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Patrick Söderlund is the senior vice president of EA Games Europe, and while in the States recently to unveil sim-heavy franchise extension Need for Speed: Shift -- developed by UK independent developer Slightly Mad -- to the gaming press, Gamasutra took the opportunity to discuss how this externally developed game fits into the larger company's development philosophy.
But beyond that, what successes and failures has EA Games Europe (and the wider organization) seen recently, and how does Söderlund view them? What came out of the discussion was a view toward "experiments" that can enrich the knowledge base for the entire company.
From the data mining that underpins the free year of DLC offered by Burnout Paradise to the free-to-play infrastructure to support Battlefield Heroes, these services -- which break new ground for the company -- offer potential insights into how to best run development in the future.
And as for the company's current increased focus on quality? "To me, that is the only guiding principle if you're making entertainment... I think, for me as a person, I could not imagine working for a company that didn't have that as its guiding philosophy," says Söderlund.
Could you give me a picture of your role at Electronic Arts in Europe?
Patrick Söderlund: Yeah. So, my current role is: I'm overseeing the development studios that [the EA Games label has] in Europe, so that includes the DICE studio in Stockholm, which is about 300 people; the studio in the UK, Criterion, obviously the Burnout guys, they are about 100 people; and then a studio in Germany, called Phenomic, they have a game coming out called BattleForge.
And then, obviously, even external relationships like what we have with the Slightly Mad Studios guys. So that's my current job. Each studio will have local leadership, but then reporting to me, and I am reporting to the [EA Games] label president, which is Frank Gibeau, in San Francisco.
So, when it comes to working with external development in Europe, is that a decision that you make, about the studios that you choose to work with, like Slightly Mad?
PS: You know, I found them together with the guys at Black Box, and we made the decision to work with them. That's not something that gets decided from above, so we make that decision on our own.
One thing was spoken about during the demo was the specific choice of that studio as being well suited to the direction that the series wanted to go, rather than trying to force Black Box to go this direction -- it's perhaps not a style that specifically Black Box is really good at developing.
Racing is, but maybe not this exact game.
PS: No, you're right. I mean, obviously, we met with basically all of the existing independent racing developers there, and whether they're in Europe or the U.S. doesn't matter to us, but it just happened to be that these guys were in London, and they had, by far, the best looking technology.
And also, we figured we share the same passion for driving and for cars, so that's why it was a good fit. But, yeah, you're right, absolutely. And it was actually never discussed that this would be a game developed out of Black Box at all.
We looked at developing it internally, with other studios, but we didn't find a good fit, and we didn't have the capacity in the places that might have been good fits, so we ended up going external.
EA Black Box/Slightly Mad Studios' Need for Speed: Shift
Now, Slightly Mad... Is this their first title since they came together? Because there's an apparent controversy about the game's core developers...
PS: Yeah, so, what they did was: Slightly Mad Studios, up until just a couple of months ago, were called Blimey! Games. And then they had some restructuring happen, and then they became Slightly Mad Studios. So, then, the whole Blimey team became Slightly Mad Studios.
So this game has been in development for two years, but...
PS: The engine has been in development for about two years; we have only worked with them for about a year. A little more than a year, on Need for Speed: Shift. And there has been some press around stuff, and basically what happened was, the Slightly Mad Studios guys, the people that are in that studio have worked on GTR 1 and 2, and also GT Legends for a company called SimBin, in Sweden. So...
Do you have any comment on where the complaints over the game's heritage are at right now, with SimBin complaining about alleged confusion and threatening to sue. At least in my opinion. It's like, "We think we might sue them..." It's like, you do or you don't!
PS: Right. I honestly don't know what happened there, but what I do know is that the people that we work with are part of the development team that made those games. That's what I know, and that's all that matters. So, whether they think that they have a case or not? I can't comment on that.