John Riccitiello out at EA

Exec stepping down as CEO and board member; Larry Probst named executive chairman to oversee search for new CEO [UPDATE: internal memo added]

John Riccitiello's second tenure with Electronic Arts is coming to an end. The publisher today announced that Riccitiello will step down as CEO and a member of the board of directors, effective March 30.

Additionally, the company has tapped former EA CEO and current chairman of the board Larry Probst to serve as executive chairman, effective immediately. Probst's role will be to ensure a smooth transition and provide the company with leadership while the board conducts a search for a new permanent CEO. EA has enlisted the aid of an executive search firm for that task, and will be considering internal as well as external candidates for the role. Probst ran EA as CEO from 1991 to 2007, and has been chairman of the board since 1994.

"We thank John for his contributions to EA since he was appointed CEO in 2007, especially the passion, dedication and energy he brought to the company every single day," Probst said in a statement. "John has worked hard to lead the company through challenging transitions in our industry, and was instrumental in driving our very significant growth in digital revenues. We appreciate John's leadership and the many important strategic initiatives he has driven for the company. We have mutually agreed that this is the right time for a leadership transition."

"This is a tough decision, but it all comes down to accountability."

Riccitiello, in his resignation letter

Riccitiello said it had been an honor to serve as CEO and added, "it is the right time for me pass the baton and let new leadership take the company into its next phase of innovation and growth."

In his previous stint at EA, Riccitiello rose to be president and COO before leaving in 2004 to work with Elevation Partners. He left that outfit to take the CEO position at EA in 2007. Later that same year, EA acquired BioWare-Pandemic from Elevation for $860 million.

EA also updated its outlook for the current fiscal year, cautioning investors that it expects to come in on the low end or slightly below its guidance from January. The company is set to announce its fourth quarter and year-end results on May 7.

Electronic Arts filed Riccitiello's resignation letter with the SEC. The full text follows:

Dear Larry,

I hereby offer my resignation as CEO of Electronic Arts effective with the end of our Fiscal Year 13 on March 30, 2013.

This is a tough decision, but it all comes down to accountability. The progress EA has made on transitioning to digital games and services is something I'm extremely proud of. However, it currently looks like we will come in at the low end of, or slightly below, the financial guidance we issued in January, and we have fallen short of the internal operating plan we set one year ago. EA's shareholders and employees expect better and I am accountable for the miss.

I have been at the helm as EA's CEO for six years and served as COO for nearly seven years starting in 1997. I know this company well, and I care deeply about its future success. I leave knowing EA is a great company, with an enormously talented group of leaders and the strongest slate of games in the industry. I could not be more proud of our company's games, from Battlefield and FIFA, to The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Real Racing 3. We have built many great franchises that will serve the company well in FY14 and beyond. In particular, I am confident that the investments we have made in games for next-generation consoles will put EA in a strong leadership position for many years ahead.

In offering my resignation, my goal is to allow the talented leaders at EA a clean start on FY14. I look forward to working with you in the coming weeks on an effective leadership transition. I'm extremely honored to have led this company and proud to have worked with all the great people at Electronic Arts.


/s/ John Riccitiello

Update: Thanks to The Wall Street Journal, we now have a copy of the internal memo that Riccitiello sent to EA employees today. It's posted in full below.

To Everyone at EA -

I am writing with some tough news. I have resigned my position as EA's CEO. I will be around for a couple of weeks, and I hope to have the chance to say goodbye to many of you. Larry Probst will be stepping in as Executive Chairman to help smooth the transition. Larry first hired me at EA in 1997 and he was an incredible leader for the company during the 16 years he served as CEO. While he will continue to be the Chairman of the US Olympic Committee, he will also provide leadership for EA until a permanent CEO is appointed.

My decision to leave EA is really all about my accountability for the shortcomings in our financial results this year. It currently looks like we will come in at the low end of, or slightly below, the financial guidance we issued to the Street, and we have fallen short of the internal operating plan we set one year ago. And for that, I am 100 percent accountable.

