Electronic Arts looking at Innovation

21 03 2006

Report from Gamedaily:

Electronic Arts, known lately for its big movie licenses and sports franchises, wants to bring more creativity to the industry. Execs at EA would like to see less dependence on licenses and sports and more effort put into developing original titles. EA could potentially become more dominant than ever before.

For the longest time the strategy for leading video game publisher Electronic Arts has been to rely on big licenses, such as Harry Potter, James Bond and Lord of the Rings, as well as top sports franchises like Madden or Tiger Woods. A tough console transition and sluggish sales—EA has lowered or missed its earnings guidance for the past six quarters—have caused the video game juggernaut to rethink its strategy, however, according to a report in BusinessWeek Online.

The goal apparently is to create more innovative and unique experiences like industry legend Will Wright’s Spore while at the same time reducing the publisher’s heavy reliance on big movie franchises and sports.

This will pose quite a challenge to Paul Lee, EA’s president of Worldwide Studios. EA, like most publishers, is often reluctant to take risks on new and original properties. Lee has said that he would like the number of games based on internally created concepts to go above 50 percent of EA’s total portfolio in the next 12 to 18 months (from about 30% today), and he wants to see the publisher develop a minimum of one new franchise a year.

Part of this initiative involves targeting key talent to help with development, such as award-winning game designer Doug Church or movie director Steven Spielberg, who partnered with EA to consult on the story lines of three original games. Furthermore, EA has never been a company to shy away from acquisitions, and with $3 billion in cash, you can expect them to snatch up talented development studios as needed. The company has also begun building a new studio in Montreal whose focus will be to incubate original ideas for games.

Another part of the initiative may involve changing the publisher’s approach to development. Unlike developers that rely on a small group for a game from start to finish, EA often rotates projects among hundreds of workers to ensure that deadlines are met and that more games can be released annually. The problem with the EA model, however, is that it’s not conducive to creativity among game designers.

“What I’m trying to build is a studio of gamemakers,” said Neil Young, GM of EALA. “I don’t want people focused on building the 90th tree or the 70th truck.” To reinforce the positive, teams with the best/most innovative developments in their games will see their work featured on TV screens placed throughout the studio. “It creates the feeling that you are swimming in a sea of small inventions,” Young explained.

Deadlines also will apparently be more flexible. Working on original properties instead of movie licenses or sports franchises allows the designers to fully flesh out their ideas without worrying as much about the timing of the release. “In the past we have committed to ship dates with large development teams before we had a game design,” said Lee. “That is changing….We’re going to have the best games and release them when they are ready.”

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