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Innovating under the constraints of triple-A success
Innovating under the constraints of triple-A success Exclusive
September 10, 2012 | By Christian Nutt

"I have to say that sometimes I think we get too much crap for not being innovative."
- DICE GM Karl Magnus Troedsson on EA's reputation.

EA has a reputation, as a major game publisher, of purveying more of the same all the time. Is that a fair characterization of the company?

Not according to Troedsson. "EA is actually very prone to try out new things," he says, in a new Gamasutra feature interview. "And I have to say that sometimes I think we get too much crap for not being innovative.

"We do release new IPs, and we do take care of IPs that have been out there. And perhaps not so successful, but we try to get new things out there as well."

However as Troedsson admits, the reputation is, to an extent, understandable. "Now, that might sound strange coming from me, working on Battlefield. We've been around for 10 years, and we just keep doing more of the same, but being innovative in that space."

Earlier this year, EA's core games boss Patrick Soderlund told Gamasutra about the company's innovation labs. Toredsson says that while the small innovations are hard to pinpoint for outsiders, they make it into DICE's products. "like the movement, or part of the movement, from Mirror's Edge, and put into BF3, for instance. That's a typical example. And there are those examples that have gone into big products that people don't really know about, but they actually came from smaller, other, more innovative test experiments inside of DICE."

Innovation is "tricky", says Troedsson. "Innovation is something that actually changes something for the better, renews something -- and I think we do that all the time."

"But some of them are big and some of them are small, and some people disagree, saying, 'That's not an innovation!' and it's like, 'No, maybe not for you, but for the people playing the game it's a big thing.'"

The full interview with Troedsson, live now, goes deeper into the way DICE looks at innovation, how and why the Battlefield series has evolved, and more.

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Yama Habib
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From the quotes given, Karl Troedsson seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the distinction between "innovation" and "iteration"

Rob Wright
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While I do think that EA sometimes doesn't get enough credit for the innovative stuff it delivers (RTS co-op in Red Alert 3, for example, or some of the new features coming out in NHL 13) it's a reputation that largerly been earned over the years.

And IMHO...if you ARE going to make the case for EA's innovation, I really don't think it should be coming from the makers of Battlefield 3, i.e. the same people who took large swaths of Modern Warfare and graphed them onto BF3.

Adam Danielski
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I agree that EA does innovate, but not in the areas gamers want. Much of the innovation relies on backend technology improvements or game adjustments that aren't thought of as innovations. I believe when they say EA isn't innovative they are talking to EA taking risks on new IP. Not innovating or changing gameplay. Gamers and analysts are directing their innovation to the actual content and not to the actual game mechanics.

However, EA does innovate in game areas, but those risks can prove too great. When EA released Create, I thought that was a great innovation, but missed the mark with the mass audience and in such did not garner a ton of attention.

In fact the reason people believe EA isn't innovative and put out the same thing over and over again is because you go with what works and sells. The difference is that EA tries to add in new and innovative ideas into the games. Some are steps forward and some backward. Madden over the past couple of years has been an example of poor innovation, but this year things took a leap forward in the innovation arena. Anyone who has played Madden over the past couple of years will probably tell you that this years Madden is by far the best we have seen.

EA however does not inspire the speed at which things are innovated. This started when they removed modding tools and support from Battlefield. Battlefield evolved quickly into what it is today because of mods and the community surrounding it. Without these innovative minds, we would still be playing WWII games and maybe we would have just now reached that point. In fact - I would go as far as to say that the modding of Battlefield is the reason for Call of Duty's jump into modern warefare. I would love to be proved wrong, but Battlefield 1942's Desert Combat mod changed the theater of war games from the past and brought it to the present. This is EA's innovative step backward. They are so interested in selling DLC that they don't want modders making free content that is essentially better than what is being made in house. Lots of content here to digest. I'll leave it at that though.

Matt Robb
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What's sad about your modding comments in my mind is all they'd have to do is set up a marketplace for the mods, allow paid mods, and take a cut for overhead and some profit and they've monetized mods. Basically allows the community to make DLC for them. They could even contract out DLC creation to the best of the community.

Might get in the way of selling the next iteration I suppose.

David Boudreau
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I really liked the book Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. Market incentives aren't there for disruptive innovations by big established companies, so you can expect a lot more sustaining innovations instead.