EA Games president talks pitfalls of new IP

Q&A: Frank Gibeau says pre-holiday release windows partially to blame for slow starts of Dead Space, Mirror's Edge; all Wii development now done in Montreal.

In 2008, Electronic Arts gave gamers what they had been clamoring for: loads of new, original games. During the year, the publisher launched such new franchises as Spore, Dead Space, Mirror's Edge, Warhammer Online, and Boom Blox, which augmented EA's standard lineup of sequels, sports simulators, and EA Partners collaborations. And while EA's lineup helped the publisher grow fiscal-year revenues 15 percent to $4.21 billion, the cost of launching those new IPs weighed heavily on EA's bottom line, as losses amounted to $1 billion.

Frank Gibeau

Into 2009, and EA has another ambitious portfolio loaded with new, unproven properties. During the publisher's fiscal year ending March 31, 2010, EA has announced plans to launch such new franchises as Dragon Age, Dante's Inferno, and The Saboteur, as well as a number of direct follow-ups, such as Army of Two: The 40th Day, Mass Effect 2, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and Dead Space Extraction.

So how does EA plan to sidestep the massive losses with this new lineup of games? To find out the answer to that question, as well as learn more on EA's Wii strategy and EA Partners deals, GameSpot spoke with EA Games label president Frank Gibeau during the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo last week.

GameSpot: Last year, EA had easily one of its best lineups in a long time. Yet, the company ended up posting a $1 billion loss during the fiscal year. In your opinion, what happened there?

Frank Gibeau: There was a little event last year that caused the world economy to go sideways that had a bit of an impact. But in general, I'll speak specifically to the Games label. With regards to Dead Space and Mirror's Edge, those two products we were very proud of. They were new IP starts. It's something we've been hearing from our fan base for a while, which was EA had become known for repetitive sequels and not innovating. One of the things I brought to the job when I got it last year was, "How do we innovate, how do we start to create new IPs--the new franchises of the future?" And so we embarked on a campaign of doing that.

Mirror's Edge and Dead Space both shipped in a very tough market, not only from economic standpoint, but the competition was extremely high. What we saw was there was an extreme flight to quality and proven sequels in that mix around customer-buyer behavior. At the same time, Dead Space did very well critically, but it had a tough time finding a market against things like Gears of War and some other titles in that mix. And Mirror's Edge was a fresh, new take that did quite well in Europe, but not as well in the US, and I think that one suffered a bit from a lack of multiplayer, as well as being a relatively short experience--shorter than we had hoped.

From our standpoint, we are on a multiyear rebuilding of the company. Last year was about establishing some new IPs, starting some new franchises, making some investments online, and I think if you walk the [E3] show today, you start to see things like the Star Wars MMO, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age, Brutal Legend; you see the reinvention of the Need for Speed brand with Shift and Nitro, and some of the products we have planned in front of that as well. You start to see a broader set of products on the Wii with Spore, Dead Space, and again Nitro.

So I think we're adjusting and adapting to what we learned last year and coming out with a much stronger product lineup, which is something that frankly we're very proud of. And if you look at the way we're going to be able to kick off the year with The Beatles--and Left 4 Dead 2 is in there with our EAP unit. We're pretty bullish on where we're at right now.

GS: Do you think there was an issue with launching so many new IPs at once, or what do you think is the danger with launching a lot of new IPs?

FG: Again, last year was a bit of an anomaly, given the fact of what happened with the economy. When you look at it analytically, you have to figure out how much of an impact that had, versus the idea that you can't launch new IPs in [EA's fiscal] Q3 [which runs October to December]. Which of those two factors are at play? I think it's a bit of both, frankly. I think that Mirror's Edge probably could have done better in a different window. I think that with regards to Dead Space, you need to run to the daylight a little bit more, which is to give that new IP the opportunity to find a marketplace without a proven sequel or a big franchise next to it like a Gears of War. And so, from my perspective, looking for windows of opportunity is paramount. You'll start to see that we have a much more broad-based approach to the market, we have a lot of new IPs this [fiscal] year in Q1 [April-June], Q2 [July-Sept.], and also in Q4 [Jan-March], so it's much more spread out.

