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A Different Track: Frank Gibeau Talks Strategy
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A Different Track: Frank Gibeau Talks Strategy

June 29, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

As president of EA's Games Label, which oversees core games, Frank Gibeau is responsible for a wide swath of the company's output -- including internally-developed titles like the acclaimed Dead Space and the vaunted EA Partners division, which is responsible for publishing hits like Valve's Left 4 Dead.

It's been tough for EA in the past several months. As the company began to regain the respect of the industry, which was worn down from its licensed title-based reputation, the company was hit with major layoffs and disappointing sales of its creative new IP, such as  the artistically appealing Mirror's Edge.

Also aware that the company may also risk running its proven IP into the ground, the company has profoundly changed the way it develops its franchises -- like Need for Speed, which is seeing a change in development studios to an external partner for this year's edition.

These moves, and more, are part of a longer-term strategy and a meaningful turnaround for the company, which it believes will sustain it in the long term.

Here, in an interview conducted in Los Angeles at this month's E3 trade show, Gibeau discusses his view of the games label, its titles, studios, and prospects.

Obviously, there have been a lot of changes at EA over the past several months. How is the environment right now, post layoffs? Are things starting to get back to normal?

FG: Yeah, absolutely. I think people are focused on winning, on creating some great IP, making some hits happen. We're very focused on innovating on new areas like what we're doing with the iPhone and online.

Every company in the world pretty much went through a shakeout as the economic conditions unfolded. There were a lot of tough conversations and a lot of things that we wished we didn't have to do, but if you look at where we are right now, the folks that are on board at EA and are focused on the future are really fired up. We feel really good about our lineup at E3, what we've seen so far we've got for the next two years.

We also are really excited about that we're going to be able to maintain the focus on creating more IPs, going online, those are the things that people are focused on that drives a lot of positive job satisfaction. It's innovative, it's kind of bleeding edge. So, yeah, overall, I think we've come out of it stronger as a company, and we're very focused.

EA DICE's Mirror's Edge

I imagine that the mood, the overall tone of the company, was kind of depressed as it was going on.

FG: It was a tough Christmas, for sure, in Q3 and the early part of this calendar year. Like I said, nobody likes to do these things. It's not an enjoyable thing. And there was a point in time where people, like a lot of people out in the world, were concerned about, "Where's the business going, where's the industry going, what's happening with the economy?" That angst or worry was definitely manifesting itself in the culture.

But I think we're through that stage in the company's history. We're focused, and I feel like people coming out of that are now looking back. We're kind of back on product now, we're back on making hits happen, we're back on entertaining people.

And the baggage or the hangover from that is very short. It feels like it's kind of launched away, and people are back on track, me included. [laughs]

There is at least one analyst that basically was implying, not so subtlety, that EA is not really in the clear yet as far as layoffs are concerned. He mentioned a potential buyout -- somebody buying out EA because of the value right now.

FG: I didn't read his stuff. Typically, I don't read the analysts much. There's a couple that I think are really smart guys and really focused on stuff, so I very much take account of that, but I did not read this gentleman's report.

Look, it's outside my control whether anybody buys us or not, and the same thing goes for a lot of people inside the company, so nobody worries about it much.

What we're worried about is generating hit product that generate shareholder value, focusing on cost; we're focusing on creating quality hits, we're focusing on online. That's what's important to us and what's important to the folks inside the company.

Are there more layoffs? You know, I don't think so. I mean, I feel like we've been very focused and very aggressive in terms of how we cost-corrected our organizations. We're going to be looking for how to grow the business now, not responding to downturns in the economy and a cost base that was out of alignment with the market opportunities.

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David Reeves
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Interesting read. It's about time to see someone at EA has woken up to what is needed. I am not an advocate of EA because of past experiences, so still not something I go out of my way to get a game because of it's EA logo.

That aside, why does it take a corporation so long to look at the people within to understand their talents?

Support, have you ever tried to use EA support yourself. It's pathetic, either because of the people working in that department, or the model of process that they're using. So just like giving support to "your" partners, why not stretch that to your support team so that maybe you can help your customers?

So let's hope that EA is actually woken up to itself. Things like "trusting the talent" on what they can do is the key (imho). I very much enjoyed Dead Space, it was something that has been sorely missing from game "quality" as you put it. Yet what you call quality from an EA perspective, and what quality us the gamers want is still needing to "educate" you.

At this turning point, I think the only reason corporations or suits revise things is when they get hit hard by the economy. I think they forget that the people waiting in their development studios need support 24/7 and be open and genuine in that support.

My worry is how you also mention lending a hand with hopes of gaining new "assets" and IP. You're right, you need to earn it!

Now I'm not "bashing" you directly or EA. Yet I think by discussing this more maybe we the audience and you the owner can finally get around to growing the industry. I am sick of hearing my friends (in the industry) are sick of sitting around with nothing to do. Sure they have a job, an office, they just have no resources to make. The pity is, nobody has actually asked them what they wanna make.

If it was me, then I'm the sort of person to find the boss and say, "Hey, WTF are you wasting our time for!" I'd rather leave a job than waiting or sitting around wasting both your and my time. It's too hard to stay creative and positive in that arena. So why stay.

Just hopefully, these sorts of thinking Frank, we may just get the industry moving again and have better things to do with our time than talking about yet another topic of Economic Crisis. The reason the world is still there is that they are still thinking in that area, rather than getting off their arses and getting back to getting things happening.

At least you've made a choice to move forward and that's always good.