|| by Ice Cream Jonsey 12/03/2010, 7:50am PST
The last-minute cancellation of EA Sports' NBA Elite 11 this fall isn't supposed to happen to any video game. How? Why? Kotaku learned the unusual story this week from EA boss John Riccitiello.
"I'm not sure I'm going to give you a good explanation," Riccitiello told me when I brought up the topic of Elite during an interview in Manhattan this week, "So I'll just give you the chronology and let you interpret what you want."
I'm going to pass Riccitiello's approach on to you, the reader and present virtually all of what he said about Elite, a frank blow-by-blow with some added explanation from me. Then you may interpret it as you'd like.
Riccitiello started his tale by talking about the creative team behind the NBA series, a team ready to transform EA's long-standing NBA Live series into 2010's NBA Elite 11.
"A year and a half ago the [development] team in Canada came forward and they said, 'Look, the way we're going to take 2K on is that we're going to fundamentally innovate. And we're going to essentially give you dual-analog controls that give you an enormous amount of fidelity over the way you play the game.' You can literally take the ball from left to right, left to right, drive to the basket, switch the ball to your left hand and do a left-handed dunk. And they showed me that gameplay and put the controller in my hand, and I said, 'This is about as much fun as I've ever had playing any sports game.
"They said, 'We're going to do this for next year.' But it was a complete rewrite of the technology. It was an ambitious plan.
"They were flashing from Canada that the game was going to come in hot."
"Somewhere in the July timeframe, they were flashing from Canada that the game was going to come in hot. In a way, they'd sort of bit off two years' worth of work that they could only get done in 18 months. So it was going to come in hot. But they were still signaling to us that it was going to come in good, that they were going to get it.
"The demo went on around the same time we were mastering the game [Editor's note: Meaning the game was just about done and ready to go in boxes headed to stores]. The report was — we had known a month earlier that the gameplay was great but that they didn't synch up well against the animations, which was what…."
As Riccitiello searched for his next word, I extended my arms out to the sides, in the manner of the notorious bug that helped make the NBA Elite 11 demo a mockery. "This guy," I said. "Yeah," Riccitiello responded.
"So we knew that there was an issue, but they said we're going to get this solved in the next 150 hours before it goes final.
"We're in the middle of a nail-biter. The demo goes out. We final the game. We do an internal review. We're not happy. Interaction between the label and sales organization says the game is likely to be a 60 or something along those lines essentially for the fact that it wasn't finished. What do you do?
"There aren't many decisions that are essentially squarely on my desk. This was one."
"There aren't many decisions that are essentially squarely on my desk. This was one.
"I thought about it and I thought, alright, at that point I didn't know how good [rival game NBA 2K11] would be but the rumors were [that it was going to be] good. So we could have shipped a product we weren't proud of dead against their game that they are proud of and that we would have been proud of to ship ourselves. We would have probably lost 5-1 in the marketplace against that and firmly cemented a reputation for being one to ship secondary sports titles. We could have put the game back in production and showed up back in time for, say, the All-Star Break… but when you look at the data, typically somewhere between 85 and 90% of basketball games ship between launch date and the All-Star game so we would have been competing for, what, half of the last 10%? And the knock-on effect would have been that the team that would otherwise have been working on the following year's product would have three fewer months to build it.
"So there's the table: You can ship a product you're not proud of and compete for marginal share. You can delay the game to get a better product, but that's going to have a knock-on effect. And we made what I judged to be the best call given the circumstances."
At this point I asked Riccitiello if this was the most down-to-the wire he'd ever gotten with a game. The cut-off was so close here that copies of the game did make it into the wild.
"You'd be shocked at how many last-minute decisions are made," he responded. "In most games, whether it's Crysis 2 or GTA or Red Dead Redemption or, I don't know, Blur, there isn't a locked window when the product needs to hit the shelves to compete with the sports season. So what most people would have done, if this was a shooter or a Sims game is say, 'Look there is no season for Sims, there is no season for shooters.' The team would never have mastered the game. They would have kept it in production, waved the white flag apology, put it into three or four months of development and delayed the game. But there's no basketball then, there's no sequel that's necessary a year later. So this is one of those things that gets jammed in a different category.
