Riccitiello back as EA CEO

Former president of game publisher will leave post at Elevation Partners to assume CEO role at Electronic Arts; current CEO Larry Probst will end 16-year tenure at helm.

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After the markets in New York closed today, Electronic Arts announced its former president and COO John Riccitiello has rejoined the company. Riccitiello returns to the fold and will act as EA's CEO, effective with the start of the company's 2007 fiscal year, April 1, 2007.

Speaking with GameSpot shortly after the news hit the wires, Riccitiello commented on his return, saying he "wouldn't have considered leaving [Elevation] for anything other than this exact opportunity." He also added that when looking at the EA timeline, and Larry Probst's tenure specifically, "it was the right time to manage succession."

Riccitiello will replace current CEO Larry Probst, a 23-year EA veteran who has been chief executive since 1991.

"We're happy to welcome John back as EA's new CEO," said Probst, who will remain with the company as executive chairman of the board. "His skill and vision as an executive and his experience in our industry have earned him the respect of our employees and shareholders."

"Leading EA has always been my dream job and I am truly honored that Larry and the board have given me this opportunity," Riccitiello said in a statement. "This is an extremely well-run company driven by outstanding studio and publishing teams. They've also made strategic investments in new platforms and markets that will help extend EA's industry leadership in the years ahead."

Riccitiello spoke additionally to GameSpot News and clarified where he intended to focus the company's energy and talent pool: "I put original intellectual property on the top of the list of growth opportunities." On the heels of original IP came wireless gaming, the online and casual space, additional investments in the MMO space, and Asia. "And to help grow the great management team here at EA.

Analysts contacted by GameSpot generally reacted favorably to the news (see above audio segments). Colin Sebastian, senior research analyst at Lazard Capital Markets said the hire "should give investors some comfort [given] Riccitiello is a known quantity."

"It helps to have industry experience. Riccitiello has previous CEO experience, and he definately knows EA....That's why it's a good fit."

When asked about the long-term impact of Riccitiello returning to EA and replacing Probst as CEO, however, Sebastian left the door open: "We'll have to see what his strategic plan is."

Riccitiello left Electronic Arts in 2004 and joined venture capital organization Elevation Partners. At that time, insiders said Riccitiello left EA after seeing no clear path to the CEO position. Observers saw then head of worldwide studios Don Mattrick as the heir apparent to the CEO slot. However, Mattrick left the organization in 2005, and Riccitiello's position, as president, went unfilled.

Elevation brass commented on the Riccitiello news today, wishing him well. "The employees and partners at Elevation and our extended family of portfolio companies congratulate John on his election by the EA board of directors to the position of chief executive officer," the investment firm said in a statement. "John is a hugely talented executive in the video game industry and he is the perfect person to lead EA during this period of dramatic change in the industry. We look forward to continuing to work with John and his team at EA."

Riccitiello was influential in Elevation's major investment in game developers BioWare and Pandemic Studios--one which will follow him to Electronic Arts. Elevation and EA recently inked a deal that will see the two organizations co-publish the upcoming BioWare/Pandemic title Mercenaries 2.

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