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EA's Conquest of Origin 51

Posted by Zonk
from the sacking-the-villagers dept.
amitlu writes "Allen Varney wrote about EA's conquest of Origin in the Escapist this week. He covers much of EA's departure from its original values, and even has some quotes from the Garriotts, including, '[CEO] Larry Probst was often not supportive of the things I was doing, but I respect Larry because he was always clear, rational and consistent in his lack of support'"
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EA's Conquest of Origin

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  • by EvilSmile (547095) on Thursday October 13, 2005 @01:01PM (#13783239)
    I do not know (guess why?) what the article says but EA definitely did not work as effectively and as fast as /. did on that website...
    • i look at it like this.... slashdot articles are continuely not checked. EA doesnt check games for any type of fun factor. they also both do dupes. where as slashdot has a dupe at least every day EA has a dupe of every game every year they just increase the year in the title.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 13, 2005 @01:26PM (#13783450)
    Before all the EA bashing starts, this is a good article to read... Several very interesting pieces of information here:

    Upon being willfully acquired by EA, Origin was able to expand greatly, but they did so under their own guidance, and did so poorly. They doubled their staff and projects, entirely with inexperienced people. Many of these new projects failed, and this wasted a lot of money. Not a great way to begin a business relationship. That's when EA started to get involved in Origin management... I would too, if I had acquired a company and they started to be abusive and careless with funding and resources.

    Origin barely paid enough for people to live on. EA brought their salaries up to competetive levels. The downside, the author puts it, is that this made it less of a 'cultural, hobbyist' thing and more of a business. But is not a business what they were trying to run? Paying your people a pittance - poverty level, as the author claims Origin paid most it's employees (except for it's star employees, who were paid in excess) - is not something to be proud of. I know for a fact that EA today still pays fairly competetive wages. I also know for a fact that the 'sweatshop conditions' no longer exist, at least at the studio I'm familiar with (which was the one being mentioned in the original blog that started the whole scandal). But Origin was doing that, AND paying poorly, years ahead of that.

    The author seems bitter that EA insisted that projects actually stay on schedule. Origins habit of letting projects run until they were done, without clear schedules, is probably what led to them running out of money... the fact that they paid their people poorly explains why they lasted so long to start with.

    The MMORPG industry was practically spawned by Garriot, who got the approval for seed funding in the budget for Ultima Online straight from the CEO... nobody at the company really had any understanding of what the game was (and rightly so, this was a totally new genre), but when the 50,000 beta testers volunteers signed up, EA threw full muscle behind it.

    Sounds like EA saved the company, and tried to turn it from a playground into a business. Yes, there were poor decisions made - on both sides. But Origin would have been dead years earlier. It looks like it was a culture clash... had Origin not screwed things up on their own earlier on and needed hand holding when they expanded faster than they were capable of, maybe they would have maintained more indepedence.
    • by Allen Varney (449382) on Thursday October 13, 2005 @05:44PM (#13786222) Homepage
      The author seems bitter that EA insisted that projects actually stay on schedule.

      I wrote that Escapist article. The problem with EA's management of Origin wasn't that EA insisted EA adhere to a schedule, but that EA tried to schedule every game as if it were a sports game. My article ran long and so I had to cut quite a bit for space. One point I wanted to make, but had no room for, was that EA routinely rotates its studio managers on a one-year cycle, which accommodates its successful sports game schedule. For the kinds of games Origin made, though -- games that required several years to realize -- this proved disastrous. A new manager (with his own personal agenda) would arrive late in the year, cancel projects and order layoffs, start a new slate of projects, order new hiring, and then a year would go by and bam! the new manager would arrive and start the cycle all over again.

      This is not "EA insisting Origin adhere to a schedule." This is a fundamental disjuncture between the corporate HQ's philosophy and the Origin approach.

      • I wrote that Escapist article... My article ran long and so I had to cut quite a bit for space.

        I apologize if I'm asking a dumb question, but why was your article cut for space at the expense of clarity when, to the best of my knowledge, The Escapist is 100% digital distribution?

        Was it because of the graphic heavy design of the site? I appreiciate their desire to have a website where the pages are as lovely as theirs are, but if that was the case - isn't it the very definition of form over function?
        • by Allen Varney (449382) on Friday October 14, 2005 @12:10AM (#13788282) Homepage
          why was your article cut for space at the expense of clarity when, to the best of my knowledge, The Escapist is 100% digital distribution?