"That's not a risk anymore if you only take risks that work."
"To be honest with you, I don't want to sound self-satisfied, but I'm pretty proud of our ability to make that decision. Because, I don't think the consumer was served badly by buying 2K. It's a good game. And I think we're better served. We were originally going to put Jam in our package. By separating it out people got to see what a good game that is. "
EA killed Elite and shipped versions of its Wii-revived NBA Jam for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 instead. That game, unlike Elite, had come together well.
"I'm actually kind of hard-pressed to find a constituency that is less well off from the decision we made," Riccitiello told me. "But I think a more important [point] is: it's very easy to sequel a product when you don't seek to change it very much. If you seek to change it fundamentally you're inherently taking a sizable risk. When you seek to change something that is on an annual sequel basis you're taking a really sizable risk because if the technology you're betting on doesn't come together in the first or second cut, you don't make your window. So from time to time we take those risks. usually, in the sports game business usually only during a platform technology transition. But sometimes, like we did with FIFA, not during a technology transition, and we took a similarly ambitious move four years ago with FIFA and pulled it off — in the same studio with many of the same people.
"People admire game companies that take risks but in retrospect they only seem to admire game companies that take risks when the risks work. That's not a risk anymore if you only take risks that work. I think of it as like skiing. If you occasionally don't fall down, you're not trying hard enough."
There you go. If you were Riccitiello, would you have made the same call?
For the record, he wouldn't confirm that EA's got a simulation style basketball game for next year, be it Live, Elite or something new. But, he said, "We're EA Sports, for Christ's sake."
Send an email to Stephen Totilo, the author of this post, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How did Totilo go through all that and not ask him about the mass layoffs that followed? Oh, right, game journalism doesn't exist. I keep forgetting that.
Riccitiello was told that "two years of work" would be completed in 18. Changing that much of a basketball game isn't "two years" of work, but ignore that for a second: he's been in this industry for over twenty years and still has no concept - NO CONCEPT - of what game developers can accomplish in a year, or 18 months or 24 months. He has literally no idea.
Oh, it's going to come in "hot," he was told. Hahah. Wow. How many games have EA shipped? How many games have EA Sports shipped? And this underqualified, over-his-head cretin is still completely shocked when devs over-promise? After two decades in the industry doing this? There doesn't seem to be a lot of people in the games industry who can ask his developers how long a project will take, double or triple that estimate, and then fight with his bosses for every single day.
So as it turns out, the game wasn't ready. Here's a quick tip to Riccitiello: all games will be "late." Whatever time frame the team gives you, it's wrong. Add years. (I mean for a new game, not the roster update packs you charge $60 for.) I'm sure I seem like Nostradamus telling you this, but this is because you're fucking terrible at your job. It's late... and EA lays off tons of people from EA Canada. They were going to lay them off regardless of whether the game was finished or not. What a team atmosphere.
But hey, he said, "We're EA Sports, for Christ's sake" so it's all good. Ha ha ha! They have done more to kill off enjoyable sports gaming than anything else. There's no arcade-style football or baseball game for the PC because of these cretins. They're EA Sports for Christ's sake, though.
the dark and gritty...Ice Cream Jonsey!