Personally, I think we've never been in a better position as a company. You have made enormous progress in improving product quality. You are now generating more revenue on fewer titles by making EA's games better and bigger. You've navigated a rapidly transforming industry to create a digital business that is now approximately $1.5 billion and growing fast. The big investments you've made in creating EA's own platform are now showing solid returns. I believe EA is alone in mastering the challenges of building a platform for our games and services - a platform that will provide a more direct relationship with our consumers. You are number one in the fastest growing segment, mobile, with incredible games like The Simpsons: Tapped Out, Real Racing 3, Bejeweled, SCRABBLE and Plants v. Zombies. You have worked to put EA in a position to capture industry leadership on the next generation of consoles; and I believe two of our titles - Battlefield and FIFA - will be among the top few franchises in the entire industry. And the industry's most talented management team - Frank, Rajat, Peter, Gaby, Andrew, Patrick, Blake, Joel and Jeff - are certain to lead the company to a successful future.

I remain an incredible fan of EA and everyone who works in our world - from Stockholm to Seoul, Orlando to Edmonton, Guildford, Geneva, Cologne, Lyon, Bucharest, Montreal, Austin, Salt Lake, LA and, of course, EARS. My hope is that my travels and yours allow us the opportunity to talk more in the months and years to come.

In a few weeks, I will be leaving EA physically. But I will never leave emotionally. I am so incredibly proud of all the great things you have done, and it has been my honor to lead this team these past six years. After March, I will be cheering wildly for EA from the sidelines.

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Latest comments (26)

Christopher Thigpen Lead Producer, Kiz Studios9 years ago
CEO moves to SimCity, gets his career deleted because of server issues.
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Paul Smith Dev 9 years ago
For the best, now if only Gibeau left as well maybe then EA could stop be such a bad company.
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Mary Hilton Community Manager, Reclaim Your Game9 years ago
Not only Gibeau, but Lucy Bradshaw should seriously consider leaving-her idiotic and self-serving remarks have brought EA to a new level of disgust. She's not capable of running a franchise studio, and she would be be better off somewhere else-like Zynga, perhaps.
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Show all comments (26)
David Serrano Freelancer 9 years ago

Now bring Ray Muzyka in as CEO and let him clean house.
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Jason Sartor Copy editor/Videographer, Florida Today9 years ago
One name. Peter Moore.
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Yiannis Koumoutzelis Founder & Creative Director, Neriad Games9 years ago
not exactly unexpected. they made the right choices eventually, but took them too long to react! it is understandable for such big companies, but still. far too long to react to industry changes.
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Saehoon Lee Founder & CEO, Pixellore9 years ago
Despite all of the issues and feelings towards EA (with Simcity etc) it is not common for a CEO to resign admitting his own failure. So I give my Kudo at least for that. Cheers John
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Shane Sweeney Academic 9 years ago
After "EA Spouse" Riccitiello took over and completely remade EA. He fixed working standards, made a massive investment in AAA RPGs - something almost the entire industry was ignoring, made a massive investment in the online space, made a massive investment in new IP; Mirrors Edge, Dead Space etc, made a massive investment in the Wii, investment in indie funds and prizes, launched one of the most respectful industry deals going EA Partners all in the face of the booming profits of Activison-Blizzard with CEO Robert Kotick outwardly trying to "create a culture of pessimism and fear" and "rewards profit and nothing else" by focusing on his "5 pillars" driving away Blizzard staff, Harmonix and Infinity Award while milking their franchises.

What Riccitiello did was bold with EA, and I think it represented a real potential historic fork in how a publisher could act while feeling responsible for the relationships it forged with its partners. The fact EAs image, profits and stock price didn't improve over this period makes me feel EA will now fall into line and follow Activision-Blizzards very profitable footsteps, and I think the industry will be worse off for it.

I really thought EA and the more positive approach Riccitiello was taking would of worked. Sadly I was mistaken.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd9 years ago
@ Shane Much of what you say is true, but it's not Activision Blizzard that runs always online DRM or even online passes. They also aren't running microtransactions in full-priced games, nor did they create a fragmented PC digital platform.