GS: Right, you have a lot more new IPs coming out this year, from Dragon Age to Dante's Inferno to The Saboteur, just to name a few. What specifically did you learn last year that you plan on putting into effect this year to ensure the best launches? Was it just the release window?

FG: The release window is one. Two is a longer ramp for marketing and asset delivery so that we can get a base of demand and fans built for the games. Both Dead Space and Mirror's Edge we were able to announce, but then we had to go dark for a long period of time because the games were under development and we didn't have very good asset plans in place. So now you're seeing Dante's Inferno, which is shipping in fiscal Q4, and we've been marketing that now actively for two quarters. That's a much longer ramp and much longer engagement with our fans--and attempt to create fans for that game.

So it's longer marketing lead times, more asset delivery that's more consistent over a longer period of time, picking better windows, understanding where key competition is coming, and how to get either in front of them or in a window that is more applicable to them. And the other thing that I learned is that we need to give the teams even more polish time to really take the games into the high 80s and 90s from Metacritic because that, again, is where you're seeing a high concentration of unit sales and appeal from titles that are in the 90-plus range. And so that's our focus right now.

GS: The marketing one is interesting in particular, given talk about giving games too much of a lead time. How are you balancing giving a game enough marketing time without overexposing it?

FG: I think that's the art to this. The idea is not to oversaturate the market with assets that are all about the same level interest. It's really understanding those curves of when can you pique interest, when does it slide down, when can you pique it up again, and keep momentum behind it.

So it's really much more of an art form than a pure science, there's a lot of science to it, of course. But it's really how can you entertain and engage an audience over a long period of time about, say, Dante's Inferno? We've done a pretty good job so far in Dante's, I think, of starting to build up the hype--and then when you go a little bit quiet and let it sit for a while, you come back with a bigger impactful piece. We manage that very carefully, and we look at how long is too long, and obviously, we think last year was too short. And it also has a lot to do with the sustained communication and conversations you have, as far as asset drops and media exposure.

GS: EA has made a point of significantly ramping up its support for Nintendo's Wii. Do you see these Wii titles as a way to support the big-budget development business, or what's your strategy there?

FG: No, these need to be stand-alone, high-quality games that are profitable. Our operating assumption is that ports on the Nintendo Wii don't sell very well, and we have to design from the ground up--design from the controller out, frankly--an experience that can happen in an IP universe that might be someplace else or might be on multiple platforms, but it really needs to cater to Wii players and how Wii players play games. And so we've done a lot of research over the past year about how that happens and what happens. I mean, it's a vast market--it's a gigantic market.

We think that there's opportunity to bring custom designs like Dead Space Extraction, Spore, and Need for Speed Nitro, which are all in their own unique windows--they're not shipping with other games on other platforms. They all have their own unique designs, their own looks. They're also targeting different customers. So, Shift and Nitro in Need for Speed is a useful illustrative case; which is Shift is on the Xbox, PlayStation 3, and PC and is focused on high-end racing fans. Whereas Nitro is much more accessible, it's a little younger skewing in terms of how the cars look, it's more arcade, it's more party oriented in terms of multiplayer. What we found is if we'd just done Shift on the Wii, it wouldn't have worked. One, we wouldn't have hit the fidelity of the experience, and two, it wouldn't have tied into how people play Wii games.

We've also started to build all of our Wii games out of Montreal, inside of my unit, where we can get a center of excellence built around Nintendo players--guys who know how to develop against Nintendo platforms and understand the Nintendo customer. Strategically, in our label, we're looking at building out from there and having custom designs over the long term for where the Wii goes.

GS: Do you see any kind of fundamental problem with the big-budget development? Is spending $20, $30, $40 million on development a sustainable business?

