The Fault Is Not In Our Stars

“But in ourselves.” A quote EA seems to be taking to an entire new level.

This is going to be a big one ladies and gentlemen. Many of you are no doubt well aware of the abysmal failure of Sim City’s launch, and the intense backlash against EA and Maxis that has spawned because of it. However the story gets more interesting as EA CEO John Riccitiello resigns, EA’s failing stock prices begin to rise, EA and Maxis defend Always Online DRM, EA COO Peter Moore goes on the defensive personally, Analysts for EA stockholders point out problems, and EA and Maxis apologize and offer free games.

Like I said, this is going to be a big one, and I will apologize right now for how long this article is going to be, but lets get started from the top:

The launch of Sim City has been stated to be one of the most disasterous game launches of this game generation, perhaps even putting Diablo 3′s ERROR 37 to shame as gamers report file corruption, server mismatches, progress being lost and key features being disabled and removed in an effort to salvage the launch. The sad truth was everyone predicted this long before it happened, perhaps making the utter failure of EA’s servers to cope all the more insulting. It was then quickly discovered that a modder by the handle UKAzzer cracked the game, removing the online requirement and fixing the majority of bugs and problems in one fell swoop which has poured more fuel onto the fire.

Naturally the ability to play the game offline with no repercussions, other then the ability not to be able to go online, directly contradicted statements from Lucy Bradshaw, General Manager at Maxis who stated “It wouldn’t be possible to make the game offline without a significant amount of engineering work by our team.” Her evidence was that the entire region was simulated server side, but that claim itself was debunked by a Maxis Developer, reporting to Rock Paper Shotgun, stating:

“The servers are not handling any of the computation done to simulate the city you are playing. They are still acting as servers, doing some amount of computation to route messages of various types between both players and cities. As well, they’re doing cloud storage of save games, interfacing with Origin, and all of that,” the anonymous source said. “But for the game itself? No, they’re not doing anything. I have no idea why they’re claiming otherwise. It’s possible that Bradshaw misunderstood or was misinformed, but otherwise I’m clueless.”

In keeping with Lucy Bradshaw’s response Peter Moore had the following to say to other members within the industry, questioning the ‘vision’ of Maxis and EA in their defense of Always On-DRM:

Refund requests began pouring in for Sim City, with a few users going so far as to demand a charge back for the game, which is very much against policy. Here we should stop a moment and explain, a charge back is demanding your bank to re-compensate you at a lose to the developer, while also damaging the companies credibility and your ability to ever purchase from them again. While EA is honoring all refund requests, they will not tolerate charge backs which should be a last ditch resort for getting your money back in a case of legitimate fraud.

Perhaps with the sheer controversy surrounding Sim City’s botched launch, EA is now offering a free game, from a list of games, to anyone who bought Sim City. The list includes the following games:

Battlefield 3 (Standard Edition)
Bejeweled 3
Dead Space 3 (Standard Edition)
Mass Effect 3 (Standard Edition)
MOHW (Standard Edition)
NFS Most Wanted (Standard Edition)
Plants vs. Zombies
SimCity 4 Deluxe Edition

Perhaps partially related to the string of bad press following many of EA’s decisions and comments as of late, John Riccitiello, CEO of EA, has handed in his letter of resignation which opens with the following:

Dear Larry,

I hereby offer my resignation as CEO of Electronic Arts effective with the end of our Fiscal Year 13 on March 30, 2013.

This is a tough decision, but it all comes down to accountability. The progress EA has made on transitioning to digital games and services is something I’m extremely proud of. However, it currently looks like we will come in at the low end of, or slightly below, the financial guidance we issued in January, and we have fallen short of the internal operating plan we set one year ago. EA’s shareholders and employees expect better and I am accountable for the miss.

An internal memo issued to all EA employees and released by the Wall Street Journal has stated that Larry Probst will become Executive Chairmen as the board of directors decides who shall take John’s place as CEO. In the memo John again holds himself completely accountable for EA’s shortcomings in the financial year, and thanked all employees of the company for their hard work.

Peter Moore has also come in on the conversation, going to facebook to defend John Riccitiello’s contributions to the gaming industry and posting the following comment reposted from Games Industry International.

“Kotaku reveling in what, due to their self-smugness, they don’t realize is a sad day for our industry, which is the platform on which they actually make money. John not only helped propel our company and interactive entertainment into new experiences, thus enticing millions of new people to become ‘gamers’, his work leading the ESA in recent years has helped ensure that we don’t experience the fate of the music industry,” Moore said of his former boss. “Sad loss for all of us who had the pleasure of working with him as we emerged from The Burning Platform.”

Other members within the games industry also came to John’s defense, including former Epic Games boss Mike Capps, and Former IGN editor Hilary Goldstein.

In a somewhat odd twist EA’s stock prices have risen from just under $14 a share to $19 a share, with shareholders having been constantly disappointed with EA and John’s performance in the market, and now showing their support for his resignation. Analysts speaking to the shareholders also had a lot to say on the subject of John’s tenure as CEO of EA, with a few highlights to follow:

“Riccitiello’s first and biggest mistake was underestimating how deeply the rot had set in at EA when he assumed leadership; we do not believe his successor will face a similar problem,” Doug Creutz wrote in a note to investors.

“Riccitiello’s reign has often been a difficult one for the company; shareholders have seen EA’s stock lose more than half its value since he became CEO in 2007. The company has missed earnings guidance on a semi-regular basis and ceded market leadership to Activision Blizzard. We think the first half of Riccitiello’s term was marked by flawed strategy while the latter half was impacted by spotty execution.

That first years of Riccitiello’s years at EA included expensive acquisitions, too many games in production and time wasted chasing the Nintendo Wii, followed by a failed reboot of the Medal of Honor franchise and most recently a shambolic launch of SimCity.

However it wasn’t all bad news, as the analyst Doug Creutz continues:

“But there are highlights to Riccitiello’s reign that leave the company in a strong position compared to other big box publishers – the growth of digital retailer Origin, solid franchises like Battlefield and mobile success with titles such as The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Real Racing.

“We do think Riccitiello is leaving the company better positioned than it was when he became CEO (and certainly in much better shape than it was 4-5 years ago),” wrote Creutz.

“The company’s core line-up is now focused down to a manageable amount of solid franchises, buttressed by increasingly successful downloadable content offerings, while the company’s mobile business is number one in the US and appears to be gaining meaningful momentum.”

I know this was a lot to get through and I understand if not all of it was read but it certainly makes for an interesting story, and perhaps a new chapter in EA’s future for better or ill. I am certainly curious to your thoughts on any of the subjects covered in this post.

Sources:

GamesIndustry.Biz – EA’s Rotten Core |

GamesIndustry.Biz – Peter Moore |

GamesIndustry.Biz – EA Stocks Rise |

GamesIndustry.Biz – EA Defends Always Online |

Escapist Magazine – John is Gone |

Escapist Magazine – EA Defends Freemium |

Escapist Magazine – Play Sim City Offline |

RockPaperShotgun – EA CEO Offline |

RockPaperShotgun – EA Says Sorry With Games |

John Riccitiello’s Resignation Letter