For years, EA Partners operated as a relatively quiet division of publishing behemoth Electronic Arts, releasing externally-developed titles that received less visible support and attention than EA's own fully-owned projects enjoyed.
Over the last eighteen months, EAP has undergone something of a renaissance, putting the group more out in the open than it ever has been. Top-down directives from recently-appointed CEO John Riccitiello have stressed new degrees of studio autonomy throughout the organization -- policies that have allowed EA Partners to attract top-shelf independent developers who historically would have balked at the idea of partnering with the megalithic publisher.
Last year, it released The Orange Box from notoriously independent Valve, Rock Band from Harmonix Music Systems, and Crysis from Crytek -- but also the less successful Hellgate: London from now-all-but-defunct Flagship Studios. The 2008 lineup also includes sequels to Rock Band and Crysis, and Valve's Left 4 Dead. Looking forward, EAP boasts id's Rage as well as freshly revealed deals with Epic Games and Painkiller creator People Can Fly, plus Grasshopper Manufacture and Shinji Mikami.
Gamasutra sat down for an in-depth interview with group general manager DeMartini to discuss the recent deals as well as EAP's overall philosophy, its understanding that not all development must originate from EA, its Metacritic scores compared to EA's internal projects, and where Hellgate: London went wrong.
How did you actually end up with the Grasshopper deal?
David DeMartini: EAP is a worldwide organization, and over the course of the 18 months when the new leadership team has been in place, we really set an objective for ourselves to start looking in parts of the world that maybe we had not paid enough attention to. We specifically focused on going to Eastern Europe, and Japan, and India, to try and see what development talent was available in those regions that EAP might be able to partner with.
We were at the Tokyo Game Show last year, and we were also at the Gstar show in Korea. We started attending things we had previously not attended in such large numbers, and we obviously had a tremendous number of meetings with many developers.
Obviously, Mikami comes with no need for any kind of introduction. Suda we knew from Killer7 and his other games. CAA [Creative Artists Agency] also got involved -- Seamus [Blackley] from CAA had been talking with some of our biz dev people.
We approached it from two different directions: one was from our additional exposure in Tokyo, and also through CAA. By the time we approached it from those two angles, and heard Suda's pitch about the game concept and Mikami's pitch about the game concept, we were very excited, and it led to a bigger relationship.
Q Entertainment, Tetsuya's Mizuguchi's studio, was also involved in brokering that, right?
DD: I don't know that I'd necessarily say "brokering" it, but doing business for a U.S. company in Japan is very complicated. What Q? brings us is some minimization of complexity and reduction of risk.
What kind of risk?
DD: Certainly, some design issues come around translation issues, and us not being aligned around design, and what Q? is providing is some level of design clarification and partnership. It's really a three-way relationship with ourselves, Q?, and Grasshopper.
I imagine that leads to a different kind of relationship than with most EA Partners.
DD: It's not any different than it would be if they were in Colorado as compared to them being in Tokyo. We use the same methodologies, the same milestone schedules. Our production team is equally involved. The travel is a bit longer.
Sometimes, communicating exactly the methodology is slightly more challenging, but when you've got two dedicated partners who want to make something successful, both sides are willing to meet each other in the middle. That's what we've been able to do with Mikami and Suda.