About a year ago, MCV ran an interview with EA’s then-COO Peter Moore.
The piece talked about the firm’s ‘player first’ mantra; a way of thinking that saw the publishing giant put its fans at the centre of everything that it did.
EA isn’t the first company to adopt the strategy. Xbox and Sony both talk about being ‘for the players’ and yet we couldn’t help but feel cynical about it all. They may say it’s all about making gamers happy, but surely the No.1 priority is the shareholders?
But this has been a remarkably successful move for EA. Though the company isn’t immune from criticism, the level of ire it attracts has certainly decreased.
It’s going amazingly well so far,” chief marketing officer Chris Bruzzo says.
It’s a tonne of fun. It’s an entirely different way of doing marketing. Rather than hold a press conference at Gamescom, we had an event where squads of consumers were playing each other in Battlefield and Titanfall 2, and we’re streaming all over the world.”
He continues: We’re very serious about engaging with players and bringing them into the process, taking their feedback, involving them extensively across the way we make games and the way we bring them to market… that benefits us a lot. Many of the things you see, especially after a game has launched, the adjustments we make to it when we improve a game, those things are coming straight from player feedback. So yes, I do think that has had a big impact on how people feel about the games they are playing from EA.”
The ‘player first’ mantra came about in a moment of self reflection. EA, giant and hugely successful as it was, had become disconnected from the people that were buying its games. It was facing severe criticism and even topped ‘worst company’ polls.
But the effect of putting its players first is gradually working. It no-longer tops the ‘worst company’ polls and then came the positive reception to Battlefield 1. The video announcing the game to the world is now the most-liked game trailer in YouTube’s history.
It was fantastic,” Bruzzo says. ”[SVP of EA Studios] Patrick Sderlund has said it was a risk to go to World War One as the setting. The really talented people at DICE decided to make a game that delivered on the things that players were asking for: they were asking for something new; different experiences with vehicles, planes, environments, with close quarters combat and massive environments. When DICE put all those things in the mix, it drew them towards an era that hadn’t really been explored yet. It was all about the desire to do something awesome because that was what players were asking for.
But I have to tell you, when we first started talking about that and we introduced the idea of a game set during the First World War to players, the reaction was: ‘Is that going to be fun? Bolt action rifles, trench warfare..’ But it was super gratifying when we finally had the chance to show the world what DICE had been putting lots of energy into and where it was taking the Battlefield series. Players were almost instantaneously really excited by it.”
The positive reception is in stark contrast to the one this year’s Call of Duty received. While Battlefield 1 is the most-liked trailer on YouTube, Infinite Warfare is among the lowest. But Bruzzo says that the battle for dominance in the shooter genre is not between these two games this year.
The style of play that Call of Duty has become known for is a great fit for players who should be playing Titanfall 2,” Bruzzo said.
Honestly, the people at [developers] Respawn were one of the originators of that style of play. If you want to put games next to each other, I’d put Titanfall up against Call of Duty and ask which one is doing interesting things.
Battlefield is a whole other thing. It’s way more strategic and thoughtful. Even though they are all first-person shooters, they’re all very different.
Battlefield is going to find a big audience. The reception has been so strong. I hope we bring people in to the genre that have never played before.”
The return of Mirror’s Edgethis year was also a show of EA’s commitment to players. The original wasn’t a smash hit, but it was beloved by fans and a follow-up was repeatedly asked for. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, by all accounts, did not perform too well, either. But Bruzzo says that for a project like this, sales aren’t hugely important.
It depends on what your objective is,” he says.
Not every game is designed to serve the huge audience that a FIFA or a Battlefield does. Mirror’s Edge was a fan favourite. It had developers who wanted to make that game. They loved the story and the challenge of doing first-person action. So in that respect, it was great and it was what we wanted it to be. It allowed our developers to do something fun like that and we served our fans.
Our expectations in terms of sales are not nearly as important as whether we made something great that fans are going to love.”
"Engaging with players, bringing them into the process…
that benefits us a lot."
Chris Bruzzo, EA
Putting players at the heart of what it is doing has also influenced the way that EA gets the word out about its latest releases. Rather than having an EA press event with just the trade and industry insiders, the firm held its EA Play event at E3 and Gamescom. This saw players involved, as well as the media.
With companies like EA and Nintendo speaking directly to their fans via the internet, questions are inevitably raised about the media’s role in informing consumers. But Bruzzo believes journalists still have a part to play in today’s games industry.
I think we need everyone. Everybody plays a role,” he says.
For EA to be able to engage directly with large groups of players is awesome. To engage expert players with huge social media followings: awesome. To be able to meet with the press who actually communicate for a living and can pull stories together with different perspectives and put a thoughtful piece together, also awesome. I don’t see why it has to be one way or the other.”
He continues: In marketing, brands used to be able to try and control what people heard about them or their products. They’d do that through push advertising. You could create a perfect piece of advertising, put it on TV and that’s what consumers would know about the game. What’s scary for some marketers, but awesome for me and the people I work with, is that now there’s this huge conversation going on about our games. There’s a massive group of people who care about FIFA and they’re different to the group that cares about Titanfall.
Instead of it being this one-way conversation it’s more multisided, everyone’s engaging from every direction so maybe you don’t feel, if you