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Bing There, Done That: EA's CCO Talks... Everything
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Bing There, Done That: EA's CCO Talks... Everything

May 23, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

When you say "mini-products", what do you mean?

WG: Before The Sims, the law of expansion packs was that if you had a big hit, you'd make one expansion pack, sell it to 20-30 percent of the customer base, and then you were done. When we did the first expansion pack, even Will said, "Why bother? It's a stupid idea. It'll never work." The first one, Livin' Large, was not that great. We learned by the second and third one that not only did we need new objects, but we needed to do new NPCs, and new C++ code for new gameplay. The expansion packs became something that nobody imagined when we first started.

That was really risky at the time, and we're trying to do even more with Spore. We're trying to give users the ability to make what heretofore would be considered an expansion pack.

Is it going to take a lot for Spore to become profitable, given the million-year development time?

WG: Yeah, it needs to sell in the millions and last a few years to pay back the investment. But you know, we were probably going to spend the money on something. It might as well be on Spore!

Is licensed IP getting too expensive to be worthwhile?

WG: It's expensive in two ways. We do a lot with sports. A long time ago, the only money stream for sports teams was attendance. Then came TV. That changed sports. Athletes kept getting more and more expensive, so they had to invent new revenue sources. They did merchandising, and in-arena advertising. Nike invented a whole new revenue stream for athletes.

I think what happened with sports is that as the cost base of entertainment gets more expensive, they find people to pass it along to. In video games, the licensor has someone to pass it off to. I think that's temporary. Ten years from now, we're going to see more IP that's co-developed on multiple formats, including interactive. But right now, the interactive and non-interactive people don't even speak the same language to co-develop.

So one part is financial, but the other part is creative. One of the things that you find with development people is that after awhile, they get bummed out by having to live within the constraints of the licensor. The licensor says things like, "You can't shoot my hero in the back," or "You have to have water in half the levels," or "You can't put any licenses in your game that I don't have a personal deal with." It's like, ugh!

It's very difficult to find licenses where the licensor wants to be a co-developer. With Harry Potter, for instance, J.K. Rowling fell in love with the early work and created new material just for the games. Some of the sports coaches we work with give us new insights into what's going on in the league every year, so that they can keep their inspiration new to the team. Some of the licensors not only get more expensive, but they reduce inspiration. It becomes harder and harder to get teams to want to work on them. So there's two costs, and both get worse over time.

EA's adaptation of the book and feature film Harry Potter and the order of the Phoenix

Is co-development what's happening with the Spielberg project?

WG: Yeah. The guys who did The Matrix also tried to co-develop a game with us. They were thinking about an interactive and a non-interactive version going down parallel paths. The movie business learned this a long time ago. With Saturday Night Fever, they started developing the soundtrack and the movie in parallel, and Star Wars is famous for trying to develop toys and the movie in parallel. It happened in music, it happened with toys, and to some degree it happened with theme parks, but it hasn't really happened with the interactive element yet.

The reason it hasn't happened yet is because the people who make movies, by and large, don't play games. That will start to change as there's more successful movie makers who have grown up on Nintendo. They had to be in junior high school in 1987, or younger. When those people start making successful movies, we're going to see more and more convergence.

I assume that's not the case with Spielberg himself.

WG: Actually, Spielberg, Lucas, and Zemeckis were early adopters of digital in movies, so they're kind of adult onset digital media people.

So would you point to that as the poster child of co-development?

WG: I think the poster child of co-development is going to be something that defines a new product category. One of the things we've learned over the years is that when new consumer behavior happens or new hardware happens, it's really useful to try and invent killer apps.

We thought interactive movies might be a killer app. We thought The Sims might be a killer app. Those are really hard to predict. You can predict when it might be possible to make something that looks like it, but it's hard to tell what's going to be killer. I never would've predicted that Madden would be a killer app on the Sega Genesis in Europe, for example.

One of the things I admire about Nintendo is that Miyamoto tries for his products to have new social purpose. They talk about blue ocean theory, about making stuff where nobody else goes. That was the good thing about The Sims. Other hall-of-fame designers said, "You're trying to do a people game, Will? People games never work." We had in the company the guy who was a producer on Little Computer People from Activision in the '80s, and he was wildly disappointed in it, and he was pretty sure that The Sims would never work. So doing stuff that a lot of people think is a bad idea can be good.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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