Interviews

Exclusive: A Frank chat with EA's Gibeau

The publisher's Labels president looks to the future...

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From past chats it's clear you're very aware of EA's army of classic game franchises. The most recent reboots were SSX and Syndicate earlier this year. How have those games, if at all, changed your thoughts on how you should approach resurrecting IP?
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Syndicate

I think there are a couple of things there. I think SSX was a very successful launch for us and there was some online innovation there that really showed why it made sense to bring that back. It's done well and you'll probably see more in the future. There are tonnes of IPs that I think about all the time like Command & Conquer and Sim City - which is a brand we've brought back after seven years.

Syndicate was something that we took a risk on. It didn't pay off - it didn't work, but in general it doesn't change my appetite for wanting to go look in the library and see what we have and maybe bring back some IPs for the next-generation. That's the nature of the business; some stuff works, some stuff doesn't.

Another theme at E3 was cross-screen gaming like Microsoft's Smart Glass, which you demoed with a Madden concept. Is that sort of idea something you're passionate about?

Absolutely. I think fundamentally what we used to do is put a single-player game on a disc and then send it to retail. Now we've transformed our company to think of games as services where you might be connecting with the experience but it's going to change and evolve over time. You can decide to be in that growth, or not, but you'll get a great experience with Mass Effect and then get all the online stuff you can do like FIFA Ultimate Team.

The next step in that evolution is to get it to you across multiple screens. Now in FIFA you'll build your rank in FIFA 12, bring it over to FIFA 13 without having to start over, and be able to play some components on your smart phone where you can check your Ultimate Team, level up or earn points, and then when you get home at night you can use them all in your game.

Giving you more access points in to FIFA at the times you want it throughout the day is something that customers have told us they really want and gamers are showing us they really like it in terms of their engagements. We put Ultimate Team on the web and on smart phones and we saw the amount of time people were spending on it went right through the roof. So we did a lot of research on it and figured out we could get it even further.

So that's more of what we're trying to do; move from packaged goods to games as services and then move those game services across multiple screens.

Because of EA's history of aggressively supporting hardware launches we've no doubt you've got plenty of Wii U games in the pipeline, but at E3 you only announced Mass Effect 3. Why have you seemingly opted to hold back?

It's a couple of things. We've got a couple of more games in development for Wii U and we'll have a bigger line-up for Wii U than we did on the Wii. It is the first next-generation platform coming out so we're really supporting it.

We're really interested in digital platforms and we're really interested in showing off our games when they're ready to be shown off in a big way. Just looking at E3 and where we're at, we wanted to hold our fire a little bit on a couple of the other games that we're working on. We'll have more announcements this summer on the rest of the Wii U line-up.

John Riccitiello said you're already launching the best game on Wii U in Mass Effect 3...

It got a good cheer at the press conference! I love Mass Effect and it got a great response. We'll do some new, unique things with it on the Wii U controller and the second screen that we're innovating on. You'll hear more later this summer.

You've announced a huge amount of Battlefield 3 DLC and of course the launch of the Premium service...

In FY12 we had a huge success with Battlefield 3. We were really pleased with how the product did and how it was received. If you look at the online statistics, people are as engaged with Battlefield 3 in June as they were back in January - there's a loyal fanbase that loves dropping in.

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Battlefield 3: Close Quarters

We launched a subscription service with EA Sports earlier and we learnt a lot from that, and then Call of Duty came out with its Elite service. We looked at what we were doing with Battlelog and the amount of content we were planning and we thought there was a way to package that together that would give our really loyal Battlefield fans great value for money.

They get it all for $50, but if you bought it all individually it's about $80. So we looked at different kinds of weapons and levels and obviously took a risk by announcing so many packs - we've basically announced five expansions. If you buy them, you're in the Battlefield business for a while in terms of keeping your fun going, and we're constantly innovating inside the game, clans and rent a server capabilities.

It's just the nature of games that as you move towards games as a service you tend to hold on to people longer. Certainly it's the case with FIFA, Sims and Battlefield and we're just responding to that and investing more aggressively in the content behind BF3, because we would love for those folks to continue to play that game for as long as possible... as long as they're happy.

Activision launched its subscription service on day one with Modern Warfare 3, where as you've waited until six months after release. Is it fair to say you've been careful to get it right?

To be honest with you, it wasn't ready at launch. We had the Strike at Karkand pack that came out and we used that to drive audience acquisition and gameplay, but we weren't really ready to announce Premium at that point and we wanted to see how the product did. We also added a bunch of stuff using the time that we had in-between.

We wanted to come out with the right thing. We didn't want to feel like we were gouging the customers by slapping a subscription on to something that they would expect anyway. That's why we had to go deeper into building more content than we were originally planning in order to be able to build out this service idea.

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