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Interview: Van Caneghem Talks EALA's Vision,  Command & Conquer
Interview: Van Caneghem Talks EALA's Vision, Command & Conquer
November 27, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

November 27, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC

Amid news of layoffs and Pandemic's closure at Electronic Arts came the announcement that Might and Magic creator Jon Van Caneghem had joined EALA to lead the Command & Conquer brand.

It's hardly an easy time to come into Electronic Arts, admits Van Caneghem, but he tells Gamasutra he's excited to bring a franchise he's long loved into the online space.

"Direct-to-consumer is where I think most games are going, and I've always been a fan of the series," he says. And despite highly-visible challenges for EA in recent months, Van Caneghem says he believes in the company's goals for online migration.

"It's challenging, but I think it's a great time," he says of the timing of his hire. "The company has the same vision I do on the future of games and the future of this franchise, so I think it's going be great."

"We have the opportunity to really make some quality stuff -- the place to be is here," he adds. "All the knowledge and background is here at this studio. It is a difficult time, but that happens."

Van Caneghem says in particular that connectivity is driving games-as-service and less as stand-alone packaged goods, and it's time for the strategy genre to have its turn. "Look what online has done for RPGs over the last 10 years," he points out. "All the other categories are following suit... we're looking forward to building something to be a leader in that space."

Although it's too soon for details on the new direction for RTS franchise C&C, first created by Westwood Studios in the mid '90s, Van Caneghem explains: "It allows you to do everything you would have expected from a boxed game, but it adds a lot more to it... being connected and connected with players, and persistence, the social elements of playing against each other with other friends."

With software as a service, says Van Caneghem, the team will have the opportunity to continually add to and grow the game world, a relatively unexplored model for strategy games.

And this connectivity will make the C&C brand accessible to more people, too: "What you're seeing with all the social gamers on Facebook... they are actually already playing strategy games whether they know it or not," he says. "Taking a franchise like Command and Conquer and expanding it to a wider audience is part of the strategy."

Van Caneghem calls EA a "sleeping giant" that has awakened to connected entertainment -- "and it's the same direction I've been going in for the last ten years," he says. "I think now that we're in alignment, this is a great opportunity for me."

Van Caneghem previously pursued his vision of connected entertainment when he joined Lars Buttler in 2006 to form Trion World Network, which envisioned a network of broadband entertainment channels for games. He "transitioned out" of his role as president there just as the company, which had raised some $100 million in funding, was getting ready to reveal its first project, the MMO Heroes of Telara, at E3.

Van Caneghem declined to discuss Trion when we spoke, but suggested that pursuing online entertainment at EALA is a continuation of the vision he's been interested in for a long time.

Bringing persistent online and social elements to the RTS world is "something no one's ever done before," he says. "For years we made games, put it in a box and hoped it sold well, and if it did we made sequels." This has led to 30 million lifetime unit sales for Command & Conquer's eight franchise titles and ten expansion packs.

But, the designer concluded: "It's exciting for designers to be connected with the customer on an instant, daily basis and have all the info on what they're doing," he adds. "It's instant feedback and you can plan your entire pipeline around it."

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Mark Wilhelm
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I wish Caneghem could have talked about his "transition out" of Trion. I'm interested in the Telara MMO, and a large reason for that was his involvement.

Morten Jorgensen
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The stationary PC is dying. Not at work, where stationary, powerful PCs of course will be needed. But at home and elsewhere laptops and iPhones and future crossbreeds will take over. OpenOffice, Google Wave, Photobucket etc. will replace the classic installable softwares. When was the last time you or someone you know installed a non-OS, non-gaming software bought in a box? If you are under 20 years old, you have probably never even done it.

And now gaming will follow. In max 10 years time, you will buy the game online and no DVD boxes will available in the shops. Whether X-box and Playstation will survive or how long, is an interesting question, but I think their future looks bleak. Powerful servers will most likely replace them, accessible from your browser, not as a separate entity.

However, I do hope that the stand-alone option will be preserved. I have always preferred assembling my Atreides or GDI army in peace and quiet, build "perfect" bases before striking, rather than battling MMORPG for 15 hectic minutes. Which is one reason why I have never played WOW, event though I loved its Warcraft predecessors.

Gaming diversity will be important to maintain. If not, I think I will keep a stationary PC and my old CD/DVDs, and just like Commondore 64 nostalgics, keep on playing Emperor of Dune until I have reached absolute perfection.