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Riccitiello: EA not weakened by Zynga poachings

Riccitiello: EA not weakened by Zynga poachings

March 9, 2012 | By Eric Caoili

Acknowledging the loss of several key executives in the last year, Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello insisted that the company was not weakened by the departures of its personnel poached by rival social games firm Zynga.

Last April, EA's chief operating officer John Schappert jumped ship to take on the same position at Zynga. And three months ago, Barry Cottle, who headed the EA Interactive mobile, social and casual online games group, also joined the FarmVille developer to become its Corporate and Business Development executive vice president.

Riccitiello referred to "a couple of guys going to Zynga" during a Q&A session at Wedbush's Technology Media and Telecommunications Conference on Thursday, and implied their defections were financially motivated, not the result of problems they had with EA. He noted that "they made a lot of money" at EA, but Zynga made them exorbitant offers.

He said, "To a person, they came and saw me at one point in the process, usually in tears or close to tears, with a story that basically goes like this. 'I love my company. I love Electronic Arts. I bleed blue, but they're going to give me a bank account in the first 12 or 24 months that I couldn't get anywhere and may never get anywhere for the rest of my life.'

"So it was more about personal balance sheet stuff. To a person, they've told me - and I think if you speak to them, would probably say they believe in the Electronic Arts story and sort of where it's going. So I don't feel at all weakened by it. ... They got some good guys, and I think we're fine."

Riccitiello went on to explain that there were "absolutely no issues" with Eric Brown, who resigned from EA in February after serving as CFO there for nearly three years. He explained that Brown left the publisher to become CFO and COO of communications firm Polycom because he wanted to eventually head a company of his own.

"He wants to be and will be a CEO in his life," said Riccitiello. "He had an ambition he wanted to realize, couldn't realize it in the timeframe that was close to his ambition. So, we understood that sometime last year and he found what he was looking for and I'm really happy for him. So, we understood that sometime last year, and he found what he was looking for and I'm really happy for him."

EA has also lost several key people from its social game studio Playfish in the last year -- London GM and VP John Earner joined venture capital Accel Partners, common technology lead Dan Borthwick now heads NaturalMotion Games' London mobile studio, and co-founders Sami Lababidi and Sebastien de Halleux both left the company, too.

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