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John Riccitiello Resigns as Electronic Arts’ Top Gamer

Exec has been CEO of the videogame industry's second largest publisher for six years.

Electronic Arts is in search of a new CEO.

John Riccitiello announced Monday that he will step down as the head of the industry’s second-largest videogame publisher after failing to meet financial forecasts.

The executive, who has held the post for the past six years, and served as EA’s chief operating officer for nearly seven years before that, announced his resignation in a letter sent to the company’s chairman Larry Probst, and published by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Riccitiello steps down from the post, and will relinquish his seat on the company’s board, at the end of its fiscal year on March 30.

Probst, who had served as EA’s CEO from 1991-2007, will now run EA until an executive search firm finds a replacement for Riccitiello.

Over the years, Riccitiello had been instrumental in making EA less dependent on physical discs and built its online and digital distribution businesses when launching new titles. It launched Origin in 2011 as a marketplace for downloadable games.

While there have been successes, including the ongoing “Madden” football franchise — Riccitiello specifically cited the “Battlefield” and “FIFA” franchises, as well as “The Simpsons: Tapped Out” and “Real Racing 3” — there have been some high-profile stumbles, as well, including the recent reboot of “SimCity,” which requires gamers to play the city building simulator online. Servers, however, failed to meet demand and kept many players from the game during its initial launch, creating a PR nightmare for EA.

Riccitiello also had been instrumental in setting up EA properties, including “Dead Space,” “The Sims,” “Mass Effect,” “Spore,” “Army of Two” and “Dante’s Inferno” as film or TV adaptations, although only “Need for Speed” is moving forward at DreamWorks.

SimCity” is still a hit.

Game sold more than 1.1 million units in its first two weeks, making it the biggest “SimCity” for the franchise. Digital downloads of the game made up 54% of its sales through Origin and other digital download services.

Last summer, EA said digital is the fast growing contributor to EA’s bottomline, with downloadable games, subscription fees, add-on content, and mobile and social platforms up over 50% to $1.3 billion within a year.

“We thank John for his contributions to EA since he was appointed CEO in 2007, especially the passion, dedication and energy he brought to the company every single day,” Probst said in a statement. “John has worked hard to lead the company through challenging transitions in our industry, and was instrumental in driving our very significant growth in digital revenues. We appreciate John’s leadership and the many important strategic initiatives he has driven for the company. We have mutually agreed that this is the right time for a leadership transition.”

Riccitiello said the decision came down to “accountability,” and wanted to give EA the chance for a clean start in its 2014 fiscal year, he wrote in the resignation letter.

“The progress EA has made on transitioning to digital games and services is something I’m extremely proud of,” he said. “However, it currently looks like we will come in at the low end of, or slightly below, the financial guidance we issued in January, and we have fallen short of the internal operating plan we set one year ago. EA’s shareholders and employees expect better and I am accountable for the miss.”

Riccitiello added that he was confident in the investments EA had made in the next-generation of consoles, like Sony’s PlayStation 4, rolling out later this year.

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