetition of stagnant concepts.
Coincidentally, if you say “excessive piracy control, franchise exploitation, and the tireless repetition of stagnant concepts” three times in the bathroom mirror with the lights off, John Riccitiello, CEO-for-now of EA games appears and gives you the option of fighting him, or giving him $5 to leave you in peace.
Today I’ll be rambling on about how his horrible guidance and legendary avarice has driven shares of the company to drop nearly two-thirds in value since his arrival in 2007, and pining for a desperately needed revision of what I perceive to be unsightly blights on the otherwise pristine face of my favourite pastime.
Fellow gamers and distinguished noobs alike, this is:
EA CEO QUITS; COMPANY SCRAMBLES TO FIND NEW ANTICHRIST
Video game piracy is a problem a lot of us are guilty of, whether we’re willing to openly admit it or not. It doesn’t feel like a very bad thing to do, especially when at times it seems like the price of games seems to be perpetually rising while the quality steadily drops, but it’s actually pretty awful when it takes money out of the pockets of the great many creators, developers and artists that pour great lengths of their lives into making a product that we immediately steal and enjoy for free.
Here’s something that’s also pretty awful, though: When a gigantic company undertakes an ambitious idea for a game, only to neuter it with a myriad of regulations and restrictions, constantly shrinking budgets, and unreasonable release deadlines, thereby rendering the end product shoddy and incomplete. I cannot begin to recount how many wonderful game concepts have been gutted, reformed, sterilized and thrown naked and quivering onto store shelves because the oblivious suits that funded the project were only concerned with the bottom line, and pounded the noble and wondrous creative minds behind the idea into submission for the sake of a safe, mass-marketable product.
Companies like EA GAMES have made such a nasty of habit of things like this that they were actually named the most evil company in America for 2012 by Consumerist.com. That information needs to be stated again in order to be properly absorbed. EA Games is the most evil company in America by popular vote. How do you fuck up your public image so badly that you’re voted worst in a competition against arms manufacturers, oil giants, tobacco companies and pharmaceutical mega-corps? Does EA have a secret baby murdering division? Do they print their discs out of human sacrifices?
It’s a truly profound indicator of a companies’ indifference to customer satisfaction to know that they allowed public opinion of their brand to fall so outlandishly low, and even more so that they’ve made no direct or noticeable efforts to repair it, responding to the title of America’s worst by saying the following:
We’re sure that British Petroleum, AIG, Philip Morris, and Halliburton are all relieved they weren’t nominated this year. We’re going to continue making award-winning games and services played by more than 300 million people worldwide.
In other words, “Other people do worse things, so fuck you and thanks for the money, chumps.”
In all fairness, they’ve got a point here: other people definitely do worse things, and the unseemly deeds of a gaming corporation seem downright trivial when compared to matters of environmental and economic import. Nonetheless, it may have been a lateral move to site the names of terrible companies you weren’t directly compared to, yet ultimately chosen over, as it also pretty much acknowledges them as peers in the field of dick-facery on a global scale.
The decline of EA games’ reputation can hardly be blamed on any single individual, but rather a shadowy cabal of executives and accountants that break loyal customers down into data and tirelessly seek out the highest yields from the widest demographic. It would however be fair to attribute the idea of these policies to a figurehead, one whom has bolstered and propagated this paradigm of rigorous profiteering through his public support of its implementation.
Enter John Riccitiello, a man who presumably rides into work on a Cambodian refugee child and makes necklaces out of the bones of lost/decapitated pets. At the beginning of his reign in 2007, Riccitiello used his experience in cleaning products and soft drink industries to transform the company into a profit driven multimedia empire, which essentially meant grabbing handfuls of money from gamers at every possible opportunity, something a lot of people understandably didn’t like.
To be fair, it cannot be verified that this was all his idea, and it would be foolish to claim that he was on the frontlines of greed in the electronic entertainment industry. Concepts like DLC and pay-to-play games are far from brand new, and have been gradually inching their way to the forefront of the industry for several years, but it was the like-a-fish-to-water manner with which EA took to the ideas under Riccitiello’s hand that lends to hushed legends whispered in dimly lit taverns of how he turns into a wendigo at night and terrorizes the country side, possessing terrified farmers and forcing them to eat their loved ones.
EA pioneered terrible ideas like ‘microtransactions’, whereupon the player pays for in game things with real world money in the game he’s already paid real world money for. Usually they come in the form of little extras and exploits that make the game easier or slightly cooler. You might recognize another term befitting that description, namely ‘cheats’; you know, those little extras and exploits that make the game easier or slightly cooler.
The great thing about cheat codes was that they could be earned or unlocked by mastering the game in creative and specific ways, or secretly passed around among friends or forums boards creating a sense of community and camaraderie, but most importantly, they were free.
