John Riccitiello

Ex-EA CEO Riccitiello Leveled Criticisms Against Industry, May Have Spoken Out Of Line

EA (Electronic Arts) has had a rough few years. In the eddy of a rapidly changing and ambivalent industry, the company has handled its practices with varying degrees of success. Some of it products (Battlefield) have been received with incredible success, while others (Star Wars: The Old Republic) either had mediocre reception or nearly started a rebellion. Before this, the company was coming off massive criticism and class action lawsuits for reasons varying from its mass acquisition of smaller studios (and ruining their IPs with sub-par sequels) and mistreatment of employees.

It’s no real surprise, then, that John Riccitiello, who served as the company’s President and Chief Operating Officer during a time of significant growth, was rehired at the helm in 2007. His tenure as CEO saw the company embrace digital and mobile gaming, increase sales, and cut operating costs. However, Riccitiello stepped down earlier this year and recently took critical positions against others in the industry for bad decisions and practices.

No offense to Mr. Riccitiello, but it would seem he is in no position to be pointing fingers. I won’t deny he had a positive impact at EA from a business standpoint, but consumers are increasingly dissatisfied with EA’s products, to the point where EA was voted the worst company in America two years in a row (2012 and 2013), a first for The Consumerist, who runs the poll. Oh, and his criticisms are against things he was also guilty of when he was still running EA. Let’s take a look, shall we?

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One of his remarks, which I find exceptionally amusing, was levied against Rovio, creator of Angry Birds. Speaking at the Gaming Insiders Summit, he accused Rovio for lack of innovation, claiming that “[a]dding a Star Wars brand is not an innovation.” While I won’t argue against Rovio’s failure to innovate, I think attacking the Star Wars brand is interesting simply because, as noted earlier, Star Wars: The Old Republic underperformed, costing EA millions at least. Certainly he has a point, but of the myriad iterations of Angry Birds, singling out Star Wars seems a bit suspicious given EA’s brush with the brand.

Riccitiello went on to claim Rovio hasn’t “mastered the micro-transaction model.” If the former statement is amusing, this one is enraging. Under Riccitiello’s leadership, EA came under intense scrutiny for its abuse of the microtransaction model—specifically, nickel-and-diming consumers via DLC by forcing them to pay extra for what most believe should be features included in the game. This, combined with their poor utilization of Digital Rights Management (DRM), is deplorable, and Riccitiello having the audacity to accuse Rovio of doing business differently likewise.

In the same speech, he spoke about the game industry adopting variable pricing, pointing at the $60 price point for console games. My question: where was variable pricing for EA when Riccitiello was CEO? I’m not saying he would have ever been able to accomplish that, but did he ever even suggest the idea? If he did, it wasn’t publicly, and if he did, he obviously met barriers that prove variable pricing isn’t as easy to implement as it is to suggest.

I agree variable pricing would be a nice thing to see, but I’m also a realist and acknowledge it’s not as simple as one CEO standing up and saying, “Okay, we’re altering the price points of our games, and that’s that!” To be fair, Riccitiello didn’t say it would be simple, but if you’re going to suggest changing such a tremendous standard, you really should have methods to go along with it. And again, we didn’t see any of that from Riccitiello when he was running EA.

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His focal point during his speech was branding, and he summed it up by saying a brand is about trust. While it’s not an overt criticism toward anyone as much as it is a statement, and one I do agree with, I again find it ironic given EA’s troubles with building trust. It omitted details about SecuROM in the release of Spore, which resulted in a class action lawsuit, and it was also slapped with an anti-trust lawsuit for illegally signing exclusive contracts with sports associations and players. Oh, and then they were sued for using the image and likeness of sports players who were not compensated. Does any of this sound like a brand you can trust?

None of this is meant to bash EA or its former CEO. I simply feel Riccitiello is out of line for his criticisms and remarks given his recent performance at EA. Yes, he was able to turn the company around in many ways (twice, in fact). He knows how to turn a profit, but that unfortunately does little to appease indignant customers who are subject to virtual abuse through poor products and fractions of games, being forced to purchase the full experience through DLC, much of which was day-one and therefore completely unjustified as DLC. Add in to that EA constantly made excuses, avoided blame, and fed the public information no one would ever believe (i.e., The Sims has to always be online for reasons other than DRM), and it becomes difficult to even take Riccitiello’s words seriously.

It doesn’t pain me in the least to admit he made some valid points, such as some companies refusing to look at games as services, but seeing as how he led EA into such a negative public light, his criticisms and finger-pointing are neither warranted nor earned. Constructive criticism and pointing out honest flaws in current business models is one thing. Taking jabs at companies, especially when you are guilty of the accusations you’re making, is another, and something that should not be tolerated in the gaming industry, or any other for that matter.