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Riccitiello Talks Turning EA Around,  Old Republic 's Prospects
Riccitiello Talks Turning EA Around, Old Republic's Prospects
February 15, 2011 | By Kyle Orland

February 15, 2011 | By Kyle Orland
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Despite some tough times in recent years, EA CEO John Riccitiello seems confident that Electronic Arts is on the right track towards regaining its previous leadership position in the industry.

In a presentation at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference, which Gamasutra listened in on, Riccitiello acknowledged that the company has fallen far from its peak.

"Through this last transition to the PS3 era... for a whole bunch of reasons that are worth getting into, I think it's fair to say we dropped the ball," he said. "Our IP deteriorated, our costs went up, and we didn't really have an answer for the rise in digital."

Since that transition, though, Riccitiello said EA has refocused by cutting its title slate in half, reducing rampant growth in costs and paying more attention to the growing digital business, moves that have helped make it the fastest growing public company in the industry, he said.

A large part of that turnaround has been an embrace of the free-to-play model, which Riccitiello said "on balance... in its current state of rivalry, is a better model than pay to play."

He pointed out that total revenues from FIFA Ultimate Team quadrupled from $10 million to $40 million when the price of the core game went from $10 to zero.

"As the head of our Playfish division likes to say, 'There's no such thing as free to play... it's play first, pay later,' and that's a very compelling model," he said.

That doesn't mean EA is ignoring retail titles for high-definition systems, which still form the core of the company, Riccitiello said. But one of the most important things about successful IP on these platforms is their ability to extend to the digital space.

"Our FIFA business is a leader on iPhone, a leader on Android, a leader on social networks, a leader on free to play," he pointed out. "We did it with Dead Space, we did it with Mass Effect, we did it with Dragon Age, we did it with The Sims."

Despite disappointing sales for the Kinect version of EA Sports Active during the last holiday season -- a result attributed to an unattractive price point driven by an included heart rate monitor -- Riccitiello said he still saw the potential of motion controllers for targeted genres like exercise and dancing.

That said, "other genres -- first-person shooter, driving, role-playing, strategy -- I tend to think that the more traditional controller is likely to be superior hardware," he said. "I think it's more horses for courses rather than either of these controller devices are going to replace what's gone before."

Riccitiello also discussed upcoming Star Wars MMO The Old Republic, speaking boldly about efforts to unseat World of Warcraft from its perch atop the genre.

"We're going right at it. We want share, we want leadership position here," he said. "I'm not expecting to sort of knock them over, but ... we're gonna get a big chunk of [their market]."

He added that the Star Wars universe is just different enough to provide innovation that's been largely lacking in competing MMOs, and that new technologies used in the game would help set it apart.

"In a way, theirs is a silent movie and ours is the first talkie," he said. "By and large, theirs is not a voiced MMO. Ours is a fully voiced MMO in multiple languages."


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Comments


Ian Uniacke
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"Through this last transition to the PS3 era... for a whole bunch of reasons that are worth getting into, I think it's fair to say we dropped the ball,"



umm the "ps3" era? Clearly they haven't learnt a thing.

sean lindskog
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I know people love to bash these exec guys. But comments like this make me feel sorry for them, how every tiny phrase they utter is subject to unfair criticism. If you do have an argument here, I'd prefer you express it rather than toss out smug little insults.

Ian Uniacke
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Sure. What I'm saying is that by John calling it the "ps3" era indicates that he believes that this era is defined by the ps3. Which then we can be lead to believe that he thinks that the most important thing of this generation is HD graphics and core gamers, which clearly couldn't be further from the truth.



Small comments are important because they betray our true feelings on a subject. And this tells me that John is completely out of touch and it's probably going to be a long struggle for him to turn around the company if that is indeed the case.

sean lindskog
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Fair enough.



I'm not sure if that's a fully accurate assessment of EA's behaviour though. While EA has traditionally focused a lot of effort on core gamers, they're also the creators of arguably the most successful casual title of all time (the Sims). Also, their recent acquisition of Playfish shows intention to shift even more towards that market.



Maybe he's actually agreeing with you, saying the focus has been too much on core console games. After all, that "ps3 era" comment was made in the context of saying how they dropped the ball. He seems to be alluding to what he considers EA's mistaken focus on highly expensive hardcore titles with spiraling costs.

