Last week, videogame Galactus Electronic Arts finally killed off Maxis, the longtime studio that was responsible for classics like The Sims and SimCity. Although no reason was cited, the studio’s recent high profile disappointments, SimCity 2013 and The Sims 4, were likely the reason.
Shortly after the announcement, a former Maxis developer going by the alias ‘Vertexnormal’ took to Reddit to share his experiences working with EA and some of the difficulties he and his colleagues at Maxis encountered.
Vertexnormal, who apparently left the studio in January in anticipation of massive layoffs, summed up EA’s priorities quite simply:
Money. It all comes down to money. EA as a corporation doesn’t share our sense of obligation out of sentimentality.
He then goes on to explain the company’s brutal greenlighting process, in which a few game designers pitch game ideas to the higher ups and proceed through a series of “gates” to accumulate more manpower and resources to work on said ideas:
They develop what they can as proof of concept, usually simple gameplay prototypes and concept art, which is then presented to EA. This sets up a series of gates and reviews whereby they get more money and manpower as it seems necessary and the time to work on the gameplay, engine, and artistic style. This whole period is called preproduction, and can last from a few months to a few years.
According to Vertexnormal, once a game goes into production and EA’s marketing department begins advertising it to the public, it becomes next to impossible to make any changes based on fan feedback. Case in point: SimCity 2013’s always-online mode and reduced city sizes, which were negatively received by fans from the very beginning. “There was no way to address that without compromising the numbers and forecasts when the game was sold to EA’s corporate overseers,” he says, “EA can’t be negotiated with at this level, you can’t change their mind, you REALLY have to fight to get dates changed.”
In spite of this, however, Vertexnormal tempers his assessment of EA by explaining that many of the hoops and hurdles required for anything to get through higher management were necessary, given the company’s massive size and need to protect itself from potential disasters. He also explained that much of SimCity 2013‘s problems revolved around the team’s difficulty at tackling its complex systems:
It’s easy to hate EA. It’s easy to be mad that we didn’t make the game many of you wanted. The reality is that the situation, as is the art of making simulations, was much more complicated than it outwardly appears.
Look at a map and try to find the route you take home from work or school. Now try and describe it very precisely with a series of mathematical functions. Now try to figure out how to optimize it for speed with several modes of transportation available to you, using math. Now try to explain why you decided to go home instead of the mall, using math.
Perhaps most strikingly, however, is his opinion that “EA is actually a great place to work these days. In the past there were difficulties (I was part of the EA Spouse/class action) but a lot of that has turned around. They really do want to retain talent and minimize layoffs.”