Recently, Andrew Wilson, the current CEO of EA said some things in an investor call that illustrate why I no longer purchase EA games until they are severely discounted, if at all. His comments underscore a deeper problem with EA. It, as a company, is far too invested in what its investors want and not enough invested in what its customers want.
The Customer is Always Right
“The customer is always right” is the primary adage in the business world–that is, until you reach a certain size (Megacorporation size, is what I term it) where the customer no longer becomes the focus (or core) of your business. EA is a gaming company–it creates video games and sells them to people (customers) who enjoy playing them as a diversion or hobby. Like all entertainment media, there is a risk involved that the buying public will not like the product and you will lose money. It is in EA’s interests to minimize this as best they can in order to make a profit, stay in business, and grow as company.
The problem is that based on Andrew Wilson’s comments in the investor call, (and I’m paraphrasing here), he seems to think that most of the problem is a presentation one and that the old ways of marketing don’t work and the company needs to have a conversation with its fans.
Andrew, no. Just no.
I’ve been a “gamer” since 1984 and I saw the rise of EA (then Electronic Arts) from a small game publisher of unique titles (Starflight, Skyfox, The Bard’s Tale series) to their growth with sports titles, into the megacorporation they are now. In their early years, they were focused on compelling content and the selling of games.
Now they are too focused on the idea of services, gimmicks, and the latest gaming crazes put into their games to increase their revenue, whether or not it makes sense to their games (loot boxes anyone?) How does this serve consumer (and please don’t give me the laughable line about “added value”–which is corporate doublespeak for pay us now for the game and pay us later for additional stuff we created in the hopes you’ll give us more money for the same product so we don’t have to take a risk and develop a new product you, as consumers, might not buy from us because its not very good).
The Investor Wants a Quick and Maximum Return on Their Investment
While not wrong, investors don’t really care about games as “art” (good experiences for their company’s customers). They want to get a much money back from their original investment as possible in as short amount of time as possible. Their goals are almost antithetical to that of the company in which they invest (in most cases). They look for the quickest, easiest way of getting money, whether or not that makes sense for the business in question. Don’t believe me, well when EA’s prime competitor Activision, fell on hard times recently, an unnamed investor apparently wondered why Activision didn’t have a game like EA’s suddenly (& surprisingly) successful Apex Legends in its portfolio–or so the story goes–again paraphrasing from sources.
Say what? EA itself didn’t know it was going to be a hit, so how could Activision have known? And now that they do know, what is Activision supposed to do? Make an Apex Legend “clone?” But wait, we already have Apex Legend, why do we need another?
In that particular investor’s mind (which I’m going to extend to cover to most megacorp investors), that thing “over there” is successful and “printing money,” so go do that thing and then we’ll be just as successful and printing money too. The problem is, that in most cases, especially entertainment, that’s not how success works. It has to be both very good and, at the very least, at least mildly original (but usually highly so, or at least original enough within a fairly established genre–which is what Apex Legends was, a “new” & “fresh” take on the Battle Royal genre). Derivatives rarely fare as well as the original, but try telling that to an investor–good luck with that!
Simply put, EA won’t get itself under control (and no other gaming company will either) until it remembers that investors are not its focus–its customers are. Stop trying to “monetize” customers with gimmicks and services and the like for your investors and return to creating compelling content that customers crave and cannot bear to be without and you’ll find that customers will buy your products and your quarters will be (mostly) safe.
In other words, you know those “games” that you think are “old fashioned?” They’re actually what we, your customers, are looking for. Please stop treating us a “resource” to be exploited, but as customers looking for a great product with great value at a reasonable price. If your investors don’t like it, then I humbly submit, that may very well be where your problem, as a megacorporation, actually lies.
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