July 3, 2012 Update:Not the greatest E3 for EA, but the company's FIFA and Madden series look strong and a continued push into Facebook and mobile gaming still feels like smart, early work that lays a foundation rivals will envy in the coming months and years.
Feb 20, 2012 Update: That risky Star Wars MMO of EA's already has 1.7 million paying customers. Riccitiello is holding steady.
Why He's Powerful
The former Sara Lee and Pepsi executive is in his second tour as CEO of Electronic Arts. Under his leadership the company has won more hearts and minds of gamers than an Evil Empire is supposed to.
They're allegedly not evil anymore, and to those who point out that the stock price is not what it was several years ago (i.e. two-thirds of its all-time high), have you seen the quality of their games? Have you played the Dead Spaces and Bad Companys, FIFAs and Mass Effects? Have you played their Facebook games or tried the best of the bunch coming from EA acquisition Chillingo?
They make lots of money. They appear to toss some of it away by backing questionable efforts like EA Partners' Alice: Madness Returns. But, look, the economy is bad and they're still a juggernaut. EA is now the most diversified company in the business, with big bets not just in console gaming but in Facebook gaming, iOS gaming... you name it, EA is trying to make a hit there. Plus, the company is the leader in sports gaming on any turf other than the basketball court. And if they weren't going to take a risk on a game like Alice, who was?
Riccitiello is a prophet of saying games should be treated like ongoing services, and no one denies he's smart about that kind of thing. But what happens if Battlefield never dethrones Activision Blizzard's Call of Duty, Star Wars: The Old Republic doesn't knock off World of Warcraft and the world falls out of love with Facebook gaming?
EA has the most ways to succeed and the most ways to fail. On the eve of a console transition it also has an opportunity to reassert its might for a new generation of gamers.