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EA's Core Strategy: Tech, Teams, Brands

June 18, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

How long have you guys been doing that with the "labs"?

PS: I think you'll find, whether it's at Activision, EA, Apple, When you have a company this big, you'll have these [small groups] form naturally, because there's so many people. We just said, 'It's kind of happening anyway, so let's take control over it, and make this okay to do -- let's make sure that people can work with us.

We've been doing it now in a kind of controlled form for a little over a year, in our label. And we started small in one team, and then we tested it and we saw some good results. A lot of the things that you see today in our products come from these ideas, and it doesn't necessarily need to be a new product. It can be, "Okay, here's a better way of making animations", or, "Here's a way of making cooler destruction in something."

I think it actually started at DICE with Battlefield 1943, and if you remember that it was a small XBLA game. And that was basically a way for us to control ups and downs in our production cycles. Normally, people [whose work on a game is finished] would kind of go onto a project too early, or they would basically get transferred onto another game team and not be effective.

So we told those people, "Okay, do whatever you want. We'll put you in this pot, do whatever you want." They said, "Hey, we want to do Battlefield back in World War II again," so they kept working on that. And that kind of started something, and now we do it in all our studios.

But [the activity of labs] goes up and down. Like these guys who are working on Medal of Honor, they don't have the time right now, so they're focusing on that. But at certain points in time -- and that may be a year from now, when they're down-turning and they're starting up something new -- then we do these types of things. So I think it's important that we enable our people to innovate and to be able to come up with new, cool ideas, because frankly, that's what our audience wants.

I play a lot of games -- probably more than I should -- and I just look at them and say I want new ideas; I don't want the same thing over and over again. And I mean it's hard to do that, but at the same time we're trying. We have a lot of games shipping, and you'll see that in our lineup that we're trying to be -- not necessarily different for the sake of being different, but different for the sake of giving our consumers a fresh new experience.

Medal of Honor: Warfighter

You're a publicly traded company and you can't say, "Okay, it's done when it's done!" So how do you work towards higher quality?

PS: No, of course we can't. I mean, we will have our deadlines on the Medal of Honor game -- the big ones -- but I think it's important that we actually allow ourselves to do exactly that, to not be time-specific about certain things. We are in a position where we can probably afford that to some extent, and I think that's one of the benefits of being a part of such a large company as EA. We can have that, but obviously in a very controlled form. But still... I think it's important.

That's why we're seeing actually a lot of people [job seekers] gravitating towards EA right now, people that we're looking for. We're having a good time hiring people today, because EA is changing as a company... It is still a big company, but just because you're big doesn't need to mean that you don't have innovation.

And another thing we're trying to point out, the Play4Free team that we started in Stockholm was exactly this. It was a bunch of guys that had an idea that came to me and said, "Hey for Battlefield, do you want to do this kind of cartoony, third-person shooter?" And they wanted to make it an XBLA game and I said, "Okay, not so sure about that, frankly." And then I was sort of thinking about it, and at the time I happened to be traveling a bit to Asia, to Korea and China, and saw all these free-to-play games.

That's all it is over there.

PS: Yeah. I'm like, "You know what? This may be the right place for us." So we just put a group together and said, "Test this." Very few people knew about this inside EA; we just did it. And then when we started to plant this seed amongst the executives, they first immediately didn't get what we were doing, and I remember showing a trailer, and it was like, "Why are you doing this?" We said, "Okay, we'll continue doing it." And it's continued, and now fast forward later, we have a couple hundred people working on free-to-play games and, you know, it's booming for us; it's really growing.

When you're talking about the couple hundred people, just like the whole free-to-play catalog or including...

PS: The client-based stuff. So Battlefield Heroes, Lord of Ultima, Need for Speed: World, [not social network games].

So all this experimenting -- is it hindered by EA's current strategy of "fewer, bigger"? It sounds like EA will take less risk launching new IP, focusing on the ones that work.

PS: Yeah, so I think fewer, better has helped us to really focus and do the big ones better. Arguably, if you look at our quality on the big ones, it's gone up in the last four or five years; we really made a transformation there, with some missteps along the way, but in general [we've improved].

Basically, the strategy is, if we do fewer, bigger, better, that will allow us to do more things. I've been at EA for six and a half years now; we're still making a lot of new things, a lot of new IP. Then obviously, you have to think about when in a cycle you launch them. Is it the right decision to launch a new IP at the slowing-down phase of the current hardware, or do you wait until something else is coming?

But I think [EA CEO] John Riccitiello has really focused the company around these fewer, bigger products, and that's really helped us make them better. We're launching half the amount of product we did before, but we're more successful. And I think it's been an instrumental change at EA, and frankly the right one for us, because that will allow us to do more new IPs.

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