EA has “an obligation to push the industry forward”

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People love to hate EA, sometimes with good reason. It has a reputation for grabbing cash wherever and whenever possible. It has been trying to change that, though, continually pushing this “player first” ideology and trying to promote a “good guy” image. Just today we learned that EA won’t be remastering Mass Effect, even though it would probably make them easy money, because they want to move forward and not backwards. As sad as I am, that’s a pretty good reason. But there’s a lot more going on under the surface.

Speaking to Games Industry, Patrick Söderlund explained some recent phenomena in gaming – why is EA releasing fewer games lately? Why does it seem to take them longer? Well, part of that is cost – AAA gaming costs way more than it used to, so they simply can’t have so many games in development at the same time. But there’s more.

We’re developing our games in much closer collaboration with players, and we’re listening more to what they want. That, in itself, is driving longer engagement, where people want to stay with our games for a longer time. As a result of that we’re seeing larger player populations, and the games are becoming very successful.

At the same time, though, the beauty of game development – the beauty of any type of entertainment – is that people don’t know what they don’t know. For us, that’s what we need to think about. That’s a big portion of why we exist. If we just continue to build on what we already have – which is also a portion of what we do, because the company needs it, the players really want it – and we don’t push ourselves towards the unknown… A company the size of EA, and a development organisation of the size that I oversee, with more than 5,000 people, we have an obligation to push the industry forward. I feel obligated to give people something new to play.

Player engagement and community interact certainly takes time. And hopefully it means that games are better. But there’s also a lot going on that we don’t see at any given time.

But we’ve been very open about the fact that Bioware is working on a new IP, and we’ll get to talk about that in the not too distant future. We have other teams working on new IP as well. I think it’s about a balance, right? Making sure that we continue to push what great looks like for Battlefield or FIFA or Madden – or Star Wars, for that matter – while continuing to invest in something new.

What I would say is I think our industry in general has become better at analysing and understanding what’s gonna work and what’s not gonna work. Some of the IP you mentioned before may not have been built in today’s world, where the data analysis and the dialogue with the players might say that we shouldn’t build that, or that the game should be slightly different. We don’t want to design by committee, we don’t want to go out and let the players design the games for us – that’s not who we are – but we do want to make sure that we have touch points with players out there, so we can understand if we’re thinking about this in the right way.

I think this is a big deal. The games we are seeing now are very different from the games we saw ten years ago. The industry is changing, gamers are changing, and the experiences we seek and how we pay for them is all changing. EA were awful pioneers in the land of DLC and micro transactions, and yet those are both normal and accepted now. The way they are done has changed for the most part, and we see games that benefit from extended life cycles through continually releasing new content, continually supporting the community.

I hope that as EA continues to move forward and innovate the industry, they do so in ways that actually benefit us instead of it feeling like they are milking us for more cash. But mainly, I’m excited to see some of the new IP in the works, and how gaming continues to change and evolve. The industry is going to move forward no matter what; I’m keen to see what EA and other publishers and developers can do to make it an even better industry.

Last Updated: September 1, 2016

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