DICE Summit – Head of Electronic Arts Warns of Creative Failure In Game Development

The head of Electronic Arts flashed his gamer credentials to kick off the final day of the DICE gaming summit in Las Vegas on Friday, but quickly turned his attention to what he said is a business model in the industry that is leading to “creative failure.”

Yes, EA CEO John Riccitiello finished “BioShock,” used YouTube to finish “Portal” and can’t wait for “Grand Theft Auto IV.” But he was focused on business — and on the negatives he wanted the couple of hundred developers and executives in attendance could learn from.

The way the big business of games operates now is leading to “creative failure,” he said repeating the phrase several times throughout is talk. “All of you has every reason to expect what you create is going to be truly great,” Riccitiello said. He cited the rising cost of game development,, saying that EA now produces games on at least 12 platforms (not counting multiple mobile phone platforms), require 200 people to create a top-level “AAA” game and that these games often need to be stuffed with an immense amount of content.

Making things worse, he said, was the consolidation of the gaming industry, something he acknowledged EA has been a major player in. “There are going to be fewer major publishers in 2010 than they are today. And I think the second tier publishers are going to thin out considerably.” He showed slides that listed dozens of developers that have been absorbed by publishers and developers over the last few years, and he admitted that many of those purchases bore bad fruit. “We at EA blew it,” he said, referring to EA’s problems keeping former top-tier studios Origin, Bullfrog and Westwood vital or even simply in existence, once they were purchased. There was too much consolidation, too much group think. The problem, he said, was “the fundamental belief that we could be one big happy family.”

Riccitiello proposed a solution.

The answer for Riccitiello is a label system. Or, using another metaphor, he proposed a view of game development studios treated like football teams, each one with their own heritage striving to reach the Super Bowl.

Another way of looking at it, he said, was city states. He pointed to Rockstar Games, Valve and Blizzard as development studios who do their own thing regardless of who owns them.

“The Command and Conquer model doesn’t work,” Riccitiello said. He said it was a bad idea for companies to buy development studios, change the studios names to brand them all to the publisher and expect progress.