Back in April, EA was voted the worst company in America for the second year on the trot.
And you’d expect a games publisher as big as EA, with execs as bullish as Andrew Wilson or Peter Moore, to simply brush that off. After all, EA isn’t exactly supplying guns to dictatorships or promoting tobacco to kids. It’s just a company that’s responsible for some bloody good games.
But as it turned out, being voted the worst company hurt EA deeply
“I don’t believe for a second that we are the worst company in America, but I do believe when something like that happens, you have to sit down and ask yourselves ‘Why are people saying these things?’,” says Patrick Söderlund, EVP of EA Studios.
“We did that and we started to realise that we are doing things that people don’t like.”
That, says Söderlund, is part of EA’s next-generation vision. Sure, it wants to cement its position as the world’s No.1 games company. But it also wants to be respected and, most importantly, trusted.
“We looked at something as simple as the Online Pass,” he adds. “People were telling us they didn’t like that. So we weighed up the pros and cons and went ‘Ok. We will remove it.’ These decisions need to be driven by what consumers want and tell us, and that is where we may have faltered a bit in the past.
“It is always going to be difficult to sell games
on an older platform when something new is
coming,” says Soderlund. “It feels like people
are really waiting for something new. I think with
our and others games you will see a big and
strong attach ratio for the next-gen.”
Patrick Söderlund, EA
“If we continue to do those types of things, then we will earn people’s trust and respect. We don’t want to be bad, we have no desire to be voted the worst company in America. On the contrary we want to be voted the best.”
That’s a big ask. Especially when you consider the number of gamers playing The Sims or FIFA. They can’t please everyone all the time.
“Well you are bound to make mistakes, but when you do, just be clear to communicate that you agree it was a mistake, and you are taking the appropriate actions to fix them,” answers Söderlund. “Not a single person or company will do everything perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect.”
This is certainly a more humble EA compared to the cocksure games giant we’re used to. But then this is a new EA.
When we last spoke to Söderlund in August, he was in charge of the EA Games label. Since then, former EA Sports boss Andrew Wilson has been promoted to CEO, with Söderlund charged with leading both Sports and Games under the new label – EA Studios.
“We are already seeing proof of cross-pollination between the two sides,” claims Söderlund. “The Sports guys have done many things really well, and the Games guys have done other things really well. So for me it is interesting to see how the two entities affect each other.
“We have an Ignite team on the Sports side and a Frostbite team on the Games side. What happens in the future is still not decided. But one could argue that it could make sense to merge the two somehow.”
Ignite and Frostbite are the two new engines that power EA’s next-gen games. They both represent a major investment in new technology to ensure EA gets off to a strong start on next-gen.
But the excitement surrounding next-gen is taking its toll on EA’s current games. Titles such as FIFA 14 and Battlefield 4 have sold significantly fewer units than their predecessors. Is it a case of gamers waiting for new things, or are they holding off for the next-gen?
“It is always going to be difficult to sell games on an older platform when something new is coming,” says Soderlund. “It feels like people are really waiting for something new. I think with our and others games you will see a big and strong attach ratio for the next-gen.”
“My goal is to be seen as the best in the business.
I want people to recognise us for the games we
make rather than anything else. Whether that is
the Worst Company in America or whatever people
don’t like. We need to be remembered and respected
for the games we make.”
Patrick Söderlund, EA
It has been eight years since the current generation started. As a result the pent-up demand for Xbox One and PS4 is huge, says EA, which predicts 10m unit sales by Match next year.
“This console cycle may have gone on a little bit longer than I would have wanted,” he says.
“At the same time, you have seen games like The Last of Us and GTA V at the end of a cycle which perhaps you would not have expected a few years ago. But a five, six year gap is what I expect going forward.”
EA has yet to announce much new IP for the next-generation. But the one new brand it is releasing is Titanfall. A game that picked up numerous E3 awards and has been tipped by Xbox to be a system seller.
“That response is telling us that gamers don’t want to play the same game every year,” says Söderlund. “And even the games we build on an iterative basis, we have to make sure we keep on innovating or people won’t give us their money.”
Whether it’s with fan favourite Mirror’s Edge or Star Wars or UFC or Dragon Age or Titanfall, EA wants to be viewed as the creator of the new generation’s leading games. And if it can manage that, then it can cast off its negative image. It hopes.
Söderlund concludes: “My goal is to be seen as the best in the business. I want people to recognise us for the games we make rather than anything else. Whether that is the Worst Company in America or whatever people don’t like. We need to be remembered and respected for the games we make.”