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EA CEO on shutting down online games: 'It's never an easy decision'

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Electronic Arts has taken a lot of flak in recent years for shutting down online games, but the decision is always about prioritizing the ability to "provide a great game experience," said CEO Andrew Wilson in an interview with Polygon last week.

Earlier this year, EA closed three Facebook games developed by casual-gaming subsidiary Playfish: SimCity Social, The Sims Social and Pet Society. The latter title was the oldest, having originally been launched in August 2008, while The Sims Social had gone live in August 2011 and SimCity Social was launched in open beta in June 2012. The shutdowns resulted in an outcry from fans, including online petitions and other campaigns directed at EA.

Wilson acknowledged that "people invest time and energy into a game," and said making the call to close an online game is "something that we wrestle with a lot."

"It's never an easy decision to make; it just isn't," said Wilson, who was the head of Origin and EA Sports before being appointed CEO in mid-September. But it's a decision that EA makes when it determines that the game experience for players isn't up to the company's standards, and that can be for a variety of reasons.

"There comes a point in time where either technology, or server architecture, or game experience or something starts to degrade to a level — or just the refreshing of content degrades to a level — where we don't any longer feel we're in a position to provide a great game experience," said Wilson. "And in those circumstances, we're going to have to make a decision to move on from that game and try and provide different and better game experiences."

deciding to shut down a game is "something we wrestle with a lot"

The particular issue for social games, explained Wilson, is that they depend on a large and engaged user base. If those requirements aren't satisfied, the game experience suffers; when EA shut down the three aforementioned Facebook titles, it cited declines in the user base and daily activity.

"In a lot of circumstances, the quality of the game experience is really defined by who and how many are playing it. When you think about the nature of these games that are driven by social interaction, and sharing and user-generated content, the absence of players actually poses a problem to the overall game experience and the enjoyment of that experience. And so a lot of these factors that would otherwise govern whether we can deliver a quality experience or not are sometimes out of our control," said Wilson.

Because of that, said Wilson, it would be "really hard" for EA to promise that a game would be available for a minimum time frame. But according to Wilson, prior to launching new online games, the company is making an effort to ensure that they have a significant potential for long-term viability.

For more from Wilson, check out our full interview with him on the latest episode of Friends List.