Bump this thread every time devs cut staff after a game launch NT by 10/11/2010, 1:02pm PDT
Raven by 10/11/2010, 1:03pm PDT
The only "downloadable content" I want from Raven is Take No Prisoners on XBLA by 10/11/2010, 3:10pm PDT
Re: The only "downloadable content" I want from Raven is Take No Prisone by 10/11/2010, 3:39pm PDT
Awesome. I guess this makes you the Take No Prisoners of Caltrops posters? NT by 10/11/2010, 8:17pm PDT
EA Canada by 10/28/2010, 10:23am PDT
Re: EA Canada by 12/03/2010, 7:50am PST
Interesting thing about games being late by 12/03/2010, 7:57am PST
Re: Interesting thing about games being late by 12/03/2010, 10:48am PST
Valve? by 12/03/2010, 10:59am PST
Re: Valve? by 12/03/2010, 1:24pm PST
Re: Valve? by 12/03/2010, 2:38pm PST
Agile development and commercial games by 12/03/2010, 3:45pm PST
Re: Agile development and commercial games by 12/03/2010, 4:17pm PST
Games with a subscription model fit the paradigm better, I think by 12/07/2010, 9:38am PST
Re: EA Canada by 12/03/2010, 8:37am PST
That strong stalwart of California, EA Canada. NT by 12/03/2010, 8:40am PST
EA threatens to lay off Tiger Woods by 12/06/2010, 8:48pm PST
Re: EA threatens to lay off Tiger Woods by 12/06/2010, 10:26pm PST
Bizarre Creations by 11/17/2010, 11:48am PST
Disney closes Propaganda Games, makers of Tron: Evolution. by 01/19/2011, 2:19pm PST
Closing the whole studio after a project is some scorched earth shit. by 01/21/2011, 3:01am PST
Can that article be written in the form of pasted press releases? by 01/21/2011, 7:30am PST
:( NT by 01/21/2011, 6:35pm PST
Turns out the guy who invented Geometry Wars is named Stephen Cakebread. by 01/24/2011, 3:34am PST
Team Bondi (L.A. Noire) by 09/02/2011, 10:23am PDT
Re: Team Bondi (L.A. Noire) by 09/04/2011, 12:45pm PDT
The Bank of America Confidence Game is almost over so they're laying off 30000 by 09/15/2011, 9:24pm PDT
Visceral Australia? by 09/19/2011, 11:32pm PDT
It's too bad they DIDN'T wait until their game launched to fire these guys. by 09/20/2011, 12:30am PDT
The subject of the above post is not Visceral Australia, but another developer NT by 09/20/2011, 12:34am PDT
CCP 20% layoffs (120 people) NT by 10/19/2011, 7:15pm PDT
This is the thanks they get for rushing EVE Online out the door! NT by 10/20/2011, 1:00am PDT
It was mostly the World of Darkness team that got axed NT by 10/20/2011, 9:55am PDT
HAHA WOW by 10/20/2011, 3:34pm PDT
nah he's a big KOTOR fan he'll just switch to that by 10/21/2011, 7:01pm PDT
"I used to control a space empire of nerds. Bow before me." NT by 11/01/2011, 12:52pm PDT
he used to make let's plays of the kotor games by 11/05/2011, 3:31pm PDT
that was the wrong link sorry NT by 11/05/2011, 10:49pm PDT
Re: he used to make let's plays of the kotor games by 11/06/2011, 11:48am PST
a child drew it by 11/06/2011, 3:49pm PST
Silicon Knights down to 25 people after X-Men: Destiny by 10/31/2011, 9:13pm PDT
NetDevil closes Play Well Studios, 115 jobs gone NT by 11/08/2011, 8:09pm PST
I interviewed with them once. by 11/08/2011, 8:55pm PST
Re: I didn't by 11/16/2011, 7:29am PST
Day 1 Studios (F.E.A.R. 3, MechAssault) I heard maybe 100 people by 12/04/2011, 7:34pm PST
GSC Game World CEO Hryhorovych Announces Closure Of Company by 12/12/2011, 8:39am PST