FG: Absolutely. It's a tough business, though. It used to be a lot easier in prior generations, but there's a lot a competition, one, and there are a lot of other issues. There's a lot more choice now for people's time and money. You can play games online, social networking, go do other things, so the big-budget titles are competing against a lot more choice out there than they have in the past. The stakes are higher. You're competing on a level where you've got Epic, id, Valve, EA, Activision--there's a lot of really talented development teams going after this slice of the pie. And there's a lot of issue with how you keep people entertained. There's a component of how connected is your game, how long can you keep that disc in the tray, how long can you keep people engaged. It's a lot more complicated, it's a lot harder. The business model is great when you get one, but the beta, or risk factor, on it is much higher than it used to be.

GS: Two of the big announcements during EA's E3 press conference were the EA Partners deals with Crytek and Realtime Worlds. How does EA Partners benefit EA?

FG: No company can have a monopoly on the best talent in the industry. And a lot of the best talent in the industry, frankly, is independent. There are great development companies that are on their own, they're stand-alone, have a great track record of success. What we want to do is partner with them to bring those games to market and to help them realize the dream of what they want to build. It's a very different approach than the way we traditionally handled EA Partners. When David DeMartini, myself, and a couple of other guys got together was more about how do we flip the equation around and reach the largest possible markets. EA has the largest publishing infrastructure in the business, we reach more countries than any other company and in a more powerful way.

And so we looked at that infrastructure and we looked at our internal development staff, and said, "Wow, we've got some really good developers, but there's a lot more out there that are even better or need an opportunity to get with a publisher." And so we've actively gone out, and what we do is sit down with a Valve or an id or a Realtime Worlds or a Crytek, and we talk to them about what they need. When you're an independent developer, you can't cover everything. And there are things that EA has from a development standpoint that we can help them with, such as, say, solve certain issues on the PS3 that we've already cracked or how to use our development services to help them scale or find another developer to help them get on another platform. At the same time, it's providing a publishing platform for them to put, say, Left 4 Dead in as many markets worldwide as they can possibly reach.

And so that's kind of the access point to EA, how the relationship with the developer happens over time, it's interesting: It can become part of EA at some point, or not. It doesn't matter to us. But it's having that engagement, and that access to the best of the best in the third-party development community is in self-interest, and the power that we bring from a publishing standpoint is we can give them larger audiences and better distribution than any other company in the world. If you look at our track record of signings, people are buying into that thesis and they're buying into our approach to the business. And frankly, they like working with us because we don't get in their hair. They're spectacular at what they do; they don't need advice from us.

We don't try to jump into the front of the car and try to drive the car with them. We sit in the backseat, and if they have a question, they ask. And if they need assistance with something, we lend it, and we give them feedback and guidance when they want it. But it's much more of an opt-in, best-argument approach, as opposed to how it was handled traditionally or how other companies handle it.

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89 comments
Delston
Delston

@dbpvivi "Dead Space failed because it was fun but had nothing in the way of strong characters/story or reputability." I think that's sort of ignoring the fact that between October 1st and 3rd the market lost a substantial portion of it's value, which also happened to be barely over a week before DS was released. People were fearful and clinched their cash...video games tend to take a backseat when money gets tight. I thought the story in DS was excellent. The devs also delivered, IMO, the quality experience that was hyped all along. Even more so, I took a chance and bought it instead of GoW2 and was very happy with my choice, and I'm not even a survival horror fan. Just my thoughts

BarkotGamer
BarkotGamer

Mirror's Edge was a quality-but-short game. Dead Space was so amazing that I have no words to describe it. New IPs would be welcome, as long as they are quality games like those mentioned above. EA did a good job.

AzureWind213
AzureWind213

Calling mirror's edge half-assed is ridiculous. Sure, it's short. It's called budget overruns. Of what DOES exist in that game, it oozes polish and quality, save for the questionable design decision of the esurance cutscenes. That game lives on its gameplay and its time trial awesomeness.

