A Note on Electronic Arts

Over the past year or so, I have been fairly impressed with Electronic Arts. That's not to say I reserve full-on gamer excitement for EA in the same sense I get excited about the developers behind, say, No More Heroes (go buy it) or Rez (it's on Xbox Live now, go buy it!), or what have you, but as far as megalithic publishers go I haven't been too frustrated.

I still have just about zero interest in the majority of what EA publishes, but that's to be expected and is probably not uncommon among hardcore gamers. On the profits of the evergreen success of the company's ever-rehashed sports titles and other yearly franchises, it has put a lot of emphasis on independent developers like Valve, Harmonix, Crytek, Flagship Studios, and so on.

Now, those are hardly struggling, low-profile indies, but for a company like EA to have so many of its flagship hardcore titles be distributed via deals that do not give EA any ownership of the material is unusual. It's not something we see as often in companies of EA's stature, such as its closest competitor Activision (now merged with Vivendi to form the giant Vivactard).

On the internal side, I feel the company has shown more initiative than in the preceding years as well. EA Black Box's Skate is one of the freshest things we've seen in any segment of the sports market in a long time (and was our Sports Game of the Year, as well as that of our readers). Criterion's Burnout Paradise, while I had a few minor issues with its open world implementation, was certainly an ambitious and impressive evolution that was more significant than we generally see in an EA franchise title. Now-defunct EA Chicago's Def Jam: Icon was by most accounts quite poorly executed technically, but its music integration concept was extremely clever and laudable.

Then, EA's Jeff Brown went so far as to call Fox News' practices "a new level of recklessness" for the channel's reprehensible treatment of Mass Effect (X360), from now-EA-owned BioWare. Of course, Brown was just protecting his company's product, but his direct and accusatory open letter was much more honest (and entertaining) than the typical sterilized PR-delivered response in such situations.

So I was pleased today when EA executives indicated that many of the company's strongest successes were things I hoped would happen: Skate walked all over Tony Hawk, The Orange Box and Rock Band overperformed, Crysis went platinum (didn't see that one coming), and so on. Plus, Will Wright seems to have all the time he wants on Spore, which is painful but for the best.

I admit it took me a bit by surprise when CEO John Riccitiello said, "I would characterize our Q3 performance as mixed. We are not satisfied with where we are."

Well, shit. This is possibly the most supportive I have ever been of the statements made surrounding an Electronic Arts quarterly report, and it's the one where they posted a $33 million loss and aren't happy with where things are going.

The video game industry sucks.