Visceral Games is Electronic Arts' -- and perhaps the industry as a whole's -- most prominent example of a studio that's been realigned to focus solely on one particular kind of game, with the aim of a consistent identity around each.
Such a re-focusing was necessary for the former EA Redwood Shores, once a studio that threw resources less discriminatingly at projects simply made to fit into a marketing plan. Talking to Gamasutra as part of an in-depth feature interview
, Nick Earl, general manager of the Dead Space
and Dante's Inferno
developer, expands on the studio's vision.
Earl says the studio has a "rough estimate" of releasing a game a year. At the same time, he says creating "less products that are high quality" is the ideal avenue, a middle ground that lies between overtaxing a studio on one hand and underperforming financially on the other extreme.
"What I've learned being general manager of the studio for the past nine years is you can overload a studio, and conversely, you can do extremely well financially, and at the end of the day, we need to be able to do that to continue to attract investment and be able to do the sort of creative endeavors we want," says Earl.
A sparser, more focused release schedule is "part and parcel of a greater theme and strategic initiative in the company, and that is 'less is more'," he says. "I know it sounds kind of trite, but we really believe that. We've really taken that on board here. What we put out, we want to put out at the absolute highest quality mark. We don't need to do three of those a year. One is plenty, if we continue to drive that kind of quality here."
And Earl says that with this new sense of time and quality in place, the old days of grabbing any available hands to rush a project out the door are "without a doubt" over.
Large teams require "tremendous" management efforts, Earl says, and an overburdened infrastructure can end up "imploding a team," not to mention bloat project costs.
"What EARS, or now Visceral, has really done, which is innovative from a sort of a development strategy standpoint, is that we collaborate with multiple studios that are all part of the fabric of the action category for EA," he explains. "We have studios in Melbourne, in Shanghai, and in Montreal all collaborating and working together, leaving it to the expertise that exists, so we can put the right product together."
"The notion of just 'backing up the bus,' we like to call it, I think that's pretty much gone," Earl continues. "We just don't do that anymore, and part of that is we've got really strong process and infrastructure and technology in place."
Part of it's about maturing as a studio, says Earl -- the team now enjoys "really great" working conditions and work-life balance, also essential to producing higher-quality products.
"In nine years of being in this studio as general manager, I really feel like this is just a magical time," Earl enthuses. "It feels like we're really standing in the doorstep of real greatness here, and being a studio that has a brand name inside the sort of consumer world and beyond. So, you know, pretty exciting times."