AnarchyRising
AnarchyRising

Gee I doubt the fact that Mirrors Edge was a half assed game had ANYTHING to do with it. Or the fact that your DRM is also half assed, or anything EA does being half assed... no freakin way that could be to blame. HAS to be the dates of release.. yep

Redsyrup
Redsyrup

When is DRM going to die?

jeffcenate
jeffcenate

all that jabbering and he never mentions the elephant in the room. EA took a hit because of DRM. no way arond it. EA also isnt noted for JUST the same ol same old and sports games, its MOST noted for making crappy games from a technical point of view as well as screwing their customers after purchase. shovel it out the door and maybe we can toss a patch or two at the customer while we finish the next batch of crap we how to sucker them into picking up. offering the same old bad service, invasive DRM, and poorly made games under a whole slew of new titles isnt gunna change the problem. i cheer them for actualy making new titles (though i dont see any of them as radicaly different than anything else out there) but i thats not their only, or even BIGGEST problem.

TheBionicRock
TheBionicRock

His thinking that Mirrors edge failed because it didn't have multiplayer worries me for ME 2. I hope they don't try and force the game to be something it isn't.

dbpvivi
dbpvivi

Mirrors Edged: Failed because it was a limited experience. Yes it was fun to get quick times but it was just a run and gun without the gun. The PC release failed because of a lack of SDK. People couldn't add there own content so there was only a little going for it. Dead Space failed because it was fun but had nothing in the way of strong characters/story or reputability. Spore was overly simple and again only was saved by its creature creator. I think we can all agree it didn't live up to its hype. lack of any real online play basically lead to its mainstream piracy, there was nothing going for it. Warhammer Online hasn't failed but with LOTR and WOW already going strong there is only so many fantasy MMO's people are willing to play. The use of DRM and install limits has hurt sales and gamers don't really give a flying f was happens to EA.

abosh1
abosh1

i spose it is possible that EA could release some good stuff

Holyknight_CJ
Holyknight_CJ

"And the other thing that I learned is that we need to give the teams even more polish time to really take the games into the high 80s and 90s from Metacritic..." "EA had become known for repetitive sequels and not innovating. One of the things I brought to the job when I got it last year was, "How do we innovate, how do we start to create new IPs--the new franchises of the future?" And so we embarked on a campaign of doing that." Sounds good to me. *thumbs up*

Gamer_JoNNo
Gamer_JoNNo

Whilst it might be true to say that EA is primarily concerned with profits, you can't really blame them. The truth is alot of EA's finance is going to be funnelled into Creative, More innovative studios like Bioware and hopefully EA have learnt to leave them to it. With this in mind, is EA's new approach a necessarily bad thing? I for one see it as ensuring we are going to be getting some well produced games more regularly - As long as they stick to the back seat.

vengeance00
vengeance00

@ pwnzord - same boat as you with dead space, got the 1k in 2 days and traded it in the third, i felt that dead space offered nothing new. mirriors edge was an obvious fail as anyone who played a FPS would know how difficult i can be to position yourself on an edge without looking down. and dante's inferno doesn't look interesting at all. i would prefer outstanding sequels to old fanchises or IP (future cop anyone?) then shift through mountains of crap to meh games.

solidstein
solidstein

@idonyo so your trying to say that mass effect was a bad and uncreative game or what about dragon age orgins, dead space was awesome and changed the survival horror franchise mirrors edge was amazing . panademic is a great developer house to u got dantes inferno which looks to be fun i mean there are a bunch of great games coming out of EA and then you got EA sports

solidstein
solidstein

dead space actually ended up selling pretty good its just didnt do good during the holiday season. it seems like EA is turning it ship around..i used to think they were always releasing games to early and underpolished to make money and never had new ips just sequel crazy an now it seems activision is like that where they just bringing out GH WOW and COD and thats it even tho those 3 games have made them billions they could bring out some good new ips activision has 4billion just sitting in it coffers waiting to be spent. also EA partners looks to be bringing good games out to the mass market

