John Riccitiello left Electronic Arts in the early ‘00s, closing out a career as company president and chief operating officer that saw the video game developer become one of the biggest forces in the global market with games like Madden NFL and NBA Live. When he came back as CEO in 2007, EA was still near the peak of its power, a juggernaut with a nearly $17 billion market cap. Riccitiello’s plan at the time was to invest heavily in new intellectual properties and in the console market. Today, following six years of failures and miscalculations, EA’s market cap has crumbled to $5.6 billion. The company will go on, but Riccitiello’s tenure is finally over.
Electronic Arts announced on Monday that Riccitiello will step down both as CEO and from the company’s Board of Directors, effective March 30.
“We thank John for his contributions to EA since he was appointed CEO in 2007, especially the passion, dedication and energy he brought to the company every single day,” said Larry Probst. Probst, the executive chairman of EA’s board of directors and former CEO, will act as an interim chief as EA hunts for a replacement. “John has worked hard to lead the company through challenging transitions in our industry, and was instrumental in driving our very signifcant growth in digital revenues.”
“We have mutually agreed that this is the right time for a leadership transition.”
The switch comes at a moment when the very nature of EA’s business is in flux. When Riccitiello took power in 2007, EA’s primary business was in console games sold at retail. Since then, though, its console game business has shrunk to just a dozen properties including sports franchises like Madden NFL and BioWare’s RPGs like Mass Effect. Meanwhile EA has invested hundreds of millions in expanding its mobile game business. Its titles regularly populate the iTunes and Android best-selling apps lists, but revenue lost from a shrinking console market has never been made up by growing digital sales.
EA is coming off a full year of miserable public relations and financial failures. Forget contentious releases like SimCity or Mass Effect 3. They pale in comparison to fiscal disasters like Star Wars: The Old Republic, which was Riccitiello’s baby. EA spent an estimated $200 million developing the MMO over the course of five years, only to watch paid subscribers abandon the game en masse within months of its release in 2012. Rumors of Riccitiello’s imminent dismissal from the company have been swirling ever since.
One such rumor suggested that EA’s current COO, Peter Moore, may replace Riccitiello as CEO. Until Mar. 30 rolls around, it’s impossible to say who EA will place in the captain’s seat.