The Firm

The Firm
Setting the Stage

Virgil | 11 Oct 2005 08:01
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In 1987, EA also began shifting their publishing focus to include internal development. The first such title was Skate or Die, but when contracted developers didn't rebel, more projects were begun. Later, projects that were once contract work would be done internally instead, the most notable being John Madden Football. This trend was exacerbated in the '90s as EA purchased a number of its former partners, converting them into internal development studios. Today, most EA releases are from these internal studios, and the number of publishers that are not also developers has dropped to nearly none.

In 1991, Trip Hawkins stepped down from his position as CEO, and Larry Probst took the reins of the company. This change of command subtly adjusted the focus of the company: While Hawkins was a developer with a talent for business and marketing, Probst was a salesman with a history at product-oriented companies. The renewed expansionism EA showed in the '90s is just once indicator of the change.

Look at what happened with Steve Jobs and Apple, look at what happened to a dozen other similar successful start-up companies. The person who has the real founding vision and the drive and the ambition to get a small little company off the ground, from zero to several hundred employees, has a particular mindset, a particular drive, particular ambition, a particular ego, and a particular desire to be in control of certain aspects of the business. Once a company gets to a certain size and goes public, those traits make it difficult to grow to the next level. A larger company needs somebody who is more operationally effective, and less of an entrepreneurial revolutionary. I think Larry Probst is one hundred percent business and sales.
- Jeff Johannigman

The Human Story
Will EA change, shifting back towards the ideals at which it started? Probably not without a very strong push in the right direction. But the industry is different now, as is the focus on it, and things may change despite them. In late 2004, working conditions at EA were graphically described in an essay EA: The Human Story by an anonymous blogger under the handle ea_spouse. These sentiments, and their possible outcome, have been echoed by other developers in the industry, including ones once working with EA.

EA will consist of an "officer corp" of project managers and executives and a whole bunch of cannon fodder, young kids who are eager to make their break into the game industry. They bring 'em in, they work 'em to death and then they bring in someone else. Turnover rate is not important. The organizational structure allows them to function very well with a very high turnover rate. - Chris Crawford

Spurned by the ea_spouse's words, or perhaps the similarly inspired (and recently settled) class-action lawsuit, or even the focus of industry groups like the IGDA, a leaked internal memo promised changes. Could EA lead the industry back to greener pastures? I suppose it depends on whether any of that old idealism still survives.

I'd certainly like to see it though.

Jason Smith functions as chief techno-whatsit for The Escapist, and still remembers his introduction to EA games back on his Commodore 64. He would like to thank Jeff Johannigman, Stephanie Barrett, and Chris Crawford for their time in the writing of this article.

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