Who Will Be Electronic Arts’ New CEO? Here Are Some Options
Larry Probst, Chairman of the Board
When Riccitiello took over as CEO of EA in 2007, he took the job from Larry Probst, who stayed on as executive chairman of the board, and Probst is taking back the job during the transition from the current CEO to his replacement. Riccitiello previously was COO under Probst before the former left EA to start private equity firm Elevation Partners.
Probst has been with Electronic Arts almost since its beginning, first joining the company in 1984 as vice president of sales and serving as CEO from 1991 until 2007, succeeding EA founder Trip Hawkins. The end of Probst’s tenure saw EA dethroned as the largest publisher by Activision-Blizzard, a position it has so far not been able to regain. Soon after, Probst hired Riccitiello to be his replacement, as he transitioned primarily into the role of chairman of the board of Electronic Arts. He has experience in running the company, although EA didn’t have the best image during his tenure.
Probst’s time as the leader of EA was the beginning of its public image as some kind of “evil empire,” as the publisher was known for purchasing smaller developers with exciting products, and then eventually shuttering many of those studios when games failed to hit financial goals. It was also a time when EA’s sports games were both extremely relevant and criticized for yearly iterations, often without much in the way of significant changes. Practices such as these didn’t endear players to EA, but even still, Probst’s time as CEO saw EA’s stock prices at many of its highest points, and the company had a lot of success with him leading it. Still, when Riccitiello took over in 2007, he was able to make at least some changes both to EA’s direction and its public image.
While Probst is a steady hand in the role of CEO and has held the job before, it seems unlikely that he will retain the post beyond the “transition” period as a new, permanent leader is found for the company. In addition to being on EA’s board and its single largest individual shareholder, he’s also chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, a post to which he signed on for an additional four years in December. The 2014 Olympics are fast approaching and will likely take up a good deal of Probst’s time, so that may well take him out of the running for holding the job long-term.
Frank Gibeau, President of EA Labels
Frank Gibeau’s career at Electronic Arts started rather inauspiciously — he got a job as a play tester in 1991, after an injury stopped him from taking a job as a copier salesman. From that entry level position, Gibeau climbed the ladder at EA, working in marketing and on the corporate side of development to eventually become president of EA Labels. Like Moore, Gibeau has spent time heading up big portions of EA that are actually responsible for producing games.
EA had a number of big successes during Gibeau’s time heading the EA Games division from 2007 to 2011, including the launches of the Dead Space franchise, Mass Effect 2 and the Dragon Age franchise, the Need for Speed franchise and more. By the same token, however, one could count him at least partly responsible for a number of big missteps by EA during his time as president of EA Labels: like the botched launch of SimCity, the Mass Effect 3 ending disaster, the tumultuous situation surrounding Star Wars: The Old Republic, and the controversy created by reskinned year-to-year iterations of FIFA titles.
Gibeau has experience across a number of games and genres, and the years he spent both as a player and a play tester make him potentially more of an actual gamer than his colleagues. His climb in EA also means he has spent time working directly with developers in several capacities, including on the marketing side and in managing areas like finance and the like. He has also been an advocate for PC gaming, and of the free-to-play model of games since 2011, and has said he expects free-to-play to become the dominant pricing model for games by the end of the decade.
As president of EA Labels, Gibeau said last year he hadn’t greenlit any games that consisted of only single-player experiences, opting instead for games that were multiplayer or “connected” through online social components. As with Moore, Gibeau’s apparent ideals continue to lean toward a future in which gaming is mostly a connected experience, with a lower financial barrier of entry to getting players into games, and more emphasis on micro-transactions and free-to-play models.