That is a disaster. :( NT by 12/12/2011, 9:21am PST
That is very sad by 12/12/2011, 9:24am PST
Get out of here, Stalker NT by 12/12/2011, 12:50pm PST
I felt Stalker just kept getting worse with every game they made by 12/12/2011, 11:33am PST
CoP was easy mode. NT by 12/12/2011, 6:22pm PST
If you were good you could get an exoskeleton within the first 3rd of the game by 07/12/2012, 4:29pm PDT
I was just grateful for more Stalker goodness. Gameplay and balance was always by 12/14/2011, 5:07am PST
Metro 2033 was terrible. Like a haunted house train-ride. by 12/14/2011, 10:53am PST
Metro 2033 development floundering without anyone from whom to steal by 02/03/2012, 11:38am PST
Duke Stalkem Forever by 01/17/2012, 7:12pm PST
id Software by 01/11/2012, 3:18pm PST
unrelated by 01/11/2012, 3:41pm PST
there's not gonna be a fallout mmo, maybe play f2p Fallen Earth to see why by 01/11/2012, 4:21pm PST
Re: there's not gonna be a fallout mmo, maybe play f2p Fallen Earth to see why by 01/11/2012, 9:12pm PST
Re: there's not gonna be a fallout mmo, maybe play f2p Fallen Earth to see why by 01/12/2012, 11:36am PST
I still can't believe Bethesda paid $7,750,000 for the rights to Fallout. by 01/11/2012, 9:24pm PST
I think the Troika people who didn't end up at Obsidian by 01/12/2012, 11:33am PST
I don't *think* there are any ex-Troika people at Bethesda, but I could be wrong by 01/12/2012, 1:23pm PST
my mistake bethesda got the guys from black isle by 01/12/2012, 2:12pm PST
THQ confirms 240 job cuts, CEO takes pay cut by 02/02/2012, 2:15pm PST
Since 2008, THQ has laid off nearly 700 people. NT by 02/02/2012, 2:45pm PST
Eat Sleep Play laid off eight employees last week as it finishes Twisted Metal by 02/07/2012, 7:45pm PST
Re: jeep's longings by 02/07/2012, 9:09pm PST
so fr most of them are casual games by 02/08/2012, 7:22am PST
Re: so fr most of them are casual games by 02/08/2012, 4:34pm PST
thanks by 02/08/2012, 7:50pm PST
TM is going so suck so hard :( by 02/09/2012, 5:46am PST
Jaffe recently gave a talk on why games shouldn't try to tell stories. by 02/09/2012, 4:10pm PST
This ator exposes TDARCOS as the fictional character we all expected. NT by 02/11/2012, 9:58am PST
Re: This ator exposes TDARCOS as the fictional character we all expected. by 02/11/2012, 5:04pm PST
Doublefine? by 02/09/2012, 6:47pm PST
Re: Doublefine? by 02/10/2012, 4:36pm PST
Obsidian 20-30 employees by 03/15/2012, 8:59am PDT
Sooner or later game developers will start pulling Tonya Hardings on reviewers. NT by 03/15/2012, 1:29pm PDT
no but maybe companies that aren't over a barrel will stop signing by 03/16/2012, 10:57am PDT
Re: no but maybe companies that aren't over a barrel will stop signing by 03/16/2012, 5:11pm PDT
Clarification by 03/16/2012, 5:17pm PDT
That "people who did the work" thing made you out to be a commie. NT by 04/03/2012, 7:03pm PDT
Metacritic definitely isn't the problem by 03/19/2012, 1:24pm PDT
6waves Lolapps lays off dev staff by 03/20/2012, 7:20am PDT
Zynga buys developers of Draw Something for $180 million by 03/22/2012, 7:59pm PDT
not layoffs but it's sufficiently tragic by 03/22/2012, 8:33pm PDT
It only took 40 people to make "Pictionary, but on a mobile phone"? NT by 03/22/2012, 10:54pm PDT
didn't make them millionaires by 04/01/2012, 11:03am PDT