Ian Uniacke
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""In a way, theirs is a silent movie and ours is the first talkie," he said. "By and large, theirs is not a voiced MMO. Ours is a fully voiced MMO in multiple languages.""



Again, completely missing the point.

Hayden Dawson
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Add me to those not understanding the 'sales pitch' of this element of Star Wars. Don't most players want to get through town and shop necessities quickly as possible? If they even have the game sound on so it doesn't interfere with Ventrillo, Skype or whatever group chat they are using?



One day these guys are doublespeaking how they will be a success with 500k and then today he mentions going head to head with WoW? And we still don't even have a glimmer of when it will even exist?

Jose Resines
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Hey, John, you can start by respecting PC gamers a bit more. We're getting tired of getting kicked in the shin, you know?.



The Dead Space 2 DLC for PC would be a good start. And telling DICE that public server files and LAN support are really important for PC gamers is a nice followupn not to mention fulfilling the promises you make (e.g., BF1943, BC2 onslaught, modding and a bunch more).



Until then, you're not seeing a dollar from me. And please, drop the campaignforpcgaming.com domain until you start at least doing something to deserve it. For now, all I see is a campaignagainstpcgaming.com from EA.

Banksy One
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But all the while their most innovative offering (or should i say DICES) gets passed over and halted. I'd love to know why Mirrors Edge 2 got halted. Are the consoles not able to handle its awesomeness, or has Dice lost its edge?



Its obvious that Mirrors Edge and Battlefield are two very strong genres just waiting to merge. A good first person shooter with destructible environments mixed with solid platforming elements is the evolution of action games. Too bad EA have them working on Medal of Honor multiplayer modes instead of just letting Dice do what they do best, make innovative games. EA will be the death of that studio at this rate.

Trevor Christman
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>Mirrors Edge and Battlefield are two very strong genres just waiting to

merge.



Does Brink count?

Dave Sodee
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Love Bioware...hate EA..not sure what to expect.

Evan Bell
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Umm, Banksy, DICE is working on all of their original properties with the possible exception of Mirrors Edge. They release Bad Company 2 last year, to critical and commercial success. They are not just working on Medal of Honor, as you suggest. The problem with Mirrors Edge, a game I loved by the way, is not enough people bought it. There was a free running focused game for iPhone 4. So it is not completely dead.

Andre Gagne
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Really?



I hated mirror's edge, for a game that was supposed to be all about immersing people in the flow of movement the button pressing necessity and severely restricted viewing angles did a good job pulling you out of it.

Paschalis Agnostos
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"...for the rise in digital." (OK, that was Riccitiello)

"...growing digital business"

"...to extend to the digital space"



Please, stop promoting the "digital" moniker for non-packaged games. Games delivered online or their delivery are no more digital than packaged games and their delivery. This is not a website for people whose knowledge of computers come from what their grandkids tell them. You don't have to adopt fluffy marketing terms.

Dragos Inoan
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Thing is these terms were used for our supreme overlords at Goldman & Sachs... not for a Gamasutra interview

Hayden Dawson
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It's the term customers use and recognize as well. No need to confuse the folks that are really footing the bill. If they want to call it "Peter" let them.

Tim Hesse
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VO in an MMO is a key selling point? Due to poor design most people don't even read the quest notes, just the kill xxx and give them to bob...who thinks people are going to want to 'watch' cutscenes in realtime in an MMO?



Granted it might be the most awesome thing ever and maybe it does change the way we think about mmos but when someone says we're aiming at 500K...I think of WAR...Age of Conan...of course people are going to flock to RIFT, SWTOR and if they don't get hooked back to WoW they go; it's hard to pull away from years of investment. I don't play WoW anymore so it is an easy choice for me.

Ben Rice
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I sure as hell will listen to everything. I also realize however that most fellow MMO players have the attention span of a 2 year old hopped up on skittles.



It seems like the RPG has been taken out of MMORPGs lately, and I for one would like to see it back. VO is a step in the right direction I think.

Andre Gagne
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I find the term MMORPG to almost be an oxymoron these days as RPGs have typically exploited power fantasies of being all important but that is a lot harder to pull off when you have 500 other people wanting to be all important in the same space.