Rottenwood
Rottenwood

@Threesixtyci I.P. in this context means 'intellectual property.' People usually use the term I.P. for a franchise that isn't a franchise yet.

pwnzord
pwnzord

Dead Space was alright, but far from being this creative and original IP that people tout it as. Tried (and trite) story mixed in with the poor lighting = creepiness. Plenty of people were somehow frightened by the game but for me it failed to induce any jump moments. Perhaps that's why I just thought it was alright, nevertheless I went through it twice to get the 1k. But if the most we can expect in innovation is Sci-Fi setting with an emphasis on shooting limbs over heads, we've got a long way to go before we get something original. Mirror's Edge on the other hand was fair to poor at best. So much trial and error in that game, with an overuse of bright pastel colors in it made figuring out where to go a matter of repetition not intuition (and forget trying to press the button that would point you in the vague direction). Really broke up the experience that they were trying to go for. Not to mention the premise behind the game was a throwaway plot. You can only jump across so many roofs before you question why do I care. No if EA wants to pump out new IP's they would do well to make better products that have a broader appeal. First person adventure / platforming and horror aren't mainstream. Perhaps they'll have better luck this year with bigger titles like Dragon Ages (Inferno has an interesting premise but somehow I just don't think it will succeed).

Threesixtyci
Threesixtyci

IP this IP that. IP to me has always meant "Internet Provider". What does it mean now?

raahsnavj
raahsnavj

"We don't try to jump into the front of the car and try to drive the car with them. We sit in the backseat, and if they have a question, they ask..." I wonder if the developers they partner with really feel that way. Anyhow, it seems like they have realized how to let talent keep producting what they produce and rather than try and boss them around instead try and help where their expertise is at, marketing. I think that is a better approach and I hope it reaps benefits.

machew100
machew100

I loved dead space. I'm amazed at how badly it sold, because it was a highly original and overall quality game

ldonyo
ldonyo

EA used to be a creative powerhouse. In the last ten years, however, they have ceased being creative and settled for being profitable. They have since ceased to be profitable, which has stifled what little creativity was left. EA's current plan seems to be to wait for an independent to come out with a big hit, then buy that company and make sequels to the big hit for the rest of eternity.

Ryukai
Ryukai

So many people bagging on the people bagging on EA because they think they're being trendy and bagging on them bagging is completely unique and puts the bagger above the original baggers.

Barighm
Barighm

They realized they weren't innovative? Hey, that's a good start. But really, developing new IP's are risky, but all megahits start as unproven IP's at some point. As long as you commit time, money, and talent to the project, and market it well, it should do fine. It's not like you have to commit all of your budget to new IP's. You can always throw out the licensed derivatives and milky sequels to keep your revenue up, then commit some money on the side for the odd new IP. Or you can just buy successful companies. Kind of annoying how EA is talking as if Bioware's games were always EA properties and a credit to EA itself,

gob__bluth
gob__bluth

So many people bagging on EA because it's trendy to do so, ignoring all the good stuff they are doing so they can be predictably cynical and feel accepted by others. Boooooring.

Merex760
Merex760

I would love to see Mirror's Edge 2.

CVM_123
CVM_123

EA=worst company ever

formerroadie
formerroadie

I want a much longer Mirror's Edge 2 with a totally massive open world. that would rock my socks. I love the Mirror's Edge game.

bredeyabo
bredeyabo

ea can be cool sometimes. but when they suck.... they will suck BIG TIME

tommyc555
tommyc555

Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog will destroy EA

SalarianChemist
SalarianChemist

Mass Effect 2 is awesome! Mass Effect won Game of the Year honors because it really is the best Action-RPG out there. The gameplay style is revolutionary. I also think it's incredible the way Mass Effect 2 has a plot that is determined based on the things you did in Mass Effect 1 that are saved onto your Xbox 360.

