EA Admits That Gobbling Up Talented Studios Then Ruining Them Isn't Working Out So Well

from the now-witness-the-firepower-of-this-fully-armed-and-operational-battle-station dept

EA, a company right up there with Comcast in terms of consumer disdain, has a long and proud history of gobbling up talented developers, then either obliterating them outright, or homogenizing them until the products are the very pinnacle of bland. Studios like Bullfrog, Westwood Studios, and Origin were all near legendary game developers when acquired, but are now little more than fond memories after ham-fisted attempts to cash in on the catalogs (Ultima IX, anyone?). Other studios like Maxis were similarly legendary, but now struggle to put out rushed, highly-flawed simulacrum under the EA banner.

After twenty years of such stumbling, scorched-earth acquisitions, EA’s bloated belly appears to be full, and the company has finally decided that perhaps it should focus on developing content with the acquired talent army it already has. Company CFO Blake Jorgensen would even go so far as to admit EA’s history with such acquisitions is “marginal” at best:

“I think our history with acquisitions is somewhat marginal in performance,” Jorgensen said when asked if EA has identified any acquisition targets in the industry. “We have some that are spectacular, and some that didn’t do so well. It’s a headcount business, right? You’re buying headcount, and that’s always difficult to manage in acquisitions. It doesn’t mean we won’t do them, but I think where we’ve been most successful is in smaller acquisitions that we’ve integrated very quickly.”

In other words, EA finally has all the talent it needs to keep rolling out barely-interesting Madden after Madden updates (shielded from competition via their exclusive NFL arrangement) and a decade of new, semi-interesting Star Wars games courtesy of its deal with Disney. If EA’s stock is any indication, investors think EA has learned a thing or two about making friends with consumers, and the company claims it’s working hard to change its customer reputation in the market (EA gave away several free games as a promotional effort over the weekend). Though dysfunction may just be grafted to EA’s genetic code, 2015 might be the year that Ubisoft steals EA’s consumer annoyance crown.

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Comments on “EA Admits That Gobbling Up Talented Studios Then Ruining Them Isn't Working Out So Well”

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Michael (profile) says:

It’s a headcount business, right?

There’s the problem.

He seems to think that the companies they purchase simply add to the headcount and that none of them have any ability to bring new ideas.

I would assume that he has a chart somewhere that shows that each developer can write X lines of code per hour and each line of code in their products yields Y dollars. From there, they are all inter-changable.

CFO’s can be equally replaced. They may do better gobbling up some new management in the next round of purchases.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Precisely. Software development–every aspect of it, not just the coding–is a knowledge-worker field. Unskilled laborers are fungible the way he’s talking about, (“a headcount business”,) but skilled laborers are not, and management failing to understand that is one of the easiest ways to destroy both morale and product quality on a team of skilled laborers.


Re: Re: Westwood part deux

Game programming is especially specialized and game programmers increasingly likely to flee a bad situation. This is especially true of the core talent that may just take their ball and go home.

The serious talent will flee an EA acquisition and set up their own shop.

This even happens with stuff like Oracle buying Sun. Never mind seriously creative types.

Anonymous Coward says:

It always hurts me when I see a great game company being bought out by EA. I could never understand why a company would sell out to EA. Game companies that had great potential turned into a soulless commercialized systems that would pump out games hoping to cash in on the name. Steam has its problems but it leaps and bounds ahead of EA. I am glad they didn’t sell out for that $1B a while back. Maybe someday in the future, Steam will be able to buy out EA and bring some life back into it.

Jay (profile) says:

Odd indeed...

So let me get this straight…

The shareholders are deciding the value of EA? Essentially, EA hedged its bets on strong companies and broke them to chill competition. It’s not a surprise that they would work to create a monopoly and destroy features and services that people enjoyed. When all they do is focus on what shareholders want, this is a natural result occurrence from this form of business.

Did the workers have a say in what occurred? No. They became part of the business cycle. They lose money and skills based on money going to the shareholders and the workers having no say in how net profits are allocated.

In the end, then saying that shareholders are happy rings pretty damn hollow when you calculate how much they ruin in the long run. They’ll give their CEO a golden parachute while the workers get a small severance and not even a thank you when their time is up.

Thanks EA. You certainly know how to make people feel good about you exploiting the labor of your workers, paying the CEO and shareholders, then pointing the finger at everything that isn’t you while you business models parasitically drain the talents of anyone that isn’t in marketing or business.

