Our conclusion was we had a great product in Star Wars, but that the subscription model in the world of free-to-play was challenging.
Rumors and signs are running rampant that the yearly tradition of mass layoffs at EA are about to hit again.
- Earnings call scheduled for 11/2 — traditionally this is when bloodlettings are announced to make shareholders happy.
- The EALouse blog from a Mythic employee who was already notified his/her head was on the axe gave the figure of 25%… very few actually believe this, as it would be a level of bloodletting that would literally start to prevent EA from being able to make games. Still, it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility (shattering as it would be to EA and the industry as a whole) given EA’s 1,200+ layoffs last year. 25% of EA at current levels would be around 2,000 people… again, very unlikely, but in the current environment anything’s possible, no matter how self-destructive.
- Any cuts most likely won’t be across the board, but centered on studios that EA sees as unprofitable. Any layoffs at Bioware Austin, for example, would be a truly dire portent given the level of investment and expectation EA has place in Old Republic‘s future. Most likely we’ll see some studios gutted and possibly shut down entirely, while others emerge relatively unscathed. Office politics would, of course, have nothing to do with this whatsoever.
The most conclusive sign of incoming layoffs, of course, are that they are already starting to happen. EA is such a large company (well, at least this week) that the ship takes a while to begin to turn. And, of course, the ritual of the betrayed has already begun. Cue Jeff Brown, EA mouthpiece:
As you know, seasonal roll-offs that follow game launches are common and vital to maintaining a healthy business. Because so many of our games ship in the holiday quarter, the team size adjustments tend to follow in the same timeframe. However, EA is growing and several of our studios are looking to hire talented people.
‘So, you know, we need to hire good people, which is why we fired the bad people. Come work for us! We have cookies.’
Apparently 4Chan weighed in on the EALouse website, briefly deleting it and then replacing it with some dadaist commentary about blouses.
It was quickly replaced, of course. Silly kids, to *really* take down a website you use lawyers.
To cut off the flood of emails, texts, IMs, and queries in the hall:
* Yes, I saw it.
* I have even less comment then Sanya does.
* Suffice to say that is a time in my life that has passed and I, and everyone else, have learned a great deal about game development in the interim.
* Everybody loves dirty laundry. I originally thought of just leaving this post up comment-locked, but then people would just comment in the next post down. So be aware that I really *do* have no comment, I’m not going to say which part was true, which part wasn’t, which parts make me angry with a white hot flame and which parts make me chuckle. So go nuts. I’ve moved on, and I hope Mr/Ms Louse does as well.
* Because the one lesson I *did* take away from my time at Mythic is that when it’s time to leave a job, you shouldn’t fester away in bitterness, you should leave.
Making Games, By EA’s John Riccitiello:
- Recessions are cool, because they put our competitors out of business.
- We will spend this year cutting headcount, closing facilities, and minimizing risk.
- Cutting headcount, closing facilities, and minimizing risk is a bad idea.
Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello says the current economic climate is “a blessing in disguise,” because it will force the industry to rethink stagnant attitudes and methods — and lead to “clearing away” some of the “junk” that currently fills gaming retail shelves.
“Junk is hard to compete with,” said Riccitiello frankly.
“I’m not pro-recession,” EA’s Riccitiello was quick to add, “but to quote Rahm Emanuel: never waste a crisis.”
“We did get fat in too many places. It seemed like anyone who could draw a guy with a gun with a crayon could get funded.”
But Riccitiello cautioned the audience of game industry execs against simply cutting head counts, closing facilities, and reducing risk. “That’s a recipe that you follow at your peril,” he said.
Electronic Arts: We Create Irony.
EA’s Frank Gibeau and Lucasarts’ Tom Nichols: SWTOR to have more subscribers than WoW
“We have very high expectations for this,” said EA Games president Frank Gibeau, speaking this week at LucasArts’ HQ in San Francisco.