As a result I'd say that the MMO aspects of games like WoW have little to nothing to do with any RPG elements. The RPG elements are simply there to provide context to the group gaming (such as raids, dungeons, etc.) that's occurring.



I guess in the end it comes down to how you define "RPG". It can either be you taking on a persona that is tailorable (which means the RPG title can be applied to any MMO) or it can mean a strong story in which your character takes an important role in (which is counter to MMO as I said above).

Sebastian Cardoso
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I wonder what the "other technologies that will set The Old Republic MMO apart" are. Besides VOs, which are clearly not it. What I saw of this game at GDCE last year seemed quite generic and run of the mill, but I have blind faith in Bioware.

Kim Pittman
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They still haven't answered how there grind is any different from any of the other grinds out there? Give me one good reason to leave my 3 level 85s and my dozens of alts, my maxed out professions, my encyclopedic knowledge of the world, lore, classes, systems, and locations. Give me one good reason to leave behind my 150+ minipets, years worth of achievements, and convince 24 of my friends that I regularly play with to come with me?



Voice over is not gonna do it, especially when most of us don't even play with sound on as it is.



I have already done my grind. I already have a nice comfy base of operations. Nothing I have seen in any video or preview has convinced me to even think about starting that grind all over. I have 5 years invested in WoW. I really don't want to start at square 1.

Ben Rice
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A teacher I had while in Japan said it best I think... "If you eat rice every day, day after day, maybe it's time to try some bread".

Andre Gagne
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Tabula rasa tried to minimize grind, they failed...

Kim Pittman
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And that's what content patches are for. The sheer volume of content in WoW makes it impossible to really experience every single aspect of the game. I have 5 years worth of play and still don't have every class leveled to max. There are still instances I have never done. There are still quests I have yet to do. There is still another faction I have barely experienced. There is PVP I almost never play. And if I really want a wildly different play experience, I can just go back to a pvp server, which makes it a whole different game practically.



And yet every time I even start to think, okay I am done with this for a while, they release some new thing that makes me want to play some more, like achievements, or the dungeon finder (which radically changed the way most people played).



If I want something radically different (to use your analogy, bread or pasta, which is a bit weak, they are all still starches) I will play a radically different game. Hence my obsession with other games like Valkyria Chronicles, Persona 4, Plants vs. Zombies, and Professor Layton. I won't play another MMO.

Sting Newman
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Grind is necessary, the real issue is MMO's don't make the grind very fun. The WoW model is in fact barely a game. It is one of the most abstract reduced mechanics in gaming so that anyone can sit and drool in front of a computer while paying Blizzard money.



The real issue is that WoW has attracted the non-gaming crowd to games via using World of warcraft as an expensive graphical chat interface with some combat, minor storytelling and dungeon crawling thrown in.

sean lindskog
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That drool comment is pretty derogatory. And wrong, in my opinion.



Out of curiosity, when and how much did you play WoW? Did you do anything significant other than grind up a low level character?



I thought the gameplay was pretty good. Where the gameplay is simple compared to other MMOs, I think that simplicity was a deliberate and successful design decision.



-------



I do think you're right about "making the grind fun" though. Which obviously WoW has done to some extent, given the popularity and longevity of their game.

Kim Pittman
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I agree on the drool comment, very clearly someone who has never tried to play a class at raid or serious pvp levels.



I don't think MMOs need a grind at all. What they need is a compelling gameplay to bring players back. The achievements added in Wrath of the Lich King for a large part didn't include grind. (The exceptions being the create x of y.) But they added compelling gameplay because they challenged players to do things in variant ways and to go out of their way to experience other parts of the game. I am not saying that they alone count, it is just one facet that makes it compelling.



The grind is an archaic need to try and get players to pay for another month of subscription. The thing is, players are going to get tired of it and move on. So is it not better to have something better players want to play for excessive amounts of time? WoW has proven by speeding up the leveling curve and making the grind simpler and easier in nearly every way that grindless MMOs are a desired thing.



My point was that I don't like grinds. But I did one. I got through it. I can play this game without one now. Why would I go to a game where there is one?


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