Ex-Madden developer speaks out against EA: "creativity is stiffed by corporate culture"

Phil Savage

AJ Dembroski, a former developer for EA's Madden series of American Football (or Crap Rugby) games, has spoken out against the publisher in a lengthy Twitter rant made over the weekend. The majority of the tweets have now disappeared, as is tradition for unexpected Twitter outbursts, but not before they were rounded up in full by a member of the Operation Sports community.

Dembroski is quick to stress that he has no issue with many of the people he worked with and that, overall, he was happy with the way the company treats their employees. "EA treats their people well. They really do. The EA Wife letter... I dunno, I didn't experience that. Good people there." But he also had a lot to say about EA's "corporate culture," saying "any corporate involvement in a creative business is doomed to fail."

"I think Metrics are the worst things to happen to gaming," Dembroski continued, saying that everything the studio did was broken down into numbers without any creative input. "So a football game wants to reach feature parody with Call of Duty... without the realization that they're different fuckin games ... 'Call of Duty Numbers' is the be-all-end-all of the industry. And genre's other than realistic FPS's suffer."

Dembroski, clearly a fan of the indie roguelike FTL, also hit out at the way the industry is geared towards giant franchises. "Games like FTL ... suffer because corporate America wants the "design by numbers" bullshit." He finished by warning people not to trust EA, not because they're bad, 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. And they NEVER fucking will. EVER! Nor will any corporate entity."

His frustration is probably compounded by the tight annual cycle particular to the EA Sports arm of the company. It's a criticism that holds some merit, but going so far as to say that corporate meddling stifles artistic creativity is a bit of a stretch. More accurately, metrics and financial constraints act as the parameters for that creativity to be expressed in. There are plenty of examples of what, at face value, could be considered "design by numbers" features being elevated into genuinely great additions.

Take Mass Effect 3's multiplayer. On the face of it, adding multiplayer to a traditionally singleplayer franchise is a cynical box-ticking move. But the co-op horde variant was instead a deep and enjoyable aspect of the game, albeit with somewhat unnecessary integration into the main campaign. Or there's Need for Speed's Autolog, a social integration layer that Criterion developed into a robust, competitive layer that generated content in a far more natural way than the series' own campaign structure.

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