It has been reported that Kathy Vrabeck, the President of EA Casual, has resigned.   EA has confirmed that the Casual Games group will be merged under the new Sims and Casual Label.  Basically, the Sims is taking over Casual Games over at EA.

Here is EA’s official corporate-speak:

"We’ve learned a lot about casual entertainment in the past two years, and found that casual gaming defies a single genre and demographic. With Kathy’s departure, EA is reorganizing to integrate casual games — development and marketing — into other divisions of our business. We are merging our Casual Studios, Hasbro partnership, and Casual marketing organization with The Sims Label to be a new Sims and Casual Label, where there is a deep compatibility in the product design, marketing and demographics."

Click here for more details at GameDaily who scooped this story (congratulations to GameDaily for their excellent reporting).

Our take:

It’s unclear to me whether this is move by EA out of the casual games business in response to the current business climate or more an admission that their current team and strategy was failing to deliver on its huge potential.  

The last good move EA made in casual games was launching a seperate division for casual games.  Until today’s announcement, every move since has been downhill.

Rather than invest in building their own brands and franchises, EA signed a multi-year (and very expensive) multi-platform deal to help grow Hasbro’s 100-year old brands.  Despite owning Pogo.com, the most successful subscription-based casual game service in the US, they completely pretended like Pogo did not exist and treated the talented team at Pogo like second-class citizens (where is Fairy Godmother Tycoon 2, already?).  They’ve invested millions of dollars into creating Wii games that all suck, having the unique distinction of being the only studio on the planet that has lost money on the Nintendo Wii.  

Repeatedly, Gamezebo requested interviews with Ms. Vrabeck, only to be ignored and spurned every time.  She is the only person in the casual games industry to do so.  Instead, Ms. Vrabeck would interview with every hard-core video game site around (some smaller than Gamezebo) and during one of these these interviews,  managed to insult the intelligence and gender of casual gamers.  

Personally, I found this attitude a bit insulting and I am not surprised that she is "resigning."  In the thoughts of this Chief Gamezebo,  it was about time.

Maybe now, EA will get back to do what it does best.  Let the Pogo and Sims teams lead the way in creating great casual games across multiple platforms.  Start to build your own Madden franchises in casual games instead of 20 different versions of Hasbro’s NerfBall-Operation-Monopoly.  Just cut to the chase and throw out acquisition offers to Zynga and SGN on the social gaming front, and to Big Fish Games, iWin, or PlayFirst on the download side.  

In the observations of this industry veteran, EA’s strategy is always as follows:  (1) target a fast-growing games market a year too late (2) throw millions of dollars to build it yourself (3) realize the only thing you know how to do right is the Madden Football , and then (4) buy your way into the aforementioned fast growing games market.

We’ve already seen EA complete steps 1-3 in the casual games space.  Time to jump to step 4 while the weakening economy makes acquisitions a sweet and cheap proposition.