Former EA Developer Rages Against the Madden

Andy Chalk

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Nov 12, 2002
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Former EA Developer Rages Against the Madden


A.J. Dembroski had some interesting things to say about Madden, Electronic Arts and his coworkers during a recent outburst on Twitter.

Twitter is an interesting forum. It's kind of like booze. You can't get yourself into too much trouble with just 140 characters, after all, but then you post another message, and then another, and pretty soon you're in full-on rant mode and saying things you're going to seriously regret when you wake up the next day.

That may or may not be the case for ex-Madden NFL developer A.J. Dembroski, who unleashed a torrent of tweets a couple of days ago about his time working on the franchise. The whole thing started off well enough, with comments on the good friends he left at EA and a statement that the company "treats their people well." But then it starts to go sideways.

"I am glad to be rid of them. It wasn't what I'd imagined. It wasn't what I'd hoped. Sadly, any corporate involvement in a creative business is doomed to fail. Because creativity is stiffed by corporate culture. It's sad that so many brilliant people at EA are held back by corporate structure," Dembroski wrote.

"I'd go so far as to say J.R. [John Riccitiello] is a good dude, but he doesn't understand GAMES. He thinks of them as a collective of statistics," he continued. "I think Metrics are the worst things to happen to gaming. Breaks everything down to numbers, without the benefit of reason. So a football game wants to reach feature [parity] with Call of Duty... without the realization that theyre different fuckin games."

And if you don't care for how Madden 13 worked out, don't blame him. "For the record, the only thing from M13 that I did that actually shipped was the draft class stories. Everything else was redone (poorly) by our asshole of a lead designer," he wrote. "There were 4 designers on CCM... 3 of them competent. The incompetent one undid most of what we did and fucked it all up... I did a lot of the legacy tuning, but that got redone as well. Two other designers, one of which is gone, one is still there, worked their ass off to make things work, but again, their shit was undone."

A few tweets later, the realization that he might not be doing his career any good seemed to set in, but he carried on anyway. "I'm so frustrated right now, and YOU people get lied to so much, I kinda feel like I'll find something on Karma," he tweeted. "but seriously... don't trust EA. Not because they're bad. They do good by their people, really. But because they're robotic. Paint by numbers. They see video games as a collection of features. They don't understand the artistic aspect of it."

It's a pretty epic blowout, and one that likely means he won't be working in any EA-owned studios for awhile, but it also touches on a fairly obvious yet often unspoken truth. Electronic Arts isn't "evil," nor is Activision or Ubisoft or any other major publisher you care to name. They're corporate entities, whose primary responsibility is to shareholders. Tale of Tales [http://www.tale-of-tales.com/] makes art; Madden makes hundreds of millions of dollars over annual iterations. You simply cannot have any meaningful degree of creative freedom with a property like that.

Dembroski deleted his outburst and has gone almost completely silent on Twitter, but alas, as we all know and keep forgetting, what happens on the internet stays on the internet. You can find out what he really thinks at pastapadre.com [http://www.pastapadre.com/2012/12/03/former-madden-developer-speaks-out-regarding-frustrations-and-disappointments].


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Combustion Kevin

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Nov 17, 2011
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So you could say his work-experience was quite MADDENing.
...
I'll show myself out.

OT: I'm quite curious what the future holds for big time publishers like EA or any comparible company, they will stay around for sure but their relevancy will diminish no doubt.
 

IamLEAM1983

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Aug 22, 2011
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I always pictured EA as being personified by a sort of non-creepy relative of Slender Man. Bland Man, to be exact.

Bland Man's life has to fit in metrics because shareholding stats indicate that metrics are important to gamers. Bland Man looks at a work of art and doesn't see the emotional charge in it - he only sees its net worth. Bland Man's appearances are always meticulously calculated to garner the most gains and produce the least losses possible. Bland Man never takes risks - at least not without weighing his options for years on end with his panel of shareholders and market analysts. Bland Man takes his coffee black with two sugars and reads the Financial Post.

