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A Distinct Vision: Nick Earl And Visceral Games

February 22, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next
 

Genres go through cycles. In the sense that I think broadly-defined "character melee action genre" even went through a cycle for the PlayStation 2, where Devil May Cry showed what it was capable of, and then that became old hat after a while. Then God of War re-awakened it. You have to be conscious of those sort of fluctuations, I guess.

NE: Yeah, without a doubt. That's kind of my point about being a student. You have to be a student of individual games, and I think to your point, a student to the greater trends. And we have a nice blend of business kind of acumen here as well as creative gameplay creation. And I think that's ultimately where you find you can have the greatest impact in your medium, to have a deep understanding of what the trends are and to be able to innovate out of thin air.

I feel very, very confident about the executive team inside of this studio. The executive producers are extremely strong. They have a really good supporting cast, and this tremendous maturity and experience at the team level.

There's just a real sense of collaboration and cooperation across the entire studio, where everyone feels like whatever game we're going to launch that year, that is the most critical thing we can do, and anyone that can help out is happy to do it. It's really impressive to see the studio run that way.

A game a year? Is that actually a plan, or is that just a rough estimate of where things are going?

NE: I mean, it's kind of a rough estimate, but what I've learned being general manager of the studio for the past nine years is you can overload a studio, and conversely, you can do extremely well financially, and at the end of the day, we need to be able to do that to continue to attract investment and be able to do the sort of creative endeavors we want.

You can do that with less products that are high quality, and that's really part and parcel of a greater theme and strategic initiative in the company, and that is "less is more". I know it sounds kind of trite, but we really believe that. We've really taken that on board here. What we put out, we want to put out at the absolute highest quality mark. We don't need to do three of those a year. One is plenty, if we continue to drive that kind of quality here.


The Godfather

In the past, particularly I think at EARS, EA was known for a strategy of just throwing staff at games to try and get them out the door. Particularly Godfather was a project that was known for that. Do you see a change? You alluded to having a sense of time and quality being more important metrics.

NE: Yeah. Without a doubt.

There's a couple of things going on. The first is that to have really large teams just requires tremendous management. You can end up imploding a team and the structure and infrastructure of a team by having too many people. It's also just super expensive to do things that way.

What EARS, or now Visceral, has really done, which is innovative from a sort of a development strategy standpoint, is that we collaborate with multiple studios that are all part of the fabric of the action category for EA. We have studios in Melbourne, in Shanghai, and in Montreal all collaborating and working together, leaving it to the expertise that exists, so we can put the right product together.

The notion of just "backing up the bus," we like to call it, I think that's pretty much gone. We just don't do that anymore, and part of that is we've got really strong process and infrastructure and technology in place.

Part of [it is] that we've just sort of matured as a studio. We don't have to do it. The conditions here are just really great, and the work/life balance is great, and we're able to deliver really high quality products.

In nine years of being in this studio as general manager, I really feel like this is just a magical time. It feels like we're really standing in the doorstep of real greatness here, and being a studio that has a brand name inside the sort of consumer world and beyond. So, you know, pretty exciting times.

You talked some earlier about the business angle of running a studio and how that buttresses the creative process, about how there's interplay there. I was wondering if you could talk about that aspect of choosing your targets for Visceral.

NE: Yeah. I think that's right. We spend a lot of time, and part of that is just the richness of experience at Electronic Arts. John comes up to the studio often and we sit and talk through these concepts. And Frank Gibeau, the president, is just a wealth of knowledge and experience, and really works with us on that side of things.

Like I said, I've been here for a long time. We were very purposeful about trying to find the right blend -- the right strategy with the right execution. The execution is clearly there, and it feels like the strategy is really starting to pay off, not only for the studio, but for many studios including BioWare, which just shipped Mass Effect 2. We feel very good about DICE and the Battlefield: Bad Company franchise. That will be the next game coming out in March.

So, it just feels like this tremendous focus. That focus, and the less is more type of strategy, is just bearing fruit in terms of quality, which I think at the end of the day is the kind of ultimate manifestation of that blend, that intersection of the right business with the right creative.


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