Dr. Oddball says:

Am I the only one completely unimpressed? This is EA admitting to a sleazy, deceptive, exploitative business practice and not really owning up to it; just admitting it’s not the most sustainable business model ever.

Imagine you’re a chef at a restaurant and you piss into orders of soup before serving them to your customers. Then a decade later after the damage to your reputation is more or less permanently hardwired into peoples’ reputations of your restaurant and you start losing business, you come out and say to the press that “Pissing in orders of soup hasn’t been a good idea.”

Would you be impressed, or grateful? No, you would call this what it is. Bunk. This is EA once again trying to repair relationships with hollow, empty statements that it doesn’t mean. We heard all of this rhetoric back in 2008 when John Riccitiello talked about:

-How $60 is too expensive before charging $60 for new games on Origin.
-How buying up and ruining companies was bad, before doing the exact same thing to Pandemic, BioWare and Maxis.
-How consumers shouldn’t be expected to shoulder additional costs before EA proceeded to lead the way in online passes and stuff microtransactions into everything.

This is just PR. Don’t fall for it.

DCL says:

Negative bias article ignores "CwF+ RtB" actions

I agree that EA has had dark times in the past but this write up is obviously biased in that all the wording is purposefully negative in an aggressive way.

Isn’t acknowledging that something isn’t ideal the first step in fixing the problem? That quote is from the CFO and it is his job to think how actions affect the numbers.

The article also has this quote:
“I’m also a huge believer–I think the team is a huge believer–that we’ve got great opportunities inside our organization,” Jorgensen said. “We’ve built a really strong bench of talent at all levels, and our view is just [to] find great ideas, either through our own development or through licensed IP, and leverage your talent base to try to build that. “

I am disappointed that this site has shifted to mostly focus on the bad and hasn’t acknowledged others including EA (and Origin specifically) have been working hard to change with the times. EA has done some industry leading things that are inline with “RtB + CwF” which is one of the fundamental concepts that brought me to TechDirt.

Some examples:
+ Focus on quality even if it means delaying games.
+ Great Games Guarantee – return digital games an industry first
+ Huge investments in Customer Service – now is an industry leader in satisfaction
+ Community involvement – (not just advertising). Look for “Origin Insider” on Facebook, reddit, twitter, etc.
+ EA Access- on XBox One with a high value proposition – industry first on console
+ On The House – PC free game give away program
+ Game Time – timed trial program for major games
+ Anti piracy technology put emphasis on not punishing valid users
+ Huge sales that include leading titles.
+ Regional pricing to keep games affordable in various markets (yes I know not perfect yet but it is complicated)

Sure there are some things EA isn’t doing perfectly and there are misses but every large business has them. Games take years to develop so business models and design trends that were popular when the game was designed may not be when the game releases.

The internal philosophy from top to bottom in EA has shifted in the last few years with our new leadership and is dedicated to investing in our talent and putting players first.

Disclosure: I work for EA and I am writing this because I, like my peers, am passionate about delivering exceptional games to the gaming community. Before anybody accuses me otherwise: I am not being paid for this comment and this is my personal opinion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Negative bias article ignores "CwF+ RtB" actions

EA worked very hard to gain it’s reputation with the public. It absolutely does not matter if it is here on Techdirt or not. Techdirt is not the gaming community.

You get your mealticket from EA. If ever there was an opinion that is liable to bias, I’m looking at the disclosure.

EA has for years and years shit on the gaming community through distain, through broken and ill made games rushed to the market to harvest that ever important dollar over quality, has screwed gamers everywhere with their DRM demands.

They have constantly and continue to throw out members of the EA forum because they had the audacity to disagree or to point out bugs that it was easier to ban the member than to fix the bug.

This crap goes on year after year and it is the accumulation of so many bad practices that have earned it the bad name and rep it deserves. It’s been distainful and derogatory towards it’s customers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Negative bias article ignores "CwF+ RtB" actions

Industry leader in satisfaction? Focus on quality even if it delays games?

I am sorry, but those numbers haven´t appeared yet. If what you are saying is true, it will never show in just a few years and given the past damage to reputation, recovering will require several good releases to start to turn peoples heads.

In EAs past most of the same things you are now saying has been said and it hasn’t held true yet. Today only results will be able to salvage something. Words or marketing can’t.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Negative bias article ignores "CwF+ RtB" actions

Although I dispute a number of the examples in your list of positive actions as being as positive as they sound, let’s accept that your list of correct for the sake of argument.