I'm not saying Riccitiello deserves the ire he receives, but the legacy he leaves behind for the EA consumers is decidedly mixed.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 19th March 2013 2:34am

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Shane Sweeney Academic 9 years ago
Valve *needs* competition. Every video game brick and mortar store, every publisher, hell - every cable network and telco should be building game and content distribution platforms and they should of been working on them for over a decade by now. Everyone hated Steam when it launched, particularly when Half-Life 2 launched with Steam mandatory forcing a 2 hour decryption via steam process. We need more online platforms, not less, even if it's just to rival Apple when it inevitably hits the lounge room. So fragmentation should get a lot worse before it get's a lot better before we invent some cross platform multiplayer framework.

On the contrary. Activision controlled Blizzard is a world innovator in always on DRM let alone real money auction houses with a difficulty curve making them mandatory at harder levels. Clever. This was one of the five pillars Kotick highlighted as core to Activision.

Activision are the poster child for DLC in their titles, all publishers besides maybe Nintendo are pushing DLC pretty hard though, however I am in agreement with Cliff Bleszinski, that this isn't a bad trend. What *is* a negative trend is producing a monthly subscription for as many titles as possible like Activision is starting to with Call of Duty Elite. This is the only reason Kotick did not produce a similar plan to "Project $10", because elite paid for services are much more profitable, and Kotick has been pretty open with that.

Plus, I am not trying to turn this into a "EA is okay, because Activision is worse". What I am now trying to correct is the negative legacy Riccitiello supposedly leaves was created due to how honest Riccitiello was when communicating EA's vision. Other publishers have been less transparent with their plans so EA gets most of the negative press. Citing EA as the leaders in always online DRM is definitely exhibit A. I do believe EA will learn from this though and be much more subversive and less honest about its plans in the future like how Activision-Blizzard has been acting while also flying below the radar for years now.

I don't blame either of them. They are businesses, their goal is to make money. I just genuinely thought you could run a large publisher in a transparent and mostly positive way and remain popular and profitable. But all it did was invite more criticism and hurt EAs bottom line.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Shane Sweeney on 19th March 2013 4:35am

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Matt Ernst Studying Culinary Arts, Hennepin Tech9 years ago
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
Will Kristian Segerstrale come back?
If not then surely it is Peter Moore's.
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Matthew Handrahan European Deputy Editor, GamesIndustry.biz9 years ago
@Shane: I couldn't agree more. If Riccitiello's ideas didn't work as planned, I find it difficult to take any satisfaction from that. There was a time, not too long ago, when he seemed like the most progressive and conscientious CEO at any of the major publishers.
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Shane Sweeney Academic 9 years ago
People don't remember their history very well.
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 9 years ago
One name. Peter Moore.
Terry Tate.
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Adam Jordan Community Management/Moderation 9 years ago
@Nicholas: You may want to revise your post...CoD: Black Ops 2 will feature micro-transactions...a game I believe is a full priced $60 AAA title. Sure EA did it first with Dead Space 3 but as long as the MTX stuff is optional and doesn't impede gameplay then what the hell is the problem? If someone wants to throw money into that type of model then let's only when the decision of "Hey some of these people like giving us money, let's force this model on everyone" that it becomes a problem.(In other words, as long as you can get the same content for free by earning it in-game...otherwise you may as well call it DLC)

Also if we're playing the blame game, then technically should we not blame ArenaNet and GuildWars 2 for the $60 + MTX combo? Just a thought ;)

@Shane: Spot on

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Adam Jordan on 19th March 2013 10:48am

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Taking responsibility for not hitting the strategic goals and stepping down is actually something more CEOs should look into. This is not SimCity damage control, but imo relates more to decline of market valuation that started around November 2011. SWToR disappointed many investors and Riccitello now seems to be taking the fall.
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Nick Parker Consultant 9 years ago
Easy to knock the monoliths. EA, over the past 20 years has achieved more hits than misses and has striven to keep up with changing gaming habits and distribution platforms, more so than many of its competitors. I think there's more to the cited reasons behind Riccitiello's resignation. We can cite SWTOR and Sim City as possible thorns in EAs side but there has been a recent history of bad PR such as EA receiving the accolade as consumerists worst company in the USA early last year and its inability sometimes to maintain the quality thresholds from its studio acquisitions. Did it handle the Steam exit well? Should it had beaten Tencent to Riot? The company's share price has been heading towards its $25 two year high since last summer so was on the right track before yesterdays announcement but it has been behind the overall market curve.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 9 years ago
My decision to leave EA is really all about my accountability for the shortcomings in our financial results this year. It currently looks like we will come in at the low end of, or slightly below, the financial guidance we issued to the Street, and we have fallen short of the internal operating plan we set one year ago. And for that, I am 100 percent accountable.
Fair play to him for this. And I'll preface this next section with "I'm not trying to stick the knife in".

