There's a perception that 2014 was a quiet year for Electronic Arts. It wasn't.
Of course, there were a few notable absentees from its release schedule. The previously clockwork annual Q4 launches of Need for Speed and Battlefield were AWOL. And these games were certainly missed during the festive run-in.
But 2014 was also a period in which EA launched Titanfall, one of the first blockbusters of the year. Then in the summer it released UFC, which was a brand new EA Sports property.
That was swiftly followed by The Sims 4 in September, and over Christmas the firm published one of its best games yet in Dragon Age: Inquisition.
And, of course, in between those last two titles there was FIFA 15. That game sold 2.66m units in just three months, making it the fastest-selling FIFA in history.
I officially started the Monday after FIFA launched. But I'm taking the credit,” jokes Shaun Campbell, EA's new UK country manager.
It's been a big success, which you can see from the numbers and what consumers are saying. And it was voted Game of the Year by retailers in MCV – so store managers are also loving it.”
He adds: Overall for 2014, we are really proud of our performance.
When you look at the Western games market, we are the No.1 publisher on this new generation of consoles. We have upwards of ten great titles on Xbox One and PS4 and our successes has come from the quality of those games. But it's also been about how we took those products to market, and I'm really proud of what the teams have done.
I've only been here three months and it is clear that we have a fantastic team that are passionate about what they do.”
AROUND THE WORLD
Australian-born Campbell joined EA UK from its Nordic base, where he managed the firm's presence across Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Baltics and Russia.
He was instrumental in setting up the Association for the Nordic Games Industry (ANGI), and is just as eager to get involved in the wider UK industry, too.
It's been 11 years since I joined EA in Australia,” he recalls. I was sales director for four and a half years. Then I went to Geneva to our European HQ, before becoming country manager for the Nordic region, a job I had for over four years. That gave me the opportunity to run the whole business and work across sales and marketing. It was an interesting market to manage because of the complexities.
Now I'm here as country manager, and it's my responsibility to deliver the goals that we've set for the UK and Ireland business, and work across the commercial and marketing teams to deliver those results.”
"What we are seeing is the business making tough
decisions to move games for the right reasons."
Shaun Campbell, EA
Campbell's arrival in the UK comes at an interesting time in EA's history. A new management team (including CEO and fellow Australian Andrew Wilson) is beginning to improve EA's poor public image, the firm is toying with new routes to market (such as subscription service EA Access), it is spending less money on acquiring businesses, and are now doing the thing that players really want it to do – make good games.
Take for instance Mirror's Edge. That is not a game associated with big sales, but its cult popularity was enough to persuade EA to create a sequel. The firm's upcoming Star Wars title will be the third entry in the fan-favourite Battlefront series. It's even green-lighting new IP from some of its biggest studios including the RPG Shadow Realms (from BioWare), and the as-yet-untitled multi-vehicle racer from Burnout creator Criterion Games.
But Campbell and EA are not talking about these projects just yet. Instead, for the team in the UK, the focus is on a certain other major blockbuster that's due in just a few short months.
For Battlefield: Hardline, we like to think we can break this game out beyond that core Battlefield segment,” says Campbell. It is a very interesting take on the franchise. When people get to play it, they'll see that they still have this core Battlefield element in terms of the great multiplayer, but with this strong, episodic, cops and robbers-themed single player experience. That is very much something that can bring new players into the franchise.”
Hardline was set to be EA's big Christmas title. But it was delayed to make sure that the game is up to scratch. The launch of Battlefield 4 in 2013 was hampered by online and technical issues, which angered fans. EA is eager not to repeat that mistake.
We delayed the game for all the right reasons,” Campbell explains. What we are looking to deliver is a new direction for the Battlefield franchise. [New developer] Visceral being part of it now means being able to build that strong single-player story, and we need to make sure we deliver on all of that. The decision to move it was made with that in mind.
We just want to deliver the best possible experience we can and that can mean making some tough decisions. From an EA perspective, historically it may have been the case that we would say: ‘we need to get this game out the door'. But what we are seeing is the business making tough decisions to move games for the right reasons.”
Campbell is coy about discussing anything beyond Battlefield. EA has been open about its upcoming slate – Mass Effect, Mirror's Edge, Star Wars, PGA Tour, Need for Speed and so on – but it has been careful not to over-promise with early footage or ambitious statements.
Nevertheless, the firm is feeling quietly optimistic about what it has in store for the end of 2015.
We are really confident about this year,” Campbell concludes. When you look at where the platforms – Xbox One and PS4 – are at, they are in a strong place and we expect that to continue. And if you align that with what we are working on for 2015, beyond Battlefield: Hardline, we do feel like it will be a really successful year for us. There are some great games coming.”
BETTING ON BLACK
Shaun Campbell's first Christmas as EA's new UK boss was an uncharacteristically quiet one for the publisher, with just Dragon Age: Inquisition hitting shelves and no Battlefield, Medal of Honor or Need for Speed on the release schedule.
The one big phenomenon that the UK experienced for the first time on Campbell's watch was Black Friday. Yet EA was cautious about cutting prices too severely.
It's a US phenomenon that has hit the UK hard, and we are starting to see that in other markets as well,” he says. It's retail-driven and it is an opportunity. But we have to