The list, taken all together, does not counterbalance the many terrible things that EA has done and continues to do. I want to see them actually stop being a bad company — or at least start to take concrete steps to fixing themselves.

David (profile) says:

Re: Negative bias article ignores "CwF+ RtB" actions

False assumption on your part. First there is nothing suggesting that EA is going to change in any way except they aren’t planning (or admitting) to acquiring large studios and turning them into EA grind houses.

So, what about EA and Origin are positive? Not much at all. As mentioned the TOS is horrible. EA is abusive to customers and their developers. They lie regarding what they are selling, whether the product is ready to release and that their servers are ready for launch day.

Evidence of the above is they haven’t had a successful launch in 2014 with only marginal results prior.

This is a CEO admitting that their model is broken so they are going to stop wasting money by running good development houses into the ground. Fine, time will tell. Since the information is from EA it cannot be trusted.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Negative bias article ignores "CwF+ RtB" actions

“Disclosure: I work for EA”

Well, after that marketing drone screen that handily tries to bypass all the legitimate issues that have built EA’s well deserved, extremely poor reputation over the years, you don’t say… You might not have been paid to post this, but you’re certainly following the rulebook.

I’ll just put a couple of things here:

“EA Access- on XBox One with a high value proposition – industry first on console”

Unless you count things like PS Plus where you borrowed the idea from to begin with, of course. This way, people get to pay 2 subscription fees and you get to keep 100% of the second, getting more money from people who would normally pay less on 1-2 boxed games per year. A rental service, of course, so you’re not selling anything, just allowing temporary access for a fee. Yes, how innovative and customer-focussed….

“On The House – PC free game give away program”

…if you install Origin, a crappy system that few gamers want and helped put many people off gaming on a PC at all. It doesn’t matter if it’s free if people don’t want Origin. You couldn’t pay me to put that malware on my PC.

“Anti piracy technology put emphasis on not punishing valid users”

Bullshit. or, at least, if that’s the philosophy then the implementation hasn’t met your goals. Between the disasters of Spore and SimCity deterring me from even trying, I’ve not played one of your games on PC for years – and your competitors get my money. Nothing you’re saying is convincing me to change that. If a game assumes I’m a pirate just because I don’t connect my single player game to your servers, no sale.

“Huge sales that include leading titles.”

This is where your thoughtless marketing drone thinking shines through. Sales do not equal quality. As noted in the article, for example, people literally have no choice if they want an official NFL game. Large sales does not mean that people wouldn’t drop your company’s ass in a second if you had real competition.

“Regional pricing to keep games affordable in various markets”

Except when they do no such thing, of course.

TLDR: many of your “positives” contain even bigger negatives, and you appear deaf to the actual complaints, dismissing the article as negative propaganda. I hope you’re correct about the attitude changing, but I’ve not seen anything tangible as a result as yet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Negative bias article ignores "CwF+ RtB" actions

I’m not a gamer. I’m not going to be a gamer. Nobody in my household is a gamer.

And I still hate EA.

Imagine, if you’ve managed to achieve that level of contempt with someone who isn’t even your customer, how much those who are hate you.

I doubt you’ll ever get past it. It’s wired into your corporate DNA. You’re a pack of assholes — every last one of you, because nobody with any principles would work there.

So please, spare us the whining self-serving PR. And if you any shred of integrity left, go work somewhere else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Negative bias article ignores "CwF+ RtB" actions

EA have a pretty mighty mountain to climb to win back hearts and minds. They have been a byword for everything that is wrong with games publishing for at least two decades.

Personally, I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive EA for the destruction of Origin, and the bastardization of the Ultima series. (And later, the shockingly, unbelievably offensive use of the name for the shitty DRM system! Talk about rubbing shit in the wound!)

You don’t get a pass on that just by “we’re trying to do better”, even if your post or Blake Jorgensen’s actually went that far.

It’s not too late for any company, even EA (which is tied with Ubisoft IMO for “fucking awful people who don’t seem to get why their potential customers hate them”). But it will take hard work, and a major attitude shift.

– Quit assimilating and destroying the developers we love!
– Ditch Origin. Steam won, accept it, no one wants your awful DRM spyware.
– Treat your customers like people, not thieves.
– Ditch DRM, always-online, Zeroday DLC.

I won’t pay for an EA or Ubi game right now – I’d need to see 3-4 releases that try very hard to address the issues above before I’d even consider doing so again. When the cracked version is unequivocally superior to the paid version – you’re doing it wrong.