Ranemoraken
Ranemoraken

I really enjoyed both Dead Space and Mirror's Edge. I wouldn't mind seeing new iterations of them in the future, and I'm glad that EA is taking some risk and spending their money to bring me games I like playing. With their track record, I might check out new IP's in the future - same as how Ubisoft has come out with some "interesting" games lately.

Gruug
Gruug

GameSpot, not one question on quality control or quality of releases? And, new IP's are great but if you look at the interview GS let EA just run on about only two or three games. Ask the "hard" questions please. EA is still not the company it COULD be or once was and we the customer would like to know when, where and how they will get there. We are interested in hearing how EA plans to increase the quality of its games.

GentlemanGamer
GentlemanGamer

If EA keep having years like they did last year in terms of Games they might start to see some loyalty and good will from gamers rather than the hate they are used to. My advice to them is dont abuse it.

Rottenwood
Rottenwood

Pretty good interview. I liked how frank he was about E.A.'s reputation for pumping out sequels instead of innovating. Of course, when they DID innovate, we left them out to dry.

xatman911
xatman911

Both are very good games. They need to establish the new IP. One game is not going to make much of a change. Have a look at Nintendo's Mario - he has like a billion games under his IP...

athenian29
athenian29

I love the EA Partners idea. It's worked out pretty well so far - just look at the games it's brought us!

NavIGOtoR25
NavIGOtoR25

EA again try to do something... But not always they achieve anything good for gamers...

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

...Oh an that EA guy looks like DATA (from STTNG) without his make up on! And he probably has about the same emotion as DATA too, based on EA lack of so many human qualities!

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

I am amazed at how the media let's these companies just say all this BS without a single hard hitting question! EA came up with every squirming answer they could and avoid the obvious when it comes to Dead Space and Mirror's Edge. The fact they both failed, had more to do with them being $60 games that gave sub 12 hours of gameplay than anything to do with release date or new ISP or whatever - that is a load of BS! In a recession people don't just have 'an extreme flight to quality and follow up's' but also to game that gave them decent gameplay for their gaming dollar! Why spend $60 on a game you will finish in a weekend when you can spend the same amount on a Fallout 3 or GTA IV or Empire Total War and get a few weeks worth?! With both Dead Space and Mirror's Edge doing badly, and with both being sub 12 hour games, you'd think Gamespot could have put the two together and asked the question!!! But oh no, their not here to ask tough questions of their lord and masters, their here to help sell us games! I know, I know, you thought they were here to support and inform us gamers - well, it's about time you woke up, and this article should be the one that opens your eyes!

derek3257
derek3257

Excellent job Magrino, keep up the good work.

rock_solid
rock_solid

don't really care about anything EA has to say

Hazzerz
Hazzerz

Ahh, so that's what a douchebag head of a 3rd rate company looks like. I see, I see.

Ryukai
Ryukai

This guy looks like Daniel Radcliffe in about 50 years.

anividguru
anividguru

I hate some of EA's original stuff didn't catch on quite like it should have. Dead Space was pure awesomeness. Mirror's Edge was rough around the edges (edges...haha), but was still a bold move in trying something new. I had never liked EA until this past year because of its endless gamut of crappy sequels and movie tie-in games. Keep it up EA - hopefully the rest of the industry will follow your example.

Mac11_Fanboy
Mac11_Fanboy

EA neglect to mention that the purchase of Bioware and Pandemic last year probably cost them over a $billion

nappan
nappan

The last thing on EARTH I want to hear is message about the pitfalls of taking risks on new IPs from a GIANT company that has done nothing but crush new ideas. That said... @Dilan120: I hope they do too.. I don't know how such a good game made it past EA, but lets hope they realize that with a little expansion and polish that Mirror's Edge is a starting point for a great series. Heck, I don't mind sequels.. I love 'em... but business makes money predicated on risk. Take the risk EA, or get out of the business.

shkar
shkar

As a fan of last year's dead space game,,,,I find Extraction on the wii interesing.........

Poshkidney
Poshkidney

Staying safe doesn't always work. Taking a risk can make things more profitable and a lot of fun.