It’s one thing to charge me for the game itself; I won’t begrudge you that, even if the prices seem a little excessive. It’s also acceptable to release an add-on or expansion for the game later on, provided it consists of interesting content of sufficient quality, to increase the longevity and playability of the title. I was even willing to look the other way on the episodic DLC cash grabs put forth by companies like Bethesda in their Fallout and Elder Scrolls games because for the most part they’re reliably fun, interesting and well worth the extra pay, because they added depth and substance to the game.
It’s quite a different thing to slice content out of a complete game and sell it back to the player in small, incidental increments, which is essentially what microtransactions boil down to. That’s like me going into a pizza place, paying for a meat lover’s pizza, only to have the guy at the counter rip off all the toppings with his greasy, unwashed hands and sell each piping hot chunk of bacon, pepperoni and sausage back to me piece by piece. Not only is it an unwholesome way to do business that perturbs my indignant-o-meter on a fundamental level, but it also ruins the experience entirely by turning a leisurely activity into yet another in my unending series of transactions.
Another god-awful ploy born under Riccitiello’s dark cloud is the trend of releasing single player games on mandatory online servers, rendering them unplayable without an internet connection for the sake of verification, in another misguided attempt to prevent piracy. Simcity 2013’s release has been plagued by glitches, bugs and crashes associated with their servers, crippling players that have waited in anticipation to experience it. EA even openly admitted that they could have included an offline single player mode and avoided the entire problem, but opted not to, saying:
Always-Connected is a big change from SimCities of the past. It didn’t come down as an order from corporate and it isn’t a clandestine strategy to control players. It’s fundamental to the vision we had for this SimCity. From the ground up, we designed this game with multiplayer in mind – using new technology to realize a vision of players connected in regions to create a SimCity that captured the dynamism of the world we live in; a global, ever-changing, social world.
Which is all well and good, but is really no reason at all not to release the game with a standard, single player format that doesn’t require constant connectivity. That way, if your overly ambitious online universe predictably crashes and burns, you at least have the standard solo campaign mode to fall back on, instead of absolutely fuck-all, which is what people ended up with.
And then there’s the broader problems, such as blatant unoriginality and forced yearly releases of an endless franchise. Honestly, how much can FIFA13 have possibly added that FIFA12 didn’t cover? Did they somehow put more soccer into it?
Surely they’re not completely reinventing every iteration of this game under the intense time constraints of a yearly release, so it’s a fairly transparent scheme to milk fans of the sport who eat up every new release under the promise of greener grass, or slightly better graphics, or fancier costumes for the players to fall down and cry in or whatever the hell soccer people care about.
It operates entirely under the assumption that someone likes something so much that they’ll buy the same thing with minor variations over and over again, year after year, for as long as the company is willing to churn them out.
All of these ideas and more have plagued the gaming industry for far longer than John Roccitiello has been embracing them, but none before him has bonded so wholly to the concepts as to drive his entire company forward on the notions that these ideals would lead them to success.
Fortunately, gamers have spoken, and the response is positively laden with expletives. EA’s reputation is irreparably tarnished, in spite of their owning some of the most profitable titles going. That means even the people who support EA think that they’re bastards, and only buy their products because they’re gigantic enough to afford to own some of the best properties.
Profits are at an all-time low, and EA’s rep among gaming culture is about on par with Jack The Ripper’s standing with 1800’s English prostitutes, which is to say, they won’t exactly be warm to the idea of doing business with them. In an effort to counteract this backlash – or perhaps out of a need to travel the world looking for pure-of-heart virgins to defile – Riccitiello has stepped down from his post as EA’s CEO, leaving the company headless in the interim, awaiting a replacement who is essentially stepping up to the controls of the titanic after the iceberg hit.
Maybe these years of abuse and derision from the public will have been enough to change EA’s perspective, and perhaps the new leader will institute a desperately needed touch of humanity into their business style, taking into consideration the fundamental goal of making video games – which is to entertain the gamer, not drain him or her of every cent they can get away with.
Maybe they’ll phase out this whole ugly microtransaction business and go back to giving customers what they paid for; letting us have our fun by delivering a complete and polished product without breaking it down into monthly installments to be doled out like medication in an old folks home.
Perhaps they’ll look into favouring individual demographics by funding unique and risky projects, giving the designers more time and resources to develop truly remarkably new technologies and experiences, rather than dumbing every release down into familiar, palatable exercises in redundant stagnation.
There is a chance, no matter how optimistic or far-fetched, that EA and lesser complicit companies will have a change of heart and reignite the passionate, innovative spark that drove the medium to the levels it’s reached thus far, opening their ears to the voices of their audience, listening to what they want and sparing no expense to deliver.
If we can come together as gamers and developers, we can focus on ushering in a new golden age of gaming the likes of which we’ve only seen in our wildest dreams.
More than likely, however, Riccitiello’s replacement will be no different, just another spineless venom-blooded deviant wearing the skin of a man, vomiting bilious promises of revolution into the laps of the heathen hordes on which he plants the seeds of his empire by exploiting the devotion of an endlessly loyal, long suffering culture.