(Note – I willingly pay for multiple games each month. But I wouldn’t pay for an EA/Ubi game – or even install them for free)

Anonymous Coward says:

EA gave away several free games as a promotional effort over the weekend

Well good for them. They’ve been at running down the gaming experience and ruining it for the gamer for years. I know I won’t buy anything from them. I have no idea what games they gave away but there is one thing I am sure of at this point.

I don’t want to infect my computer with any more games by EA or Ubisoft.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ubisoft should be named together with EA and Comcast

As somebody who recently had the somewhat dubious pleasure to contact Ubisoft, I now think, that Ubisoft is worse than EA. While EA usually takes *eons* to fix something, they do so most of the time and – at least to me – no customer service rep has outright lied. For Ubisoft however, especially with their horrible UPlay, the story is totally different.

I got weak for one game, and I already paid the price. Never, ever will I buy another game from Ubisoft. On the bright side: I don’t need to, since so many awesome games have been financed through crowdfunding. They all come without DRM and even run natively on Linux.

crpgamer says:

“Dragon Age: Origins” (Bioware, before EA) is one of the most beloved PC RPG titles ever and is known for its sophistication and depth.

“Dragon Age: Inquisition” (Bioware, after EA) is a buggy, broken console port that plays more like a generic console button masher than an RPG.

I don’t know anything about the history of EA. All I know is that one of my favorite franchises somehow got destroyed after EA became involved. I’m guessing it’s not a coincidence.

Rekrul says:

I remember the early days of EA, when they prized unique, innovative games like Archon, M.U.L.E., Pinball Construction Set, etc.

I wrote them several letters asking questions and always got a fairly prompt, personal reply that actually answered my question, unlike today where they can’t even be bothered to actually read your email before firing off a canned response.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“I remember the early days of EA, when they prized unique, innovative games like Archon, M.U.L.E., Pinball Construction Set, etc”

Yes, that’s the EA that we all used to love. Then, somewhere along the line, it changed into a totally different company. For a while, it traded on the good reputation that the the name “EA” brought with it, but they’ve pretty much burned up all of that reserve.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Why do people go back to EA.

Once upon a time, EA made good products. They also published a lot of good development houses, and their IP.

Now, they own those houses, and those they no longer own, they’ve dismantled, and they’ve run roughshod over many an IP. We’ve seen sequels to what were amazing games turned into vehicles for microtransactions and draconian DRM.

It’s kinda like the new Star Wars movie. Many a Star Wars fan will go to see it for love of the original trilogy, even though the prequels have given us much cause to distrust the franchise now, and Disney and director J. J. Abrams have given us no cause to trust it again.

After what Mr. Abrams did to Star Trek, I’ll be watching first for tears of the fans before risking exposing myself to the schlock.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: A ray of hope.

Act of Aggression related to Act of War: Direct Action in 2005 is following the RTS format of the Westwood titles, similar to Command and Conquer: Generals. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen smaller developers, even indies making spiritual successors to games where their franchise holding AAA publishers failed. It’s a trend I hope will continue.

I’ve been thrilled with Starpoint Gemini, a clear spiritual successor to Freelancer.

Sjana says:

I'd rather go to jail for pirating than to buy an EA game.

Like my subject says, I rather risk a high fine or even go to jail for a month than to buy another EA game. It’s that bad. They ruined Westwood, they ruined Bullfrog, they ruined Bioware, they ruined Maxis, they ruined Origin, they ruined Dice, they ruined Criterion games, they ruined Mythic, and they will ruin many many more in the time to come. I’m never buying another EA game because they will never better themselves. It’s just the way it is, and the way it will be. FUCK YOU EA.

NXTangl says:

Re: I'd rather go to jail for pirating than to buy an EA game.

You forgot PopCap.

Yes, EA managed to kill Bejeweled. Plus PvZ’s sequel doesn’t really have the charm that the original had even when you ignore the blatant cash grabbing, likely because the zombies (while certainly creative and silly) lack some essential whimsicality the original game had–chicken zombies are funny, but newspaper zombies are funnier–and because there aren’t any new Shigihara songs.

depressed pc gamer says:

no hope lost all interest in EA UBI FORD and Honda fourwheelers.

