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Interview: Frank Gibeau on EA's Expanding Focus In The PC Space
Interview: Frank Gibeau on EA's Expanding Focus In The PC Space
March 9, 2011 | By Chris Morris

March 9, 2011 | By Chris Morris
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More: Console/PC



Some publishers are focusing primarily on the online market these days. Others see mobile as the wave of the future. Plenty are chasing the social network audience. And some are sticking doggedly with the traditional game space.

At Electronic Arts, they're covering their bets.

Over the past several years, the company has stuck its thumb into a number of new pies with a goal of ensuring that it's prepared for whatever twists the industry takes in the years to come.

Frank Gibeau, president of the EA Games label, says he thinks it's a strategy that will ultimately result in EA once again becoming the industry's top publisher.

“I really feel good about where we are at EA these days,” says Gibeau. “There’s a lot of transition going on in this industry and we’re really well positioned for that. … We feel like we’re on the offensive. We’re moving from a fire-and-forget packaged goods model to an online services model.”

In January, EA (via its Playfish division) was the second biggest developer of Facebook games, with nearly 6.6 million daily average users. That was far distant from Zynga's commanding 57 million DAU lead, but puts it well ahead of companies like Disney (which is essentially betting the farm on social games moving forward).

The company also generated income from two of the iPhone's top grossing apps in 2010 - Angry Birds and Tetris. (Retail revenues, though, have declined.)

That's expanding the customer base – but Gibeau says the company is also finding that many players are buying IP multiple times through multiple platforms.

“What we’re finding is our customers are consuming our IPs across multiple devices,” he says. “What we’ve been orienting our company towards is creating IP universes that can exist across those platforms.”

Part of the plan to continue the turnaround is a renewed focus on the PC. Facebook games certainly are a part of this, but the looming release of Star Wars: The Old Republic is an even bigger leap of faith.

"The user base is gigantic," he says. "PC retail may be a big problem, but PC downloads are awesome. … The margins are much better and we don’t have any rules in terms of first party approvals. From our perspective, it's an extremely healthy platform. … It's totally conceivable it will become our biggest platform."

Gibeau says EA is also increasingly dabbling in the freemium business model on the PC, given how successful it has been in China.

"If you look at the way people play in Asia, PC is the model," he says. "I think that free to play model is coming to the west in a big way."

While EA is looking to expand its focus, it's also looking to lure back gun-shy investors, who have punished the stock in recent years for under performing titles and missed results.

Investors might have gotten tired of the pace of the company's turnaround, but Gibeau says it was critical to take the time to get things right – and he suspects the worst is over on Wall Street.

“We will get the stock price back,” he says. “Our earnings are up. We’re on our way back. … If we hadn’t made the changes we did, if we had just kept iterating game after game, we would be irrelevant and in far worse shape than we are now.”

Don't count EA out of the console space, of course. The company plans an aggressive slate of titles, says Gibeau, for both this generation and the next, something the company is starting to think about at this point.

“What’s interesting is the displays are maxed out already,” he notes. “Once you get to 1080p, it’s not about increasing resolution. Obviously, more computing horsepower is nice, but to be honest, the Xbox 360 and PS3 still have a lot of horsepower that hasn’t been tapped. I really think the next innovation is in the input device, but even more importantly, what will the online experience be like?”


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Comments


Jose Resines
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Yeah, Frank, things like releasing DS2's Severed DLC only for the consoles show how much focus EA has in the PC space.



Caring about the PC takes more than registering a stupid domain.

Sting Newman
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When they say PC they mean MMO and social games they do not mean traditional games, they only mean games that they see as making them the most MONEY on PC.

Joe McGinn
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DLC is irrelevant. This statement is true:

"Gibeau says EA is also increasingly dabbling in the freemium business model on the PC, given how successful it has been in China."



Like the 7 million players just announced for Battlefield Heroes Not too shabby.

Benjamin Leggett
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"'What’s interesting is the displays are maxed out already,' he notes. 'Once you get to 1080p, it’s not about increasing resolution. Obviously, more computing horsepower is nice, but to be honest, the Xbox 360 and PS3 still have a lot of horsepower that hasn’t been tapped.'"



Heh, if only full 1080p was as common on consoles as he thinks it is.

Eric Schwarz
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Yeah, uh, I think there's like 3 or 4 games on the Xbox 360 that do 1080p, and most have significant performance penalties for it, not to mention image quality actually goes down due to the removal of anti-aliasing and the like. In fact, the vast majority of good-looking games actually run at below 720p, and if you want 60 fps to boot then it's an even bigger deal. These sorts of claims about running in "HD" just make me roll my eyes most of the time, considering even a modest laptop can often outclass the performance a modern console has to offer.

Alan Rimkeit
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I will believe when I see.... O.o

Eric Schwarz
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EA's PC efforts have been very mixed. Undoubtedly the quality of their efforts have improved over recent years, but the poor commitment to post-release support and patching, lack of proper PC-exclusive features, combined with heavy emphasis on DLC and microtransactions, has led to a lot of hostility from PC gamers. While I appreciate the effort, I think work needs to be done if EA really wants to win back PC gamers' hearts and minds.



I do think that focusing on social media and online gaming is a great start, and I think the free to play market is one which EA has been a bit of a Western pioneer in as far as major publishers go, so they deserve credit where it's due. However, the quality of the experiences, I've found, doesn't really match up to the major releases, and once again it's a case of "close, but needs improvement" for me. You can't just be exclusive to the PC, but rather you need to be able to understand what is attractive about PC gaming (mods, custom maps, community support, online play, frequent patching and balancing, etc.) and do your best to include it. It may be a longer-term affair to support a PC game well after its launch, but those are exactly the sorts of games that tend to flourish on PC (Valve and Blizzard, as usual, lead the way, along with Stardock, Tripwire and other smaller devs).

Alex Covic
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IMHO, this is the right strategy: place your bets not on one horse (Activision=CoD?, while Blizzard does all the other PC games), but spread out and go for low & high markets.



Today, the PC market does not mean the single digit fraction of users, who think overclocking for framerate is still the way to go, but rather the already decade old casual audience, many STILL think they can neglect or ignore, besides the tens of millions, people make with these games every single day?



The conversion from freemium to 'old-fashioned' PC games might be small, but those PC games still exist. I have just seen the DICE GDC 2011 slides, pushing DirectX 11 (and also doing great work for PS3). I can see the EA PC "future" prospering on both ends.


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