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Patrick Söderlund - inside EA's next-gen Games plan

Christopher Dring
Patrick Söderlund - inside EA's next-gen Games plan

From Battlefield to Titanfall, EA has a huge line-up of triple-A next-gen blockbusters.

MCV talks to EA Games label boss Patrick Söderlund about improving BioWare, beating Call of Duty and his love for PlayStation... 

At Gamescom there was a lot of noise around Titanfall. It’s from the makers of Call of Duty, so are we looking at another 20m+ super-franchise?

Listen, we don’t know. We have high expectations for it. It has a very strong development team who have made great games in the past, the buzz around it is tremendous. So we have every right to believe this will be successful. We are going to push it like it is our own – even though it is {developer] Respawn’s IP and we are partnered with them.

Titanfall aside, you appear to be focused on existing IP. What is your new IP strategy?

We announced at E3 that we are working on a new Mirror’s Edge game, and even though that’s not a new IP, it is a revival done in a new way. We also announced Star Wars Battlefront, which to us is a new IP, even though it isn’t technically.

We have between six and eight new IPs in the works – completely new IPs. This is something we take seriously. The day that we stop making new IP is the day we slowly go onto life support. We need to incubate new ideas and push creative boundaries.

You mention Star Wars. Why sign that licence when you have such strong internal properties?

Star Wars is amongst the biggest entertainment IPs on this planet.  And when you have the DICE team coming to you and saying: “Please. Let us build a Star Wars game,” that will influence whether you sign the licence or not. If you have a team that has fire in their belly and a desire to build something, the outcome will be significantly better than if a team is making a game because somebody told them too. With DICE and Star Wars Battlefront, it was so apparent we had to give them that opportunity.

"Maybe they weren’t thinking about us when
we made Battlefield 3, but I can tell you, they
are thinking about us now. They need too.
We made a dent in the FPS market and we
took market share. I’m not going to give up
until I’m No.1 and I am going to make sure of it."

Patrick Söderlund - EA Games label boss


That’s the creative side, but we wouldn't do this if we didn’t believe we were being sane business people. We looked at Warner Bros and what they did with Batman. There’s been too many bad licensed games, and frankly we’ve done some of them. You have to treat it as our own, and put your best people on it. That’s the approach we are taking with Star Wars. 

Why Battlefront? Is it because that’s what the fans were asking for? Or was that a DICE decision?

It was because the studio wanted it. Obviously, if the studio said we want to make something that has no commercial prospects, that would be different. The studio wanted to make Battlefront, we looked at it, realised people wanted it. When those two things match, you have a good chance.

Is the Battlefield/Call of Duty rivalry still a big thing for EA?

Competition brings the best out of people. If there was only Battlefield and only Call of Duty, then the development teams might be a little bit more content. We don’t look to mimic what they do, but we think about them. Maybe they weren’t thinking about us when we made Battlefield 3, but I can tell you, they are thinking about us now. They need too. We made a dent in the FPS market and we took market share. I’m not going to give up until I’m No.1 and I am going to make sure of it.

So there’s little chance your aggressive rhetoric towards Call of Duty is going to soften?

We are spending a tonne of money on this, are teams are killing themselves every year to make great games. I want to give our consumers the best I can. We will strive to be No.1. It is like playing for the national team in soccer, you need to be the best at what you do. That’s natural. People want to be part of a winning team. If I said: ‘No.5 is probably fine,’ it’s hard for people to rally behind that message. But I wouldn’t say we could be No.1 if I didn’t think we could. I have the right team, the right product and the right strategy to get there.

Call of Duty is an annual product. Now that you’ve retired Medal of Honor, does that mean Battlefield has to become an annual IP?

We have other games now. We have Titanfall. Which we didn’t have when we had Medal of Honor. To me it is about a balanced portfolio. I see Battlefield, Titanfall, Need for Speed. And next year is a BioWare year.

BioWare was added to your remit last year. Have you had time to make an impact? What can we expect from next-gen BioWare titles?

Next year there’s Dragon Age: Inquisition, which is a much more open-world style, exploration game. The BioWare games haven’t historically looked that good. But when you see this, you’ll see the best looking RPG ever by a country mile. Dragon Age has what makes a great BioWare game – character involvement, the storytelling. But you will see them evolve and modernise other parts of their game.

Do you worry that as most of your games are on both current and next-gen, and because of games like GTA?V, that players might delay buying the new consoles?

If you look at GTA V – which looks crazy, I can’t wait to play it – and when you look at GTA?IV, the difference between the two is significant. I don’t expect the difference between what launches on PS4 today and what launches at the end tail of that to be quite that dramatic, but I still think it will be dramatic. Battlefield 4 and Need for Speed this year were built from the ground-up on next gen, and scaled back for current consoles. Rather than making a current gen game and scaling it up, we went the other way around.

Developers are smart, they figure out ways to get more out of the boxes. That will happen. For next year’s games, I am already seeing games doing things we were not able to do on the ones coming this year. That will be an industry-wide thing.

"If you look at GTA V – which looks crazy, I can’t
wait to play it – and when you look at GTA?IV, the
difference between the two is significant. I don’t
expect the difference between what launches on
PS4 today and what launches at the end tail of that
to be quite that dramatic, but I still think it will be
dramatic. Battlefield 4 and Need for Speed this year
were built from the ground-up on next gen, and
scaled back for current consoles. Rather than
making a current gen game and scaling it up, we
went the other way around."

Patrick Söderlund - EA Games label boss


But when you get your hands on Battlefield 4, 64-players, 60 frames per second, with the fidelity you have on next-gen consoles, versus the 360 or PS3 version, the difference there is significant. We are for the first time offering 64-players, that’s 40 more than before, that makes the game significantly different. On top of that, doubling the frame rate and improving the graphics creates a better feel. That’s just simple stuff, but that makes a big difference. One that’s significant enough to make people say: “I’ve got to have that.”

Need for Speed games have been inconsistent in quality. The games made by UK studio Criterion have been great, but the others have been a mixed bag. Is that why you set up this new Need for Speed developer Ghost Games?

Ghost in Gothanberg was created with not just Need for Speed, but driving games in mind. There’s a lot of car nuts there, a lot of people who have built racing games in the past. And I’m surprised at how quickly they have established themselves. We have taken some senior people, Craig Sullivan from Criterion has moved to Gothenberg, Jamie Keen who was a key design person on Far Cry 3 has moved there. We have assembled an experienced team, with some former DICE employees, as well.

But if I tell a studio that they are going to make a Need for Speed game every year for the foreseeable future, that might seem daunting. People need breathing room. I don’t believe you can make a great game in eight months. You have to give enough time to people to be creative and express themselves. We have always had two teams working on Need for Speed. So it was a natural step to start a new studio.

We looked all over the world. We looked at the UK. But it boiled down to Gothenberg strangely enough, and it seems to be the right choice.

You have a very big partnership with Xbox. Is that just a commercial reason, or is there a platform reason for why you’ve sided with Microsoft?

We have partnerships with both hardware manufacturers. What you have seen lately is a little bit more Xbox One than PS4. But we announced a trade-up programme with PS4 for Battlefield 4, we showed Battlefield 4 at Gamescom on PS4. One of the benefits we have as a company is that we are platform agnostic. We will be where the consumers are. And we will support Sony and Microsoft.

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Tags: ea , interview , ea games , patrick söderlund

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