THQ 118 developers NT by 03/30/2012, 10:31pm PDT
BioWare cuts 'Star Wars' staff by 05/22/2012, 11:26am PDT
I can't find how many by 05/22/2012, 8:59pm PDT
38 Studios and Big Huge Games Lay Off Entire 379-Person Workforce by 05/24/2012, 3:04pm PDT
Lum came out of hiding to cover it by 05/26/2012, 1:15am PDT
I know 2 of them through friends of friends by 06/09/2012, 10:29am PDT
I don't know anything about full sail by 06/09/2012, 9:21pm PDT
They're the most infamous of the "game school" degree mills for rich kids by 06/10/2012, 9:14pm PDT
THQ wipes out San Diego studio by 06/05/2012, 9:24pm PDT
Radical Entertainment closes by 06/28/2012, 4:23pm PDT
Getting that Prototype PC patch ain't looking good. NT by 07/12/2012, 12:58pm PDT
They said they held on to enough people to ship it by 07/12/2012, 3:04pm PDT
Re: They said they held on to enough people to ship it by 07/12/2012, 3:33pm PDT
Maybe you can blame Radical by 07/12/2012, 4:45pm PDT
Rockstar Vancouver closed, 35 employees: move to Toronto or lose your jobs NT by 07/10/2012, 11:09am PDT
Rich Vogel has "left" BioWare Austin plus layoffs by 07/17/2012, 3:08pm PDT
Microsoft Vancouver lays off 35, cancels Microsoft Flight NT by 07/26/2012, 8:10am PDT
the two guys who founded Bioware by 09/18/2012, 9:48pm PDT
All of PopCap Ireland NT by 09/25/2012, 8:20pm PDT
Over 100 at Zynga, Boston office, most of Austin, Chicago, Japan, UK by 10/24/2012, 7:32am PDT
everyone working there got what they deserved NT by 10/24/2012, 9:20am PDT
Could never understand why Brian Reynolds went there NT by 10/24/2012, 5:03pm PDT
The severance package? NT by 10/24/2012, 7:02pm PDT
Haha, true. BR IS all about strategy games NT by 10/24/2012, 10:47pm PDT
he got in really early by 11/26/2012, 7:31am PST
Re: Over 100 at Zynga, Boston office, most of Austin, Chicago, Japan, UK by 10/24/2012, 9:19pm PDT
Re: Over 100 at Zynga, Boston office, most of Austin, Chicago, Japan, UK by 10/24/2012, 10:40pm PDT
Isn't Denver a city? by 10/25/2012, 4:20pm PDT
This is actually a boom time of an unprecedented number of start up studios... NT by 10/26/2012, 12:32am PDT
EA - SEALTeam 6 by 11/09/2012, 6:45am PST
I thought breaching in bullet time was just a dramatic effect by 11/09/2012, 2:47pm PST
Eurocom sheds staff, from over 200 to less than 50 by 11/23/2012, 4:37pm PST
filed for bankruptcy yesterday NT by 12/07/2012, 8:19am PST
I feel like this was my fault for not even thinking about buying Sphinx and the by 12/07/2012, 9:03am PST
30 at Petroglyph by 12/07/2012, 8:16am PST
So that doesn't really apply to this thread, does it? NT by 12/07/2012, 10:42am PST
Petroglyph should have been taken out and shot a long time ago by 12/07/2012, 5:09pm PST
Re: Bump this thread every time devs cut staff after a game launch by 12/17/2012, 2:02pm PST
Valve lays off 25? by 02/13/2013, 1:16pm PST
Disney shut down Junction Point after Epic Mickey 2 by 02/13/2013, 1:54pm PST
The power of two ^_^ NT by 02/13/2013, 2:34pm PST
EA Montreal by 04/15/2013, 12:26pm PDT
Released on the last Tuesday of the fiscal quarter, aka SENT TO DIE NT by 04/15/2013, 3:29pm PDT
turns out it was more than half the people in EA working on mobile by 04/16/2013, 9:33pm PDT
LucasArts closes? by 04/18/2013, 8:16am PDT
EA again "10% of the workforce" NT by 04/25/2013, 12:52pm PDT