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Darren Waters

Inside Electronic Arts

  • Darren Waters
  • 11 Aug 08, 09:30 GMT

From the outside, Electronic Arts' Los Angeles studio, just a few miles from LA's main airport, could be the offices of any number of blue chip IT firms.

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Just one of the 16 developer studios it operates around the world, the building's anonymous grey and steel exterior speaks of hi-tech and analytical operations, not creativity and video games.

We were given a tour of the studio by David Silverman, the exuberant marketing head of Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3. And it's inside where the creativity and talent is to be found.

Screengrab from EA Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3Electronic Arts is an undoubted behemoth in the games industry. It employs more than 8,500 people worldwide, and last year its revenues were more than $3.5 billion.

The firm makes games for more platforms than any other company, and has more than a quarter of a century of experience in the industry.

The company also owns some of the biggest franchises in gaming, including The Sims, Harry Potter, Madden and Fifa.

That success brings its own share of issues: the company in the past has been accused of churning out titles with a lack of innovation. The annual release schedule for the biggest franchises, with tweaks to graphics and gameplay, has seen plenty of critcism aimed EA's way.

Character from Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3It is a publishing house, and developer with 16 different studios, including relatively recent acquisitions Bioware, the team behind Mass Effect, Criterion, the makers of Burnout, and Digital Illusion, creators of Battlefield.

In the past the firm was accused of meddling too much with the independent creativity of its studios but that would appear to have changed - with studios getting the freedom they need to make the games they believe they can.

Those recent purchases, as well as working with gaming legends such as Will Wright on Spore, and film legend Steven Spielberg on Boom Blox, are revitalising EA from within.

The company is working hard to shift itself from being seen purely as a game firm to a global entertainment corporation. And I spoke with the firm's chief executive John Riccitello at E3 this year about his ambitions for the firm and the industry in general.

EA gameAt EA LA the firm has established a music publishing business, partly because songs which appear on the soundtrack to games like Madden have become an essential part of the package.

The company recruited music industry veteran Steve Schnur as its worldwide executive of music and marketing; a quick tour of his territory at the studio and you would be forgiven for thinking you were walking around a record label such as EMI rather than a games firm.

At E3 this year, while most people were grumbling about the lack of spark at the conference, EA's press conference at the downtown Orpheum Theater was one of the undoubted high points.

Instead of a long-winded corporate speech from a suited executive the firm put the lead designers and developers themselves front and centre.

Character from SporeAnd games such as Mirror's Edge, Spore, Dead Space, Left4Dead and Rage, which EA is either developing or publishing, has given the company one of the strongest rosters of titles for the year ahead.

But the firm still has sizeable challenges to face. Its shares took a hit at the end of last month when its first quarter results were worse than the market expected.

It lost $95m on net revenues of more than $800m in the first quarter. However, EA's sales were up more than 100% on a year ago, thanks to the success of games such as Rock Band and the launch of Battlefield: Bad Company and Mass Effect.

And the firm is still involved in the protracted pursuit of Take2 games, publishers of Grand Theft Auto.

But perhaps the biggest challenge comes from newly-merged Activision Blizzard. The company's most recent financials, with sales of more than $1bn, would appear to suggest the EA is no longer the biggest games publisher in the world.

Let battle commence.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Your right Darren EA have become lazy in efforts to give us good games and have lacked innovation, ok, there are some really good ones coming out in the future (im really looking forward to mirrors edge, and RAGE) but nothing has come out that has got me excited (however i do like Fifa 08 and will be getting 09)

    Lets hopw they start to use the new technology available to them and hope they don't turn out like the games developer Valve!

  • Comment number 2.

    When you get into the business of consistantly re-hashing the same selection of games each year (Maden, Fifa, NFS etc) the company was always going to get complacent.

    I find that typicaly EA games are the sort of quick-n-easy titles you buy on the cheap to play for a few days during those boring over-cast-rainy "summer" days. They aren't typicaly engaging and usualy are over far faster than the amount of time it spent to earn the money to purchase it in the first place.

    There are diamonds in the rough, though. I enjoyed pretty much all of the LOTR games - Battle for Middle Earth was definitely one of the best strategy games yet and the new LOTR game using the Star Wars: Battlefront developers also looks to be promising.

    It looks like EA itself is now more interested in becoming a producer rather than a developer - thats why they've gone to lengths to buy up a host of developer companies. As a producer who clearly has the cash to splash, it *does* look somewhat promising though right?

  • Comment number 3.

    I dont understand hemanes comment regarding Valve. They are recognised as one of the most progressive game companies in existence today, rarely releasing bad products, if ever.

    EA have improved. I don't understand Darren's comment about working with Will Wright meaning they're showing progress on innovation. Will Wright has been at EA since they brought his Maxis Studio in 1995.

  • Comment number 4.

    EA are seen in to two different lights:

    There are those who love EA and their games, at the forefront of graphical development and gameplay, who will always buy the likes of FIFA

    And there are those who cannot stand EA, believing they have abandoned the innovative initiative to consistently churn out newer versions of the most successful franchises, these people tend to prefer Pro Evo Soccer.

    I am one of the Pro Evo crowd, my thoughts on EA are that they know what sells and don't tend to push the boat on ingenuity instead playing it safe.

  • Comment number 5.

    Oh and one other thing, really glad that Sega got the publishing rights to Aliens: Colonial Marines rather than EA.

  • Comment number 6.

    I think what hesmanes meant about Valve was that they constantly use the same engine for all their games, which means not much improvement in graphics (though they're dedicating their time to designing good games instead, which is a bit more important that seeing the same game with more polygons every year.)

  • Comment number 7.

    At 0:17 into the video you can see on a white-board within EA the message:
    "Filipino Quarantine Area Ahead".

    Naughty EA.

  • Comment number 8.

    Thankyou scarletisred, thats what i mean glad someone else has the same logic.

    i refer also to what Valve's Gabe Newell said about the ps3.
    ''I think PS3 is a waste of everybody's time." "Investing in the Cell, investing in the SPE gives you no long-term benefits."

    i loved the orange box for the PC, but valve didn't do it for PS3 EA did!

    they just need to start using a new engine, and provide better games.

  • Comment number 9.

    Quite simply they ar what they are.

    EA have lacked any real desie to innovate and take major risks for years, but then why should they have to?

    They produce a number of fantastically successful and ever (if slowly) improving franchise titles (Fifa, Madden etc.) and the industry would be far the worse off without them.

    In all honesty do you think that including innovative features into a game like FIFA will increase it's sales? Somehow I doubt it, so why spend time and money developing them?

    There is room in the industry for an EA just as much as there is fo the innovative smaller developers.

    I might prefer Pro Evo Soccer to FIFA but I still respect EA as a company and will continue to buy their games where I see fit.

 

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