Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello bears no resemblance in person to Darth Vader. I was a little bit surprised.
"People have asked me many times how EA is going to be loved by this particular audience," said Riccitiello, when I told him about the popularity of anti-EA sentiment I often see from the readers. I asked him if he's ever read Kotaku comments, and in fact, Riccitiello was ready right away to recall one of his favorites.
"'Hating EA is so last year,'" he quoted immediately.
The company's pride is its label structure, which EA says provides individual autonomy to the studios under its purview. But better to acquire well-functioning and talented external studios and let them self-govern, Riccitiello maintains, than to attempt to meet high production volumes from a centralized locus of control.
"I think we might have learned that the hard way," he said.
EA is still building its way back from a loss of face in the gaming audience, after aggressive studio control led to quality lapses. But Riccitiello says the company's most definitely on its way, as he spoke to me alongside EA's packed E3 booth show where there were quite a few standout titles, like Spore or Mirror's Edge.
"There's a noticeable shift in quality and innovation playing its way through," Riccitiello said. "We had a tough transition, made a lot of falls, but right now, look around this tiny little booth. It's hard to pick a loser off the wall."
Riccitiello said it will take time before the change efforts over which he presided since he rejoined EA a little over a year ago begin to gain appreciation in the audience. "If you were to look at the [comments] on Kotaku a year ago, I think you'd have probably read [a ratio of] 90-10 anti-EA venom. Six months ago, it's 70-30... and right now, what I see on Kotaku is 50-50, if not leaning toward EA."
"At the same time, I read something else they'll say is, 'I don't like EA, but I really like Maxis, DICE, Black Box, Criterion...' at a certain point, they named all of our children, but they don't like the family."
EA will earn its way back in the eyes of the gaming audience, said Riccitiello, "not through PR or advertising, but through better games and doing the right things. There will be a shift... but it won't happen overnight."
"If I were not working at EA, or didn't know EA as well as I do, I'd still have a little bit of a 'wait and see,' or 'prove it to me.' It's hard not to. But it's also hard to square the fact that Will Wright calls us home. John Carmack, Gabe Newell... Lucy Bradshaw on the Spore team... these folks could be at any developer or head of production for most any publisher, and they're here because they're happy to be here."
"I'm not sure they were happy three years ago," said Riccitiello, "But frankly, if you were there [then]... I think you'd be able to see something different about EA [now]."