What the Hell is Going on with Electronic Arts?
An early-morning report from a Swedish newswire sent Wall Street into a tizzy.
As the world woke up on Friday morning, many across the U.S. were greeted with some major news: Amazon would be announcing its intent to acquire Electronic Arts, the seventh-most valuable video game maker in the world.
Or were they?
In the hours after the report dropped on USA Today’s For The Win sports website, the story began to unravel.
Around 8 a.m. Eastern Time, CNBC reporter David Faber appeared on the air to shoot down the report—laughing at the acquisition rumors reported by Kirk McKeand of GLHF, a Sweden-based content provider that works with For The Win.
“I’ve talked to some people who would actually know if something was going on and they say, ‘There’s nothing going on,’” Faber said.
After Faber’s appearance, the For The Win article got updated around 8:30 a.m. ET, now saying the acquisition was “unclear” and carrying a note citing a Bloomberg terminal crediting Faber and CNBC’s reporting that Amazon was not acquiring EA after all.
But the markets—confused—saw a huge jump. Electronic Arts EA 0.00 stock rose by more than $6, from $127.61 to $133.69, on Friday’s market open. Was one of the biggest companies in the world, which has had middling success in games publishing, about to make its biggest splash to date in the industry? Anyone’s guess, I suppose.
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By 10:30 a.m. ET, the For The Win editor’s note became a lot more damning.
“Earlier today, GLHF—a gaming/e-sports outlet and content partner of For The Win—ran a version of this story on our website that violated our editorial standards regarding the use of unnamed and unvetted sources,” the note now reads. “We have updated this story to remove all mention of those sources.”
The article now reads very differently. It cites rumors that were shot down by CNBC, a completely changed tone from its original form, although the link remains the same.
So what exactly is going on with Electronic Arts?
It’s no secret that the company is in the acquisition market.
In May, Puck’s Dylan Byers reported that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts proposed spinning off the company’s media arm, NBC Universal, and merging it with Electronic Arts—with Roberts in control and EA CEO Andrew Wilson helming the ship. But ultimately, they couldn’t get it across the finish line, Byers reported.
Byers also reported that EA is still in the market for an acquisition and has spoken with Disney, Apple and, well… Amazon. But nothing has come of that yet, either.
Faber, whose employer, CNBC, is owned by Comcast, seemingly confirmed Byers’ reporting of NBC-EA merger discussions on Friday morning on his TV hit. Byers, who’s on vacation now, according to his Twitter, did not respond to my outreach on Friday.
The gaming market is consolidating, and games companies are looking to find new financial arrangements. That’s obvious.
Over the past eight months, Microsoft agreed to acquire Activision Blizzard. Zynga and Take-Two Interactive are now under one umbrella. Sony now owns Bungie. And Embracer Group, backed by new investment from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, is on an acquisition spree—acquiring everything from rights to “Deus Ex” to the gaming license for “The Lord of the Rings” franchise.
On one hand, I want to believe the GLHF reporter, McKeand. I’ve been there—having a big scoop that gets blasted publicly by influential people on social media and elsewhere, making your life hell. But I’m also skeptical. This isn’t just a small-time esports report. This is a disputed reported acquisition that clearly had real-world impact and affected some bottom lines.
And the wording wasn’t tame. It wasn’t a “discussion” or “talks.” It was reporting of a supposed imminent announcement, one that never came.
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I reached out to McKeand, whom a mutual colleague had introduced me to last year, to ask if he could speak about the story. He declined. GLHF and USA Today, except for the editors’ note, have remained silent. Electronic Arts have also made no statement.
As a fellow reporter, McKeand’s defense on Twitter leaves something to be desired.
“If you get something wrong in games journalism, it's a bit like when you work behind a bar and drop a pint glass, and everyone cheers,” McKeand wrote in a Twitter thread. “Except, instead of cheering, they chuck more pint glasses at you. Stay classy.
“Also, CNBC said ‘it isn't happening today’, which isn't the same as ‘it isn't happening’. And if I turn out to be wrong, then I was wrong. It happens. It's the first time it's happened to me with a report like this, but it was bound to happen eventually.”
I hate when the media becomes the story. In fact, I hate that I’ve had to write this.
But Friday’s fallout is unarguably the biggest story in gaming this month, maybe even this quarter, and that can’t be ignored.