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Ex-EA execs weigh in on CEO transition

One EA veteran calls Riccitiello the main reason EA stopped kicking ass

John Riccitiello has not yet left his role as CEO of Electronic Arts, but his legacy is already being written. Following our discussion with analysts, GamesIndustry International reached out to some former EA executives to see what perspective they had on Riccitello's departure and the return of Larry Probst as interim boss.

Bing Gordon was one of the co-founders of EA and served as EA's Chief Creative Officer for many years before becoming a partner at venture capitalist Kleiner Perkins and a board member at Zynga. Gordon had this to say: "Larry Probst is a great executive, who has created huge value in the past. While I am happy to see him focused on EA, I really hope he can get the virtual effects designers of EA to figure out how to make snow for the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics." Gordon is referring to Probst's role as chairman of the US Winter Olympic Committee, which along with the role of executive chairman for EA will keep him very busy indeed.

Don Daglow, a producer at Electronic Arts from 1983 to 1987 and longtime industry observer, believes Riccitiello will be seen positively overall in EA's history. "Obviously there were some big bets that did not pan out, but I think that history will give John credit for turning the battleship in important new directions when other companies (THQ being the most apparent) changed course towards digital too late and too gently and ran aground," he said.

"It's sad really, that company used to kick ass. Riccitiello was the single largest reason it stopped"

Ex-EA Executive

One ex-EA executive, who wished not to be named, was less charitable about Riccitiello's tenure, however. "Riccitiello lost money every single year he was at EA while I was there, (and probably every other year he was there too). He just didn't know anything about games, or rather, interactive entertainment in general. After I left, he was gone for a while... [then] Riccitiello came back, but since he hadn't learned anything as a VC guy, he really didn't bring anything of value with him the first or the second time. He's much more obnoxious than impressive," said the exec, referring to Riccitiello's time at Elevation Partners before coming back to lead EA.

"So now Larry is back while they find someone, and while Larry is really sharp and knows the market, I don't have a clue as to whether his heart is in it. (I suspect not.) EA currently has a huge staff of unproductive senior execs that have 'retired in place' (internally we used to call it the 'EA Retirement Home') and they might think they are (or were) creative powerhouses, but of course the creative people actually left EA long ago to seek work where they could be creative (take risks), and invent things," the former exec continued.

"EA hasn't done much of anything of interest in 10-15 years, as proven by the unstaunched bleeding out of equity over that entire time period. It's sad really, that company used to kick ass. Riccitiello was the single largest reason it stopped. Maybe it will heal, but I don't think so."

The stock market hasn't been happy with EA's stock today as the shares lost over 8 percent in value, after rising in after-hours trading last night. The prospect of lower earnings than expected and the uncertainty around the transition to a new CEO are combining to keep EA's share price down.

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Steve Peterson avatar
Steve Peterson: Steve Peterson has been in the game business for 30 years now as a designer (co-designer of the Champions RPG among others), a marketer (for various software companies) and a lecturer. Follow him on Twitter @20thLevel.
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