Whilst it's all well-and-fine - and honourable - to say "I am 100 percent accountable", it's not entirely true. The massive PR storm of Sim City isn't all Riccitiello's fault, for example. Nor was the relative failure of the Star Wars MMO. Nor is Origin being... not so great. Now, obviously, yes, he could've positivly affected these things more. But, from the outside, EA comes across as a publisher beholden to Financial Results, and this is where Riccitiello's exit could be a blessing in disguise. Show the door to the people who actually make poor business decisions - Dragon Age 2 being hurried out for the Financial Year 2010/11; EA removing most games from Steam to try and gain more DLC sales - and focus more on the consumer. Look at the release date and state of Sim City, for instance. Doesn't it look like it was rushed out for this Financial Quarter? I mean, it's fairly damn obvious to me that it was. And look where it's gotten EA - more negative press than you could shake a stick at, which in turn negatively affects sales. Who, ultimately, was responsible for releasing it the way it was? Who saw that game running and thought "Let's release it now"? I'll eat my words if it was Riccitiello. The same with Origin. It's still lagging behind Steam in quality and number of games. Good god, hire Jason Holtman to consult on Origin - turn it into a true competitor to Steam, instead of something that turns people off buying games from EA.

I honestly do think EA need to reappraise their priorities. Not in their business models - if they can get F2P work, go them - but in how they approach the customer, which is the source of all the income. So many decisions - and so many press releases - speak to a arrogance towards the consumer, and that can only cost money. The people who make those decisions need to do what Riccitiello has done, or be fired. Sim City has sold 1.1m in two weeks. How many of those buyers are getting a free game - that costs actual money - because of EA's lack of vision when it comes to the consumer. (And, yes, I said vision).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 19th March 2013 6:45pm

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Paul Gheran Scrum Master 9 years ago
So the job is open. I expect a call some time later today.
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Jason Alexander QA - Senior Tester, Blizzard Entertainment9 years ago
SPORE...SWTOR... chugging out the same sports junk. I like SimCIty but the application was done wrong. It's more than SimCity. I was not too happy with SPORE if you were a fan you should no why. Oh and if you make a game called Star Wars you might want to put a "War" in the "Stars" and not sit me on a planet and tell me I get my ship back in 20 or 30 levels.

But he is Just doing what CEOs do taking the fall and letting the company appear to be moving on.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd9 years ago
@ Shane I'm sorry, why does Valve need competition? Are they not pricing fairly? Are they not giving publishers reasonable freedoms and fair cuts to be part of a service which they are providing to consumers? Steam did suck for about a year, sure. It wasn't competition that improved it though, and it's hardly a bad thing now. You know what publishers pulling away from Steam to put games on their own online stores does? It makes people stop buying their games. It certainly made me stop buying EA games on PC.

There is no reason it should be WRONG for PC, even as an open platform, to have a closed and unified games service. Personally, I don't give nearly enough craps to deal with Origin to play EA games. I don't have any problem's with Steam's near-monopoly on PC gaming, because while of course Valve is out to make money they are also very consumer facing, running a business more akin to Amazon than EA's, well... Apple.
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Andreia Quinta Photographer 9 years ago
Morville and Nicholas comments absolutely nailed it!
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Shane Sweeney Academic 9 years ago
Do you even need to ask? Whether you trust Valve or not, no company should ever be given sole gate keeper responsibility for the entire industry. If they have a monopoly on distribution, (which is what you are suggesting) what protection or action can anyone take if they decide to take a larger % cut from every title or arbitrarily decide to black list Competitors to Half-Life or any future product? It's certainly not illegal to, they are a private company. If they become a publicly traded company they may be legally obliged to subtly give preference to their own titles.