          Sorry, I misspoke. I should have said "cut for length," not for space. The Escapist pays by the word, and so the more they published, the more they would have to pay me. They gave me a target length of 3,000 words, which is presumably what they budgeted for; in the event, the article was nearly 3,600 words.

        • Lovely? Looks like a terrible page here - all the text runs out of the boxes and overlaps the quotes. (Firefox 1.0.7/Windows XP/Font Size 18)
        • I appreiciate their desire to have a website where the pages are as lovely as theirs are

          I actually don't appreciate the web design of the Escapist at all -- I find it unbearable to read articles there. It is a perfect example on how a magazine layout is a total waste and a huge mistake for a web publication.

          I wish they'd change that soon. They seem to have interesting articles. But at least one less reader because of their lack of understanding of web design.

      • I would argue that the disjuncture is occuring with Origin and not with EA, afterall EA is the parent company and Origin was bought by that company. Business is not always honkey-dorey; a corporation does not care about individual workers because that is not where their responibility lies. It is with the share-holders, the people who invest dollars in to the company. Just how it works, not a perfect system but free-market economies are successful...just gotta take the good with the bad.

        It's not EA's resp
    • "Before all the EA bashing starts, this is a good article to read... Several very interesting pieces of information here:" Untill EA gets a toll-free tech support phone number, I will have nothing positive to say about them. Maybe EA did something nice in the past, but I doubt it was for anything more than them trying to keep an investment afloat.
      • What exactly is the tech support you need from EA? "How do I kill the final boss???"

        And...

        Do other game companies offer a toll-free support line? I have NEVER seen one. But then again, I never felt the need to call tech support for a game....
        • Something more along the lines of "Why does BF2 crash when I try to open it after reinstalling and trying every patch?" Or "Why is the only way to fix BF2 not seeing my keyboard or mouse reformatting my computer?" Or "Why does Sim City 3000 Unlimited crash after a minute of use, even though I've tried it on three different computers over a period of six months?"
  • by joystickgenie (913297) <joleske@joystickgenie.com> on Thursday October 13, 2005 @01:55PM (#13783757) Homepage

    I think this was a fairly well spoken article.

    The problem with EA that this article reveals to me is that EA has mixed goals. EA wants to make the highest quality games and they want to make a substantial profit. So to make the high quality games they hire and purchase the top level talent in the industry. However after they have this talent they don't give them any creative freedom and put them on projects that they have no interest in because it makes business sense. One goal is standing in the way of the other.

    This article is a good example of EA making a good business move to pick up a talented company that is about to crumble and them completely messing up on the integration of the company.

    The example in the article was sending the people that worked hard on Wing Commander Online to work on UO2. Although technically on paper the wing commander online team should would well on UO2 the feel and inspirations completely change and the team looses all interest in making good games. The previously talented employees start to loose their passion for the industry and start feeling like they are working in a factory rather them an entertainment company. After that the talent is either lost though boredom and stagnation that leads to EA firing them or the talent just quits and moves to another company. Later when the former employees become successful again at a new company EA will look at grabbing their new company and starting the cycle over again.

    If you don't know who EA got its image or how EA handle business I would say this entire issue of the extremist is worth reading.
    • by Digital Vomit (891734) on Thursday October 13, 2005 @02:59PM (#13784465) Homepage Journal
      The problem with EA that this article reveals to me is that EA has mixed goals. EA wants to make the highest quality games and they want to make a substantial profit. So to make the high quality games they hire and purchase the top level talent in the industry. However after they have this talent they don't give them any creative freedom and put them on projects that they have no interest in because it makes business sense. One goal is standing in the way of the other.

      You'd think it would be intuitively obvious that the creation of games requires a 'playful' (for lack of a better word) environment rather than a business one (and vice versa). I guess this kind of explains the stereotype that the 'suits' ruin anything that's enjoyable. ;-)

  • Origin would have been still around if EA didn't buy them, only they wouldn't have had the backing to make UO as soon as they did, if at all. U9 would have been a lot better without people being pulled off of it for UO, and EA rushing it out the door.
    • Re:Still Around (Score:5, Informative)

      by Allen Varney (449382) on Thursday October 13, 2005 @05:37PM (#13786157) Homepage
      Origin would have been still around if EA didn't buy them

      This is incorrect, assuming you mean Origin would still be an independent publisher. As I interviewed ex-Originites for the Escapist article, the theme that emerged was that by 1992 Origin definitely had either to find a buyer or go out of business. The company's position as a publisher was unsustainable in the changing market.

