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EA – As game budgets grow, everything else “falls off the cliff”

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Gaming is a big business these days, a form of entertainment that rivals the movie and music industries. It rakes in billions every year, and right now, theres no sign of it slowing down. It’s also a highly competitive industry, with studios looking to one up one another. One way to get an edge, is with a game that looks the part of a big budget reason to part with your cash, something that costs quite a bit of money. And according to EA’s COO, Peter Moore, that focus is also responsible for smaller games suffering in turn.

“The higher-end games that land, land well. Everything else just falls off the cliff,” Moore said to Wired. “If you think about the industry today, I don’t know what they exact numbers are, but the top 20 games globally probably deliver 80 percent of the revenue. Anything that doesn’t hit that top 20 or 25 finds it very difficult to justify itself, its existence, and you kind of wonder why you did it.”

Moore spoke then about how big games were getting even bigger, and that the market for games with smaller budgets were slowly disappearing, particularly the middle-budget games, as people either focused on blockbuster brands or indie titles.

“As a company, we made the decision many many years ago to do less is more”, Moore said.

When I arrived we had 67 games in development for console and PC, that we were either about to deliver or had just been greenlit or were in alpha or beta. We’re now down to 14 this fiscal year.

We’ve added 41 games this fiscal year which are social, mobile, and free to play.

Moore also spoke about how EA had changed since he arrived five years, noting how they only published games that they felt was a sure bet.

It was Hollywood. We’re no longer Hollywood. We’re more precise than that.

We’re accused of being too safe, but then I’ll point to Mirror’s Edge – not a commercial success in the broad terms that we look at it, but certainly as an innovation, was brilliant. The art style, the character herself, the idea of taking this kind of parkour thing but a backstory of authoritarianism in cities, it was brilliant. Again, and you take risks – we don’t get credit a lot for the risks we take.

And you know what? I can give EA some props for that…back then. But lately, they are actually playing it too safe, recycling old classics and sticking to formulaic shoot-em ups and annual sports game. When challenged by this point, Moore blamed it on the ageing console cycle;

The deeper you get in the back end of the generation, the less that a new IP is going to work. You start saving up your creative bullets for when you think the next generation of hardware is going to come along.

So you start thinking in those terms. It’s very difficult, if not impossible – I can’t think of new IP that launches five or six years into a generation of gaming hardware that is successful. It’s just not the time to do it. Over the coming years you’ll see a rebirth of new IP, new genres. With these platforms, you’ve got to be looking to re-imagine the way they deliver games. Otherwise, why would you buy them?

That’s a piss-poor excuse, to be honest. Either way you slice it, there’s still money to be made on a new property, and with the profits that EA has made recently, they could easily produce a mid budget game with a high budget advertising campaign. If smaller companies can still turn a profit on more experimental games on current-gen hardware, what’s stopping them from doing the same?

After all, this entire industry was built on risky game ideas.

Last Updated: November 1, 2012

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