Electronics Arts had a number of ups and downs in 2013--Battlefield 4 sales up, SimCity’s broken launch down--and 2014 is already off to a tumultuous start. The past week has seen exits from high level execs from three of EA’s biggest teams. First came resignations from the co-founders of Burnout dev Criterion, then PopCap’s CEO, and now Chillingo’s founders have all left their internal EA studios. It makes you wonder just what’s going on at EA these days.
All three developers had gone through some changes as of late. Criterion created some astoundingly good driving games in the Burnout and Need for Speed series, but 2013 saw them shrink in size to a staff of 17, while another EA studio, Ghost Games, took over the Need for Speed franchise. EA didn’t seem to have much need for the celebrated developer last year, though the publisher says the Criterion team is currently working on a new game. What that project is, exactly, remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, both PopCap and Chillingo are a big part of the casual market, which in turn seems pretty important to EA’s current business model. So why are these people leaving just as microtransactions keep growing? And all this follows the exits of major people from BioWare in years prior. Are the departures by these influential people a reflection of something rotten in the world of EA?
EA’s certainly gone through massive restructuring following the resignation of Chief Executive John Riccitiello, and these recent exits could be another aspect of that. This could also reflect EA’s changing priorities of late. These studios were all purchased as part of a old regime that Riccitiello represented, so perhaps the roles of the developers are changing (even minimizing)--or worse, EA might be slowly shutting down or phasing out these groups entirely. It wouldn't be the first time a promising studio was purchased and subsequently closed by a major publisher.
On the bright side, maybe these big names are joining an ever-growing group of industry vets that are going independent. GR’s Ryan Taljonick wrote about former AAA devs switching careers to go indie. Could it be that all these guys are heading to start-ups and thinking small, while EA keeps getting more insular? Here’s hoping these guys all have some reason for leaving beyond disliking their jobs, because for a corporation that was voted worst company in America, this hardly helps public perception of EA. If the founders of these companies don’t want to stick around, how long till the rest of their teams follow?