“Just look at the base of Star Wars fans, plus what BioWare can do. Trust me: we want to win. EA’s reputation is for wanting to win.”
We already have two operating MMOs. We launched a game called Ultima Online in 1997, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and that’s still in business. It’s still got hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Then there’s Dark Age of Camelot, which we picked up when we bought Mythic; we also have a situation where we have well over 100,000 subscribers.
Well, those are orders of magnitude greater than the numbers rumored for both of those titles. SirBruce, the NOTED INDUSTRY ANALYST, speculates that UO’s subs are 75,000 at while DAOC’s may be as low as 45,000. My gut feeling is that both of those numbers are low, but not *that* low. But hey, he’s in EA management and I just work on those wacky web games.
Also, he thinks that competing with WoW on their own terms is eminently doable:
There’s always that ultimate killer app that comes out and creates a mass-market opportunity, and WOW is that for the MMO category. And what they’ve done is create millions and millions of players who are now comfortable with the way MMOs play, they’re comfortable with the models, and they’re looking for more.
Our job is to go after that new market and really grow a business. If it’s a situation where you’re directly competing with WOW, so be it. The key is to make sure that your product is different from theirs and bring something fresh to the equation. Something that fans will find exciting, and we think we have that in Warhammer. It’s also important for us to come out with new concepts and different IPs.
Note: insert some snark about how wildly different the Warcraft and Warhammer IPs are here -> <-.
GS: An IP based on a popular science-fiction franchise, perhaps?
FG: No comment [laughs]. So, we look at the models in Asia, where there are bigger games than WOW. Now, no MMO is bigger than WOW globally, but the market is growing here in North America. And it’s not just with high-end MMOs. You’ve got a lot of lighter titles like Runescape and, hell, even Club Penguin is a bit of an MMO.
So I see it as much more diverse market than simply, “I must beat WOW.” I thank WOW for a great few hundred hours of gameplay as well as making a market. But we’re gonna compete there and we’re going to succeed there in a lot of different ways by coming at it from a lot of different angles. I see it as a very lucrative, long-term part of our business.
Sure seems to be a lot of smack talk lately coming from the EA monolith.
In EA-Land players can play for free for as long as they want, in TSO Players were limited to a one-time 14-day trial period. That trial period, however, enabled all game features, while in EA-Land free players do not have access to all features.
In EA-Land users can upload custom content, including bitmaps, and at this stage chairs and scultptures. Users can also ‘skin’ objects by applying the uploaded bitmap to change the appearances of objects.
Another point of interest is almost casually dropped in the free-to-play FAQ:
Because we intend to let user sell their Simoleans for real money, we cannot have the game give money to free players.
Plus, this game has quite possibly the coolest name ever. LETSPLAY IN EA LAND!
Dammit, could you people stop threatening my livelihood with your wacky speculations? For, you know, at least a month or so?
While I was at a party frightening everyone to the core with my Rock Band-fueled vocal rendition of “Flirting With Disaster”, apparently forces were in motion.
Item: EA is no longer the biggest dog in the playground. It looks like Activision and Vivendi-Universal Games’ management has merged, and taken Blizzard’s name, because, well, hey, wouldn’t you? No idea what impact this will have on, well, anything. Heck, EA still hasn’t fully digested Bioware/Pandemic, and now this. Some days I’m glad my soul is kept in a Korean jar safely away from all this buyout mania.
Item: Gaming journalism blows up. Apparently Jeff Gerstmann was fired for Reviewing While Honest. Call it Kanegate. Or Lynchgate. Or Kaneandlynchgate. Depending on how you remix the Gamespot website ads! What may (or may not!) be a Gamespot editor leaks all about it to Valleywag and in response, 1UP pickets Gamespot. I’m pretty sure I can’t make any of this up, which means I don’t have a future in corporate gaming reviews.
And y’all damn sure know what I mean. Whop-bop-a-loo-bop.