What do all those names have in common? A household name who’s quality has nose dived since the turn of the century. Is there hope for EA probably not, while the stockholders are in charge. One example, Bioware, shouldve had at least 2 KOTOR title follow-ups just think of todays graphics put into a rpg like kotor , wow it almost brings a tear to me eye to think about it, but it’ll never happen, and if it does it’ll be some puke colored turd that says EA on the box, not that bastard MMORPG, wow i think i actually gagged when i played it. Origin, sucks i like steam, its simple and intuitive.
OKOK so to be constructive, EA, ummm, how about finishing a game before it’s done, let the original title holders do their own work dont push for yearly miscarriages, you wanna save some money EA? spend it in house on creativity dpets. not interrupting my reruns of mash with your stupid commercials. Til then, I dont think ill ever buy another box that says EA on it ever again, ever…..

Another depressed pc gamer says:

It’s not 2018 and its been made almost entirely clear that Ea is going to kill off bioware…
Furthermore they’ve also made it clear they have zero interest in satisfying their customers, the gamer.
With the battlefront 2, 2.0 just released they’re trying to appeal to gamers but it won’t be long before they stab us in the back (again) and continue on their crusade of loot boxes and microtransactions.


We CAN put a stop to this, if everyone reading this message and many like it gets in touch with every friend and gamer they know and tell them to boycott the f***s once and for all, they will be forced to change or die.
We won’t have to do it for long, 1 maybe 2 games? I think we can all do that, it isn’t going to hurt us. But it will hurt them, it will force them into either cooperating with their consumer or dying.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: I "boycotted" EA when they mandated Origin

The combination of spyware and a one-sided we can permaban you whenever we want TOS was too much for me so I stopped buying EA games that mandated them. Heck when Red Alert III was back-mandated (Origin wasn’t required at launch but forced in several patches later) I stopped using my license and pirated a previous version.

I’m not sure EA cares. I think they’re aiming for the 16-year-old market where kids are not yet clear they are being manipulated, and won’t make too much of a stink when one is banned for being critical on the forums.

I’m pretty sure most of us old fogeys have switched to Indie games which pastiche the spirit of old favorites (or in the case of The Sims II and Westwood RTSes, learning to live without), rather than raging at half-baked sequels.

Max Conrad says:

Another franchise ruined.

I was a hard core Battlefield 2 player. I never thought a game good be so exciting and immersive. After laying of PC games for 10 years I bought a new computer and jumped into Battlefield 4 only to find that Battlefield 4 SVCKS!

The weapons have been neutered unless you spend another $60 to upgrade the weapons. The maps have been turned into console fishbowls with extreme altitude limits. Played the game for 10 hours and felt completely uninvolved. Battlefield 1 is equally boring. Amazing graphics with realistic weather but the fun is gone.

Wes King says:

Corporate Culture and Title Stealing Ruins Innovation

The “newer” Star Wars Battlefronts games are good examples of how EA will a buy a successful title then release a completely different and often much worse version of the original just to cash in on the popularity of the title. EA is like a giant cyborg owl that snatches up great games and spits out the bones, sometimes accompanied by a little skin.

The new Star Wars Battlefronts is much more like a re-skinned Battlefield franchise than the original Battlefronts. I miss the basic mechanic of the old game where the player would need to capture “checkpoints”, that would result in a larger amount of AI reinforcements, which would help you beat the other army. It was much less about stroking the ego of a few hyper-gamers that do nothing but play/pay the game to become nearly invincible. In turn, this makes most normal people realize the monotony of being killed by these no-life button mashing sand kickers, over and over and over.

This industry badly needs the innovation of different minded people. New technology should bring new ideas and new genres. The video game industry is beginning to suffer from the same problems the plague the movie industry. Some big company starts pumping out no-risk sequels or make a “new” movie with the exact same formula as the most successful title in the genre. EA would much rather pump out sequels that have prettier graphics but the exact same everything else than take a risk on a new innovative title that has not been a proven success.

They perch on their gnarled branch, their head frantically rotating 360 degrees, searching for the next innovative developer to have more than one successful game of the same title. Once located it’s just a matter of time before the alarm in it’s cyborg corporate brain will go off and the EA owl will devour another developer only to regurgitate some bare bones monstrosity with limply hanging flesh in return for our hard earned money.

Rhett says:

Dumped EA after they ruined Origin systems

EA has ruined so many game companies its not even funny and franchises to boot. And the latest being Bioware, these companies are greedy for the money and dont seem to care about what they do to their fan base when they release garbage. Latest being Mass effect 4…cant stand EA they were a great company then they got greedy. They also destroyed kingdoms of Amalur that company by over marketing and ruining yet another franchise that could of been huge.

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