Are you advocating that CD Projekt should discontinue GOG (formally Good Old Games now a competitor to Steam) because we should just agree Valve Corporation Inc should take a privileged spot in the industry with a guaranteed ~15% cut of every video game sale made? Should Direct2Drive, Green Man Gaming all be shut down and Amazon be legislated out of the industry?

Where is your outrage that Blizzard games are exclusive to Battle.NET? I see no DIablo III on Steam? Activision will no doubt *eventually* start to move it's titles to a Battle.NET framework one day. It's inevitable to see a series of services and its even more inevitable for certain services to have "timed exclusive releases" (Amazon already does on Android platforms) let alone permanent exclusives especially when they are run with a lot of custom built online services. Your annoyed that EA is the first to *finally* get into the online space? Sure a decade late, but faster than almost all other players.

Valve started a long over due race to build an online game distribution platform, most of the industry was unable to enter such a race as Wallmart and other physical stores were strong arming publishers. What happens though in 10-20 years when the giant mega media companies finally decide to own the entire games industry like they have with film, music, books and television (they already do with Vivendi owned Activision and Sony). Valve will be bought by Warner, GE, Disney etc, will you trust them to be responsible for the entire industry? What we are building and working on now is setting up the frame work for how the video games industry will work online and it is insane to assume or even want only one single player in the market.

I am not here to hate on anyone, but don't forget your history, it has only been a decade since Gabe Newell was acting a power hungry brat all over town, maybe he was going through a difficult time but these were the facts. Going around playing mind games with international developers forcing them to pay their way to America only to be refused a meeting, or letting ATI rent out Alcatraz island for a launch event for Half-Life 2 (as it was being bundled with an ATI card) even though the title was delayed giving Gabe a free platform to promote Steam instead. Don't forget all the companies that Valve have caused the collapse of such as RPG company Troika going bankrupt as Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines sat on the bench unable to launch due to the Source engine contracts preventing its release until the now 18 month delay of Half-Life 2 hit the shelves.

The secretive non disclosure friendly Valve, good or bad, can't be trusted. No single single company or entity should have that much power. And even if you trust them now, no entity stays the same for long.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Shane Sweeney on 20th March 2013 12:43am

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John Bye Lead Designer, Freejam9 years ago
Nicholas - "I'm sorry, why does Valve need competition?"
Gabe's recent comments suggest they may intend to open the platform up more in future, but at the moment Steam is just as closed as consoles in many ways, and Valve's decisions about what does and doesn't get onto the service can be rather opaque compared to the approval process for a console title. And Steam's near monopoly on digital sales on PC means that if you fail to get onto the service, you miss out on a large percentage of your potential PC sales. Steam does a lot of things very well, but they aren't perfect, and as other people have already commented, any monopoly is potentially dangerous.

Nicholas - "it's not Activision Blizzard that runs always online DRM or even online passes. They also aren't running microtransactions in full-priced games"
What's the difference between Diablo III and Simcity?

As for micro-transactions, what about World of Warcraft? Blizzard sell the game at retail, sell expansion packs for it every couple of years, charge you a monthly fee to play it past a certain point, sell premium pets and mounts for cash, and charge you for services like switching servers.

I'm not saying that's a bad thing. This is a business, after all. We all need to be paid. And enough people are happy enough to pay for those things that WoW is probably one of the world's most profitable games and still has an audience of several million people after a decade.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 9 years ago
Off-topic to the article, but I was wondering why I was a little put-off by the Steam/Origin/blah debate here. It finally clicked: Competition does not always equate to consumer choice in buying. Generally, the two go hand-in-hand, but I would be wary of making that connection in an industry that forces the consumer to go to a specific store to purchase a product. I'm not talking of forcing the consumer to use a program (be it Steam, Origin, or whatever), but rather of being unable to purchase HL2 on Origin, or BF3 on Steam. Specific DLC only available from Game. It goes on.

People complain about monopolies, but are somewhat ignorant of the wider issue. Monopolies can be both good and bad. What is needed is to look at things from a consumer perspective, critically.

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