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A Different Track: Frank Gibeau Talks Strategy
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A Different Track: Frank Gibeau Talks Strategy

June 29, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

So, onto less depressing stuff...

FG: That's alright. [laughs]

You've been with the company since 1991, right?

FG: I joined right out of undergrad.

So, you have a unique perspective. Can you tell me how the corporate culture and the kind of company EA is has evolved all these years? Can you separate it into different eras?

FG: Wow. That would be like a book. I've seen it all, and, you know, I joined right after the company went public, and we were just starting on the Sega Genesis.

That stage of the company's history was very dynamic and interesting because there was a big debate inside the company about whether we go to video game platforms or not.

At that time, it was still kind of Amiga and PC and disk-based stuff, and there was a group inside the company -- Larry Probst was probably the main proponent -- who wanted us to get into the video game business, looking at what happened with Nintendo 8-bit.

So, at that time, it was really about changing the company's culture from where it was into something new, broader, bigger, and trying to scale the business. And at that time, you know, that particular part of the company won the argument, and we entered on the Sega Genesis. And that's when we first started to see the boom happen for our business.

Before that, we'd always been successful, and we had a very rock star image with all the "Can a computer make you cry?" in the early formative years of the business -- the album cover years. It was kind of very cool but very niche. It wasn't operating on a global basis, it wasn't operating on a scale.

When we decided to go on the Sega Genesis, that's when the company started to realize, "Wow, we could be as big as Disney." That's when we started to feel like our potential was much greater than the stage we occupied before.

You know, there's a series of video game stages, in terms of platforms, that we went through, on PS1 and PS2 where we continued to master and refine our skill in terms of being able to do multiplatform development, build franchises and IPs that could last over multiple versions, brought in a lot of new talent, a lot of new creators, built up the internal studios because before that it had all been external guys. That's when we really started to develop a studio culture. Lot of success, booming times.

And, you know, we entered the next generation of the Xbox 360, the PS3, and then the Wii, and that's been a more difficult platform transition for us than the prior three. A lot of it had to do with the fact that the Wii kind of came out of nowhere. You know, we weren't alone in the industry not really seeing that one coming.

No, you weren't. [laughs]

FG: You know, I really respect what we're doing now in terms of coming after it. But from a company culture standpoint, I think the consistent thread and why I stayed with the company is the passion for product is there. People love making games. They want to entertain people in interactive. We believe interactive is better than any other form of entertainment.

And that consistent thread has been there from the day I joined to the day I'm occupying the seat I'm in right now. The changes have happened mainly in business dynamics, how we've grown, how we've succeeded, and how we've failed, but that consistent thread has been important inside the culture.

I mean, there have been times when that culture has been hurt, where we got too successful and we got too focused on analyst reports and too focused on financial presentations and we forgot about product.

It was important to kind of relearn how important product is and bring us back and start doing best backing an IP. That's kind of the stage we went through, and now we're in where we've reinvested into creators inside of our...

Did that reignite with John Riccitiello coming in?

FG: Yeah, yeah. I think John came in and had a big focus on, "How do we go online?" and "How do we create IP that we own and that, frankly, our people make -- as opposed to stuff that we rent?" And so that rejuvenation really uncorked a lot of talent inside our organization.

You know, the Dead Space team created a very highly rated, critically acclaimed game last year that we're going to succeed and continue to grow as a franchise. That was the team that was working on the Bond games, you know. They were constrained by that license.

Kind of when we said, "Alright, we're moving off of that business. We're gonna give the license back. We don't want to be in this business anymore. You guys get to go create an IP. Let's see what you can do."

The quality just blew people away. I never thought that that team at Redwood Shores was that talented. One of the coolest things in our culture is that we were able to uncork that passion for product again by just turning teams loose. In some cases it worked, and in some cases, you know, we had some issues.

But starting new IPs is a risky business. Once you get a critical mass of IPs created, then you've got a business that can start to scale and build and invest in more. That was the problem we had.

We had very lean years there where we didn't have a lot of IP generation. We had a lot of rentals, and so we found ourselves in a glut where we had the sports business, we had the Sims business, and we didn't have a lot else. So, we had to rejuvenate and refocus...

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