“We’re not looking for a particular number, or a particular genre of game. We’re interested in the best and boldest studios” – EA’s Originals Recipe

Steve Pointon, SVP 3rd Party Content & Development at Electronic Arts

When EA introduced Unravel to the world back at E3 2015 it was a big moment. Yes, the game looked great, the developer was adorably nervous, and he’d brought a little friend. But it was more than that, EA was a third-party publisher again, it was going to pick and champion other people’s games, it was going to do something more than ‘just’ huge licensed franchises.

And then… not so much. EA Originals was officially named a year later, and the programme has since released a handful of (admittedly incredible) indie games in the intervening years, but for a company with its vast resources, it feels as though it maybe could have done more.

And at EA Play 2020 it started to look like it is, with three new Originals announced, all backed up by the publisher’s return to Steam. So we thought it was a great time to talk to Steve Pointon, SVP 3rd Party Content & Development at Electronic Arts, or to put it more simply the man in charge of EA Originals, in order to see whether EA is the right home for your next title.

Given EA’s vast resources, compared to indie budgets, how do you choose how many games to back/publish?

It Takes Two is a co-op action adventure platformer from Hazelight, the creator of prison-break smash hit A Way Out. It is described as a crazy rollercoaster ride that marries story, mechanics and emotions.

The EA Partners division proactively looks for passionate, talented, and highly creative independent studios with amazingly original concepts that are fun to play and push the boundaries of games. At EA Play Live last week, we gave first looks at three new games that will be published under the EA Originals label – with more games to come soon.

We’re not looking for a particular number, or a particular genre of game. We’re interested in the best and boldest studios, and partnering with the right people, to support them in bringing their games to the scale of audience they deserve. This could be larger independent studios who have a proven track-record, or it might be the ‘undiscovered band’ who EA can help break-out to become the next Respawn. This truly is about supporting independent studios with the strength of EA and bringing more great games to players, wherever they choose to play.

Speaking of budgets, how big a game would EA finance through this scheme?

It varies widely but is less about budget than it is the experiences we want to deliver for players. Over the past few years the EA Partners division has partnered with a variety of studios at different phases of production, maturity, and size. From start-ups like Hazelight to more established teams such as Final Strike Games. With every partnership we start, we intend to continue and build upon, and we want each of these studios’ games to be big hits.

Of course, EA Partners was with Respawn from the very beginning, and the strength and success of that partnership really brought that incredible studio into the EA family. Really our focus is the vision of the studio – and how we can support that studio to bring it to life.

Despite the initiative, EA is still seen as ‘those big corporate guys’ by most indies, how do you then persuade them that it’s the right brand for their game?

Zoink Games’ Lost in Random is a gothic fairy tale, with sumptuous Burton-esque imagery. Set in a world where randomness is feared and the main character’s companion is a living dice. It hopes to teach players to embrace the randomness in their lives, rather than try and control everything.

The EA Originals label has been the best, most visible way to dispel that myth, to support independent studios of all sizes, and bring highly creative games to market with a very strong track record of success. We are pleased to be partnering on second games with both Hazelight and Zoink, as we did with Coldwood and Respawn. We have announced that we will make two games with Final Strike Games and will be talking more about Velan later this year.

We are committed to long term partnerships with these amazing studios, and are looking forward to watching more of them succeed. Seeing Josef Fares pick up the BAFTA for A Way Out and Coldwood take home the AIAS DICE Award for Unravel Two were incredibly proud moments for us.

How do Originals fit in with EA/Origin Access, do they fulfil a need to provide more regular content for those subscribers?

The breadth, depth and quality of our portfolio at EA is an important part of a compelling subscription, but it is also a key part of building great games for a wider audience of players. We want to deliver experiences for everyone – and by expanding our opportunities by partnering with independent studios for games we publish as EA Originals, like A Way Out and other games we publish under EA Partners, like Burnout Paradise Remastered. We want to give players choice – within a subscription or otherwise.

There’s a lot of great games out there, but increasingly a lot of competition to sign them, is it getting easier or harder to sign the best content?

There is always competition for the best content and we welcome it because that is positive proof of the strength of the independent studio sector. Our ability to reach players everywhere on any platform, breadth and maturity of services individually tailored to every partner, coupled with the support mentality we bring I believe makes EA the preferred partner for the best independent studios. There’s certainly no shortage of opportunities to bring great games to the world today, and we have more partners than ever before this year and more amazing games in development.

Origin is obviously a big focus for EA, but Originals are available across numerous platforms, including Steam, what prompted that change and how does it improve Originals appeal to developers?

Final Strike’s Rocket Arena channels old-school Quake matches with Smash Bros knockouts. Rocket weapons and rocket jumps are the name of the game, with the dev team harking from Halo 5’s much admired multiplayer. Originally a free-to-play PC title, EA has picked it up and made it premium

It’s a key pillar for EA going forward to meet our players where they are, and give them choice. We are delivering more games on more platforms than ever before – and Steam is one of those platforms, as is Switch with Burnout Paradise Remastered launching recently and more Switch games in development.

This strategy is at its best when you can connect players together with cross-play support – and we announced that Rocket Arena will be one of the first available on July 14th on Origin, Steam, Xbox One and PS4. We want to deliver games to as many players as possible – and this is one of the ways in which we can do that.

What kind of services do Originals developers benefit from (QA, user testing, localisation etc)?

Each partnership is tailored to the individual studio. The breadth and maturity of services in the EA organisation means we are the best placed in the industry to work with independent developers. The one common denominator is the commitment of a support mentality that we bring to each partnership.

Every studio is different: it’s why they’re independent and it’s why we love them! They have got their own ways of doing things and it’s on us to adapt to that and figure out how we can help them. All of our extensive resources and experienced teams are available to our partners in any way that makes the most sense for them to build the right game. For Josef’s start-up Hazelight, we provided office space inside of the DICE office in Stockholm, with full access to DICE’s facility and resources available to them. The point is that these relationships are mutually beneficial. In every case we learn as much from these studios as they do from us – it’s very much a two-way relationship.

Where does the label go from here?

All of the EA Originals titles announced to date

The sky’s the limit! EA Partners is very much open for business. And the broadening of the EA Originals label to encompass a range of amazing games from more independent studios across the world feels like the beginning of something tremendously exciting. Kind of like the early days of EA Sports, but this time, with EA Originals, “it’s in the name”.

About Seth Barton

Seth Barton is the editor of MCV – which covers every aspect of the industry: development, publishing, marketing and much more. Before that Seth toiled in games retail at Electronics Boutique, studied film at university, published console and PC games for the BBC, and spent many years working in tech journalism. Living in South East London, he divides his little free time between board games, video games, beer and family. You can find him tweeting @sethbarton1.

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