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Riccitiello: Prioritizing Profits Can Be 'The Beginning Of An End'

When it comes to the Guitar Hero and Rock Band rivalry, EA CEO John Riccitiello finds it "fun for people," and talks to Gamasutra about what gives music games competitive edge -- and then segues into discussing the danger of getting hooked o
The music game battle between Rock Band and Guitar Hero: World Tour set to start this holiday season kicks off one of gaming's largest rivalries yet, and Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello is looking forward to it. "Those rivalries are fun for people," he told Gamasutra in a recent interview. "It invests meaning in something that is inherently sort of frivolous and fun." So what determines the edge in the rhythm game battle? "I think it's increasingly coming down to what songs, what artists are aligned with a particular product," Riccitiello said. "I happen to think that the Rock Band software is tighter, with Rock Band 2. But I think reviewers seem to give the edge to Rock Band." Riccitiello declined to comment on the recent war of words between Activision CEO Bobby Kotick and Warner Music CEO Edgar Bronfman over who should pay who song royalties for video games. But nobody plays Guitar Hero in the EA boss' neighborhood, he says. "My kids are the alpha gamers of the town. And I'm sure that whatever part of Beverly Hills Bobby Kotick lives in is a Guitar Hero neighborhood -- to the degree that they play games up there." And Riccitiello feels that playing games, at least to some extent, is important to working in the industry. "Every now and then, I get an app for someone who wants to build video games, or market them... and they say they don't play them." "I do think it would be amazing for someone to apply for a job with a newspaper who doesn’t read papers, or work at a Hollywood studio and not watch movies. I suppose it’s possible, but it is a little odd." "I think companies go through cycles," Riccitiello adds. "The motivation to excecute on any form of media… you can seek to make profits, and then you'll make the most profitable games you can… or you can seek to make great games that are profitable." "I tend to think you need to get a balance of both. The only thing that sustains itself is to make great entertainment, and great entertainment is profitable." Riccitiello says that at any point in time, the quickest way to increase profits on a 24-month period is to cut research and development in the near term. "And companies go through cycles where they are on the drug of profits," he adds. "They go through cycles... where profits rise, where all they do is pay attention to the Wall Street Journal and the [Financial Times], because they're very profitable, and that becomes a drug in and of itself. They'll do whatever they can to make that go further." "That can be the beginning of an end," warns Riccitiello -- who readily admits when asked that EA has had similar problems in recent years that it's endeavoring to correct. "I've not only seen it, I've experienced it," he notes. "I do think that I understand sort of the ebb and flow of these things."

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