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A Distinct Vision: Nick Earl And Visceral Games
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A Distinct Vision: Nick Earl And Visceral Games

February 22, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

When you work on a project for a long time, any developer will say it's easy to lose perspective. Is it just through user testing and feedback from the press playing early builds? How do you become sure that you're reaching that quality bar that you've set for yourself?

NE: It's certainly a combination of several of the things you've said. We continually test. We do not take for granted, even if we feel good about a game, that we're achieving quality, so we look for a tremendous amount of external validation.

The other thing -- again, this is kind of an infrastructure EA thing -- is that EA is very self-critical of the larger picture, so our marketing and sales partners and PR are very, very honest with the studios about the quality of software.

These are people that really understand what the market is looking for, what consumers are looking for, and we take that feedback extremely seriously.

It's a very strong collaboration of partnerships between the greater marketing and greater development, that I think is really paying off now. So, we just continually test. We look at it ourselves. We validate. And when we've got something that looks like it's really hit the mark like Dead Space, we really support it.

And we're going to see very strong marketing programs for our major releases like you saw with Mass Effect and the ad in the NFC Championship game, which is a two minute ad, and the Superbowl ad for Dante's Inferno. So, I think it's just part and parcel of this strategy coming together.

Now, who makes those kinds of decisions on those huge ad spends? Is that primarily something that's vested into your marketing department, or is that a studio level, something that you also have input into?

NE: The marketing department is integrated with the studio, so ultimately, something like the Superbowl ad would be Frank's decision as president of the games label. Of course, you wouldn't do that in a vacuum. John would be very and was very involved in that.

Again, that's very supportive of the initiatives that John's pursuing here, and that I really feel are working and creating excitement. So it's very much a group of people that get involved with a decision like that.

I guess what I would say is that the label and even the studios, because marketing is so completely and utterly integrated into the process... We start talking about the marketing program and how we want to expose our products very early on.

It's tied into how we build products, and when demos are ready, and how they're going to be ready for trade shows and beyond. It's a very tight process that has taken years to cultivate and perfect. It seems like we're really hitting our stride now.

Dead Space

You know, something that's been talked about recently is that the casual consumers are a little more fickle or a little more hesitant, whereas the Xbox 360/PS3 consumers are more willing to spend more frequently on titles. Does that influence the direction that Visceral goes, or is that just a natural alignment? Is that the foundation of your business?

NE: It's pretty much the foundation of our business. We're making games for that customer. We've got divisions, whether it's the mobile group or the Play label or EA Interactive -- which is sort of an umbrella name for a lot of different efforts in the more casual area.

Our express purpose is to make the sort of AAA hits that are just naturally found on 360 and PS3. We also do some PC work as well. That's not to say that we don't have smaller efforts under way and direct-to-consumer efforts on XBLA and PSN. But, you know, the real crux of the studio, and the real effort, is to create these big games that sort of align more naturally with that kind of gamer.

You just referred to the potentiality of Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network games. Can you make those work given the overhead of an organization of Visceral, even just that unit of EA?

NE: Yeah. We had really, really strong results with Battlefield 1943, which was created in a studio even bigger than Visceral and had to pay for its share of infrastructure. We've had great results for that. That is showing the opportunity there.

Just like the packaged goods space and the big AAA space, it comes down to quality and innovation and being able to bring something that's interesting to the gamer. But yes, absolutely. I think we'll have some interesting offerings over this year and next that show our confidence in the space.

We spoke about how Dante's Inferno came out of a pitch. The creative director coming off the Simpsons had this concept, it went into a pitch process and prototyping.

Is there a point when you guys solicit prototypes from around the studio, or should the more senior creative staff launch into their next project as they come available?

NE: It's actually both. What I mean by that is, you have a senior creative staff, which is usually a creative director, an executive producer, a senior producer, an art director, head of engineering, director of engineering. You have that kind of caliber, that will ultimately champion and get behind a project.

The concept can come from them or it can come from more of a junior person on the team who has presented something to them that they get behind and bring to the studio management, which ultimately greenlights. I've seen both work, and I've also seen licenses that were presented to the studio that we just felt were right. Simpsons was probably an example of that.

I think going forward, Visceral feels like we've got a wealth of property, and future ideas and concepts. And with that said, we'll never stop listening to ideas generated from anyone inside the studio, from admin to executive producer.

We're always looking for the next great idea. If we've got enough support that want to build that game and it feels like it hits the strategy right and is the sort of thing that we can do to quality, then we'll greenlight it. That's sort of what we're seeing with Dead Space, Dante's, and even works that are unannounced for the future.

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