We ended the previous article by noting the departure of EA founder Trip Hawkins away from the company with the intention of forming 3DO with a number of other big industry names. The console manufacturer existed until 2003, although by then it was just producing third-party software. Hawkins went on to start Digital Chocolate, a company which produces games for mobile devices.
Back to Electronic Arts though and by the early 1990s, the company’s success allowed it to acquire several smaller software developers. Throughout the 1990s it built upon this expertise to become one of the world’s largest, third-party publishers. Particularly popular in this period were the sports simulations FIFA, NHL, Need for Speed and Nascar and these games series became the basis for much of EA’s success. The former three are still going strong today. Part of EA’s strategy in later years was to seal a deal with ESPN which gave them a 15 year exclusive deal to ESPN sports content.
Pogo.com was acquired in 1991 as a way for EA to get a grip on the emerging business of online content distribution and it has remained a major contributor to this market ever since. In 2006 EA began to work with Nokia to deliver mobile versions of some of EA’s classic games to Nokia phones. These included titles such as Doom, FIFA 06 and Tetris.
Electronic Arts underwent something of a reorganisation in 2007 under the leadership of new CEO John Riccitiello. The company seemed to suggest that it’s previous strategy of acquisitions and assimilation had led to a dearth of creativity; the new plan was to form four labels which would each produce and publish their own material. Maxis and Bioware operate successfully under this arrangement. 2007 was also the year in which many of EA’s biggest titles were exported to the Macintosh.
The global economic crisis brought as much disappointment to EA as it did to other western businesses in 2008 onwards. There was a significant financial loss resulting in the loss of more than 1000 jobs and the closure of several of its facilities. Riccitiello was forthright enough to admit that the lack of any blockbuster releases that year had been partly to blame for the fall in revenue.
This didn’t stop them buying social games developer Playfish for $275 million in 2009, announcing another 1500 job losses on the same day. One might argue that EA’s strategy was to concentrate on online content distribution and rid itself of those parts of the company which did not add value to that plan. Pandemic Studios, developer of the impressive Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction was one of the victims of this cull.
Moving into the second decade of the 21st century, Electronic Arts appears to be mostly back on its feet. Persistence with the online distribution channel has recently led to the launch of EA Origins, a dedicated online download service to enable consumers to buy and download directly from the company.
It has also taken a fairly sizeable chunk of the Facebook gaming market by acquiring PopCap Games, the developer behind Bejeweled and Plants vs Zombies. On a final note, anyone playing the multiplayer smash hit game Battlefield 3 will know Electronic Arts has still got what it takes to succeed.