It’s been a rough month for EA. Their CEO resigned. Yesterday, although EA has been tight-lipped, they fired up to 10% of the entire company. And they just got voted Worst Company of the Year again, despite being more annoying than anything else.
Can EA turn it around? Maybe. But they wouldn’t be the first publisher to hit a skid and not come out of it. Here’s what might do EA in.
It’s A Huge Beast Propped Up By A Handful Of Franchises And Developers
EA is an enormous company, but they only have a few reliable products. Battlefield sells enormously, Madden sells reliably, and pretty much anything BioWare puts out they’re going to make a mint on, no matter how much people may complain about the ending. But that’s really kind of it, especially since EA is apparently ending a program where they publish games from major developers such as CryTek and Valve on consoles.
Compare this to 2K, which has Borderlands, Grand Theft Auto, NBA2K, and just revived XCOM, or Activision, which has Call of Duty, Skylanders, and World of Warcraft, or Ubisoft, with Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and the upcoming Watch Dogs. True, gaming is a volatile industry, and even titans like Square Enix are facing trouble. But EA spends more than many publishers, and it’s not seeing the kind of returns it needs.
Every Time They Try To Diversify, It Fails
They bought Pop Cap, home of Peggle and Plants Vs. Zombies; mostly what EA’s done with them since is fire employees. They tried to get into the MMO market with what to be fair was quite a good game, Star Wars: The Old Republic; that effectively failed. Their attempt to relaunch SimCity is a well-covered disaster. Medal of Honor‘s reboot died with the lackluster second game. The attempt to revive Army of Two quietly passed into the footnotes with nary an objection.
True, many franchises get strangled before they can blossom with other publishers: Activision put a bullet in Prototype, for example. But EA seems to have a consistent problem.
On a lesser note, EA has fallen victim to the insane sales expectation that’s bleeding the rest of the industry: Saying that Dead Space, for example, will be retired for good if the third game doesn’t move five million copies is absurd for a company that needs all the franchises it can get.
All It Really Takes Is One Bad Turn
Eventually people will tire of military shooters; gaming’s dominant genre always fades eventually. Maybe Madden has a bad year and 2K or Activision manages to break EA’s monopoly on NFL-licensed console games. Maybe BioWare puts out a bad game and can’t go on. Or maybe EA backs the wrong horse at the worst possible time, like THQ ultimately being undone by the UDraw.
The point is, EA is currently not in a good place. It’s true that, historically, the launch of new consoles have pulled more than one publisher’s fat out of the fire. EA might be able to clean up their act… but they’d better do something fast.