The long fall of John Riccitello, the CEO who tried to save EA

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EA CEO John RiccitielloWe've all been waiting for this. It's hard to say exactly when John Riccitello felt the clock was ticking, but so long as his company continued to tank, the knives became sharper with each loud brush. It seems like a fitting note that on the day his company announced compensation for issues related to their first major release of the year, Riccitello put forth his walking papers as CEO of Electronic Arts. To realize the blueprint of Riccitello's demise, we need to go back to the end of Larry Probst's tenure, who stepped down in April of 2007 having served sixteen years in the captain's chair.


By the mid-aughts, Electronic Arts was doing everything it could to be a PR nightmare in the view of the gaming enthusiast crowd. Over his tenure, Probst had turned Electronic Arts into the monolithic, mass-appeal gaming machine that worked so hard to appeal to every possible gamer by toning down ambition, tact, or credibility. EA had spent a fortune locking down sporting franchise exclusives during the period, including the PGA, NASCAR, and most egregiously, the NFL, which eliminated 2K's fan favorite NFL2K series.

A large number of their SKUs were based on licensed properties like Harry Potter and the company began developing their main series, such as Need For Speed, in annual installments, giving developers barely a year to create a whole new variation of last year's flavor. All of this came after the liquidation of the distinct developer units the company had acquired in the nineties, including Richard Garriott's Origin and Peter Molyneux's Bullfrog. EA epitomized what had become so wrong with commodifying game development–remember all those Sims expansions?–and over the course of a few passionate nights, I risked invoking Godwin's Law putting together the hyper-dramatic movie above to string my sentiments of the time together.

It worked well for Larry, but as Apple's Tim Cook is starting to see now, coming up with a winning recipe and taking a stance indistinguishable from resting on your laurels, even as the revenue continues to increase, doesn't sit well with stockholders, which then doesn't sit well with the board of directors, who then ask for your resignation. Enter Riccitello.

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