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EA's Core Strategy: Tech, Teams, Brands

June 18, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

At Electronic Arts' EA Games label, Patrick Soderlund runs the show. It's within his business that the publisher creates its high-budget games that are targeted towards the dedicated "core" game player.

These franchises include Battlefield, Dead Space, Need for Speed, and other major series. So how does Soderlund's label foster innovation, when fans of these long-running franchises have built up years of expectations?

That's not the only challenge within EA Games -- the label is also in charge of EA's Play4Free business, which is based on the free-to-play, microtransactions-based model. Combining that emerging model with a traditional core games audience can be a tricky proposition.

The core games market is changing, and between new tech, business models and high-budget sequels, Soderlund is trying to leave little to chance.

What's your overall vision for what EA Games is supposed to be?

Patrick Soderlund: I think Frank Gibeau -- who's my boss and continues to be my boss, and ran the EA Games label before me -- was instrumental in a turnaround for the games label. That [turnaround] started in 2007 or 2008 when, frankly, the quality of our products wasn't that good, we were lacking innovation; we just kept doing the same thing over and over again.

I think Frank really set the direction for where we needed to go in order to be successful in going forward. And I was obviously a part of that, running both the shooter and driving businesses for Frank, basically during this whole time. I come from DICE originally; I was one of the guys who was a founder of [now EA-owned] DICE and a partner in crafting Battlefield. And then as we got acquired, I just got more and more things to do inside the company, and I did a pretty good job at it. Then more and more got added to my plate.

So when Frank asked me if I wanted to take over the EA Games label because he was going to oversee all the labels, then I said, "Yeah, okay, that sounds like a great thing." And for me, it meant added responsibility in terms of more teams, more products, and more locations to keep track of.

A couple of things, though, that I felt like I really wanted to continue was what Frank started -- the continuous push for quality, the continuous push for innovation. Innovation in both the products that we make and how we treat the people, how we develop our products, and frankly, key things that can be game changers.

These are what I consider "game changers" -- things that you look at and say, "Okay, that was unexpected." For example, I think the Frostbite engine that we crafted for Battlefield 3 came out and people looked at it and said, "Wow, that really looked different; it felt like that's kind of the next generation of gaming."

So that's the approach that we take, that I take, that I want us to really be at the forefront and push the boundaries of what current hardware technology can perform at, and then where we're going in the future.

You talk about quality and innovation. From the top level, where you are, how do you foster and encourage that with your studios? It's not just like, "Hey, make your games better!"

PS: [laughs] Yeah, "Make them more innovative!" I think for us, obviously being a big company, we have the pressure to obviously make money -- which is ultimately why we exist -- and I think the way we look at it is, we have games that are big franchises, and we need to make sure that they stay fresh, keep feeling innovative, and that consumers want to buy them once they come out.

You know what I'm talking about -- Battlefield, Need for Speed, etc. At the same time we have to come to a point, and we are there now, where we can actually afford to experiment. We have several ideation teams in our studios -- we call them labs -- that may be working on five or six different things at one time. And there may be five, 10 or 20 people that won't even have a designated direction, because I firmly believe in the fact that we need to let people experiment and test things and come up with strange ideas.

We may present a larger problem to them. As a bad example, "We're missing a character-based action game." Then they may come out and experiment with a ton of things, and then show us stuff. The idea of it is test things, and either continue or kill them early. Most of the ideas will be probably not the right ones. But then one out of 10 or 15 ideas will be the right one -- that's something that we're going to say, "We like that. Continue, and now we're going to start funding it."


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