      It is certainly possible the right buyer (i.e., someone other than EA) might have kept Origin largely intact in body and spirit as a studio, even to this day. But as I describe in the article, EA's internal politics, and its attempt to produce all games the way it produces sports games, made it impossible for them to exploit Origin effectively.

  • by MBraynard (653724) on Thursday October 13, 2005 @02:36PM (#13784149) Journal
    The article mentions that Origin had already instituted it's own "sweatshop" working conditions prior to EA's acquasition, and their doctricne was "Sleep is for the weak."

    This is a huge mistake and one that I have learned many times over. A programmer without sleep gradually looses so much productivity and is far more error prone as he goes longer and longer without sleep that it makes sense to make sure your programmers get their 40 winks.

    I have spent three or four sleepless days working on a project, only to go home, get rested, come back, throw out everything I had done and go from scratch to finish within a couple of hours.

    Lack of sleep can not only make you much less productive, but you can even become a net negative. Get your rest.

    • However, it's a fact that almost every game before they were eaten by EA was great. Ultimas up to Serpent Isle, Wing Commander 1 and 2... those were classics.

      After EA, came two more great Wing Commanders (3 and 4), two lousy Ultimas (8 and 9), UO... and nothing more. No more Origin.

      Me, I'd blame EA, although Origin certainly wasn't perfect (they were badly managed, and paid poorly, as the article says).

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Poepel reqruire slepe, othrewsie thye'er moer prne toooo errrrrrorrrs/ nO oneder i cna;t tpe peroperly. Aall this tome, i thoiught it eas teh ketboarf. ;)
    • Forty winks? If you sleep only twenty minutes a day you'll quickly go psychotic. Nobody likes a psychotic programmer. ;)
  • by Turken (139591) on Thursday October 13, 2005 @03:53PM (#13785131)
    So I read the article linked above... and then kept on hitting the next page button. I just finished reading the whole magazine issue, and was impressed with ALL of the articles within. It really gives some good insight and commentary on EA and I highly recomment that people should read the other articles as well!
  • Expensive Floppies (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lividdr (775594) on Thursday October 13, 2005 @04:09PM (#13785325) Homepage
    I like the bit about the exorbitant price of floppies nearly killing Origin. I remember blowing my allowance (and later a good chunk of my paycheck) regularly on floppies just to be able to back all those Origin and EA games. Nothing like spending $1.00+/floppy to prevent diskrot from claiming disk 7 (of 8) nine months after spending $50.00+ on the game :(

    I can get 2 DVD-Rs or a DVD-RW (with change left over) now for less that a single 720K DSDD floppy back in the good ol' days.
  • Full Origin Photo (Score:2, Informative)

    by Donut (128871)
    Can be found here [escapistmagazine.com].
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I always wished there was a third, last Crusader. One where that since everything is largely taken care of, the silencer just decides to go completely postal for no good reason whatsoever. I could see the commercials...

    "First, there was No Remorse..."

    [stuff exploding]

    "Then, there was No Regret..."

    [guy running around on fire]

    "Now... there's just No Reason!"

    [silencer shrugs his shoulders, shoots a guy, and frolics off]
  • by SpecialAgentXXX (623692) on Thursday October 13, 2005 @09:22PM (#13787548)
    Wow, reading that I was thinking back to when I was in high school back in the very early '90's and my friend bought Ultima IV (or V?) for his 286. It was the coolest thing we ever played. Then came Wing Commander and we were blown away by it. Then came the 3D Ultima - Ultima Underground and it was awesome. I even spent a couple hundred bucks to upgrade my PC from 1 to 4MB of RAM just to play it. Yeah, Origin really created worlds. But since Ultima Online (which I never played) I haven't heard much or became excited about any more Origin games.
  • I wonder how much... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nanowired (881497)
    I wonder how much the rights to all of origin's games are, since EA doesnt seem to be trying to profit off of them - Aside from UO, whose corpse they are using to ride down the mountain with.
    • If history is any indicator, the rights to the Origin IPs (and codebase) are extremely over-valued by EA. When EA shut down Kesmai, fans tried to get the rights to Air Warrior - the price EA wanted was more than developing from the ground up would have been.

      -gary

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