And ONLY the Financial Post. Novels are far too complex for his dull and Cartesian mind.

He still does stalk you, though. Not to take you or Hollow you, like his spookier cousin. He stalks you to determine in which demographic you're more likely to fit. Because everything and everyone needs to fit in neat and easily quantifiable boxes.

Seriously, any passion that might have driven EA in the past is gone. Riccitello is focused on results, and ONLY results. Any pretensions of altruism or actual care for the medium are lukewarm lies being uttered because he just can't afford to rile up the company's numerous and diverse target demographics.
 

ckam

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Oct 8, 2008
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Well, it's interesting to see an ex-employee complain about their ex-employer. EA and the rest do seem like companies that only care about sales, I mean what corporation wouldn't?
 

elilupe

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Andy Chalk said:
It's a pretty epic blowout
In the grand scheme of "epic blowout"s on Twitter, I'd say this one ranks pretty close to the bottom compared to so many other ex-industry people. What he had to say here is actually pretty reasonable, the whole, 'EA is not evil, they're just a business, and that means they shouldn't be in gaming' thing is completely true and needs to be realized by a lot more people.
 

Daveman

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Jan 8, 2009
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For what it's worth to the guy, my mate has the game and the Draft class stories are basically our favourite part. We chat while he's playing his season with the Jets and how they really need a quarterback but there's none in the Draft, but there IS Davie Patterson who is the best CB like EVER (what's more I like him as he's a combo of my first name and my favourite ever rugby player, Chris Patterson). So yeah, he gets Davie in, but he's still screwed because he's the Jets... but then manages to trade away Sanchez and gets in Matt Ryan only for one player and a first and third round draft pick!

It's weird but talking about it is actually more interesting than the game. So yeah, Draft Class Stories are great.
 

tippy2k2

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Apr 3, 2020
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I'm going to quote "The Common Man" (A sports radio DJ in Minnesota) here:

"This is The Common Man Program, called one of the worst sports shows ever to exist by, funny, someone who no longer works here"

EA is an easy target to go after but I'm going to go ahead and assume that this guy might just be a bitter ex-employee. I certainly have some...less than nice things to say about a few old corporations I worked at.
 

chadachada123

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Andy Chalk said:
That may or may not be the case for ex-Madden NFL developer A.J. Dembroski, who unleashed a torrent of tweets a couple of days ago about his time working on the franchise. The whole thing started off well enough, with comments on the good friends he left at EA and a statement that the company "treats their people well." But then it starts to go sideways.

...

It's a pretty epic blowout, and one that likely means he won't be working in any EA-owned studios for awhile, but it also touches on a fairly obvious yet often unspoken truth. Electronic Arts isn't "evil," nor is Activision or Ubisoft or any other major publisher you care to name. They're corporate entities, whose primary responsibility is to shareholders. Tale of Tales [http://www.tale-of-tales.com/] makes art; Madden makes hundreds of millions of dollars over annual iterations. You simply cannot have any meaningful degree of creative freedom with a property like that.
I wouldn't say that it went sideways at all. He seriously confirmed what we all were already thinking, and what we all have been complaining about. On top of this, he touched on the incompetent leadership of EA, something we all learned about first-hand because of Mass Effect 3, something that clearly isn't changing under EA's helm.

Were I a game studio, I'd hire him pretty damn quickly, assuming he could do the job of course.

Edit: Also, this article is VERY much related to one of the best videos on the industry I have ever seen:


EA was founded by three doctors, who wanted to make games. They wanted to make games, and to do that, they needed to make money. After going public, after the original creators jumped ship, their priorities clearly shifted.

Now, they want to make money, and in order to do that, they need to make games. And it shows.
 

Bvenged

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I want to buy that guy a beer. If I was an indie-dev or even a privately owned companies like Zenimax/Bethesda or Take-Two/Rockstar, I 'd snap him up for having realistic values and respect for the job and industry... though his mouth might need a little tightening (only a little).
 

Charli

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Nov 23, 2008
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This might be hurting his future in the industry but for what it's worth he has my applause for his steel balls.
Drunken, slightly rusted steel balls, but nonetheless.

EA has my dislike for a legitimate reason and not fueled by the internet wagon of 'cool to hate EA' there was a time I think back in 2003? 2004? Where it looked like things might be turning around slowly but surely for them but then they fell into old bad habits and shat on peoples faces again and I felt betrayed once more.

So no. I have not bought a product from them ... since I don't know when. I think back in 2001 if squinting at my game shelf is doing me right. And it will stay that way. And this dude has pretty much reconfirmed what I already knew.
 

RJ 17

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Nov 27, 2011
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Combustion Kevin said:
So you could say his work-experience was quite MADDENing.
.....really? You're the first response to this article, the first thing people will read after they read the article...and you waste it on a pun that made me facepalm so hard I nearly broke my nose?

For shame, good sir. For shame. :p

Anyways, seems like he was preaching what most people already know about EA. Of course they're not "evil", but indeed they are a corporation, and a corporation exists purely to make money. As such their primary objective is to find the pieces and the formula to turn lead into gold. "Slap in some QTE's, some cover-based shooting, co-op option, and slap on a competative multiplayer just for the hell of it. People like all those things, right? It should sell BILLIONS!"

And you really can't argue with the guy when he explained that such an approach pretty much rules out creativity...because creativity is considered a risk and a liability to the profit margin.
 

Tiamat666

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Dec 4, 2007
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I believe people should be able to rant on the Internet and get all the nerd rage out of their system, without losing their job or not finding another job.

A little more honest talking and open-mindedness will do the world good.
 

NinjaDeathSlap

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Feb 20, 2011
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I have a feeling that some very un-metaphorical booze also played its part in the degeneration of his tweets.

Honestly, for a lot of it I have a hard time thinking of anything even EA themselves could honestly get infuriated about. It's not like they can deny with a straight face that they care about profit more then art, and he goes out of his way to say that doesn't make them 'evil'. However, when he starts calling former co-workers "assholes", that's when you start thinking 'You should probably stop digging that hole you're standing in now mate'.
 

uncanny474

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RJ 17 said:
Combustion Kevin said:
So you could say his work-experience was quite MADDENing.
.....really? You're the first response to this article, the first thing people will read after they read the article...and you waste it on a pun that made me facepalm so hard I nearly broke my nose?

For shame, good sir. For shame. :p
I don't know what you're talking about. I think it was a FANTASTIC pun. hehe, maddening...

OT: I don't wanna be "that guy" who does nothing but praise Valve, but look at their corporate structure, then to EA's, then back at their games, then back to EA's. Sadly, EA's games are not as good as Valve's, and it's pretty obvious why.
 

bafrali

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I am sure most of us were aware of this for a long time. It doesn't take a genius to see through their masks really.
 

jetriot

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If they don't make good games don't buy them. Their profit model fails. People act like EA is holding a gun to their head and making them purchase their shit. If people didn't like it they wouldn't buy it. The major downside that he is complaining about is a lack of innovation, because innovation is risky. If consumers wanted innovative products they would buy them more regularly. Instead it is up to indies to innovate and the corporations mimic that innovation. It isn't the corporations fault for not wanting to risk bankruptcy on a risky venture, it is the mindset of consumers that prefer the safety of games and features they are comfortable with.

That said, he worked on Madden. Did he really expect innovation on a sports title? I mean, c'mon. There is only so much that can be done to make a sports game new a different. It is just there to be a regular profit stream selling to those that want an updated roster and likely only buy a couple games a year.

MAIN POINT: When creativity and innovation is wanted by consumers it will be profitable.
 

Epic Fail 1977

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Awesome. It's just a shame he stopped drinking (or maybe passed out) before reaching the point where he tells everyone how much he loves them. That would have been perfect.