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Few companies are betting as big on the next-generation consoles as Electronic Arts. Peter Moore, chief operating officer at EA, believes that the enthusiasm for those new consoles has never been higher, thanks to a series of big announcements at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) video game trade show in Los Angeles this week.
Here’s our edited interview with Moore.
GamesBeat: Do the show and the industry look good to you overall?
Moore: I think so. It’s funny. I was afraid, or at least concerned, coming into E3 that the conversation would be about, “Do we need consoles anymore. Is there a reason to buy next-generation consoles? Is this the E3 where we shift away from game-specific hardware?” We’re exiting E3 today with less about “Should we?” and more about “Which one?” That’s good news for the industry. From what I’ve seen of gamer reaction – I’ve talked to a lot of people here – and what I see online at night as I go on the forums and the blogs, the conversation has shifted nicely. They’re confused, but they’re excited. That’s good for us. Will the industry grow as it’s done in previous generations? I think the answer’s yes.
GamesBeat: The used game thing has been an interesting sideshow.
Moore: It’s a sideshow, yeah. It’s become emotional. It’s confusing. I think it calms itself down. It was funny to me that we’re all focused on coming to E3 and getting our new games in place, because that’s what E3 was about, and yet the conversation was looking back on used games.
GamesBeat: There are all these emotions tied up in it. Things like, “Do I get something for free? Can I try something out?”
Moore: That’s the issue. It didn’t take us by surprise, but all of our work and all of our focus in these last three weeks is on getting Battlefield ready for prime time. Then Microsoft forgets to plug in the audio. It’s just disappointing that we get caught up in talking about business models when we should be talking about how great the games are, what are the games of the show, things like that. That has been a sideshow and a distraction. The industry spends a lot of money coming here to show off our games, and all we can talk about is used games?
Moore: It’s my sampling. I’ll sit and marinate on the boards and forums and get a feel for the mood. The mood coming in was, “Boy, they better show me.” There was disappointment with Microsoft’s unveil, that there were no games. It was show-me time.
GamesBeat: Used games were sort of the threat that they were using. “If they don’t let me play my used games, I’m going to mobile. I quit the console business.”
Moore: Yeah. But then they won’t like mobile because they don’t like free-to-play. You have these sidebar conversations that unfortunately circle around business models rather than the content. That’s not why we come to E3. We can go have a conference somewhere cheap to talk about business models.
A lot of the conversation started to shift, though. I think next year, it all changes. Everything will be clear by then. The consoles will have shipped and then we’re in that golden period of developers on their second game and starting to show pre-alpha. They get used to the hardware. They know what its limitations are. We start to see better games.
I have a smile on my face coming home today. It was probably a clenched jaw on Sunday morning when I got off the plane.
GamesBeat: Which of your games got the best reactions?
Moore: If I were to pick two—There’s the obvious ones. 64-player Battlefield 4, the line’s been out the door. It has been spectacular. I haven’t met anybody that didn’t have a great time. I played on stage in the Monday press conference. So that doesn’t surprise me. FIFA doesn’t surprise me. Madden looks magnificent.
The two real hits that have been interesting, though, and they couldn’t be more opposite — Titanfall has been a huge hit. It’s a candidate for a lot of Game of Show awards. And then Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. Two ends of the spectrum, which makes me smile about EA. You can have a game like this and a game like that and those are the two you’re talking about. It’s a testament to who we are as a company.
GamesBeat: Titanfall had some very small things that I thought were very good touches. Being able to run up a wall and go to a second floor that way.
GamesBeat: It was too bad somebody scooped you and found the posters for Garden Warfare. That would have been a great surprise with the Battlefield-like trailer.
Moore: You forget about that the week after, though. Those will be the games for us. The Mirror’s Edge and Star Wars: Battlefront teases were clearly big. I had a unique perspective for the unveilings, because I was behind the stage, ready to come on stage. Looking at 4,000 people like this when they see Mirror’s Edge, I wish I had taken a photograph. First they think it’s Mirror’s Edge. Then they’re not sure. Then, boom. Same with Battlefront. We showed some snow, right? “Woohoo!” As soon as the walker’s foot came down, they knew exactly what it was and the place went nuts. That moment there, where I’m about to close the show — the entire audience is just lit up, when you’re looking from behind the stage. I was very happy with our show.
GamesBeat: The interesting thing to me is that all of these things are on Frostbite. Plants Vs. Zombies, Mirror’s Edge, Battlefield. Even Command & Conquer, right?
Moore: Frostbite 3, yeah.
GamesBeat: That’s very cool. I’m sure your CFO gets excited about that.
Moore: You were at our investor breakfast yesterday, and you saw Frank Gibeau’s slide. You can find it on the web. It’s an interesting little item for you to write about. I think Frank said we were at 17 engines at some point. He put that slide up. NBA had its own engine.
GamesBeat: And then there was RenderWare, which didn’t work.
Moore: Yeah. You had middleware in there as well. We’d bought Criterion. The good news is that we bought Criterion. The bad news is that we had RenderWare. I think we bought Criterion for RenderWare and then ended up with a great studio. None of the dev teams liked RenderWare much at all.
What it means for the company – and you’re right, the CFO loves it – is you’ve got EA Sports Ignite and you’ve got Frostbite 3. You’ve got bits and bobs here and there, but that’s about it. The great thing about it is for our people. You have a bunch of guys in Montreal. You need some help from a team in L.A. We can move people around just like that. It’s great for developers. “Go live in L.A. for six months and help us finish up a game.” “Sure!” And off they go. We don’t have to train anybody, because they already know. It’s our own engine and our own intellectual property.
Moore: It wasn’t the edict. It was that you can hold costs because you’ve got R&D that is so much more cost-effective, because you don’t have so many engines you’re working on. We have held costs. That’s an unbelievable achievement for this company. To deliver all the next-gen you’ve seen at flat operating expenditures? That is a big deal.
GamesBeat: Where do you say you’ve put your chips on the table now? You’re at a point where you know you can’t do everything. You have some chips to lay down on certain parts of the industry. Where are the chips down?
Moore: Certainly we have strategic objectives for the company. Nailing next-gen is a strategic objective. This company needs to get back to where we were, and I’m confident that we will be where we were on the PlayStation 2 platform. We got in early, made big bets, did things like game engines that were focused on next-gen, delivered big franchises, and had some new IP at the beginning that allowed us to get after the business on a broader basis. I’m feeling that again. We will tell you that we didn’t do that as well in the last generation. 360 and the Wii and the PS3, we didn’t get after that.
So nailing next-gen is one. Driving our mobile business, which has a huge growth potential, is one-A, as we would say. Mobile continues to be a very important part of our business. Simpsons: Tapped Out, Tetris Blitz, Real Racing 3, Sims Free Play, all of these titles are growing. They’re growing our user base. They allow us to ride out the trough that we’ve seen over the years. If you were console-reliant, the valley gets a little deeper, and then the peaks go up. This flattens it out and smooths out the edges. Mobil does that for us. Free-to-play does that for us. Our downloadable content, FIFA Ultimate Team, Battlefield 3 Premium, that’s still selling. The smoothing-out of those valleys is very helpful for us.
GamesBeat: Mobile still seems a little puzzling to me. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I get surprised by everything that happens in mobile — Clash of Clans, Puzzle & Dragons.
Moore: You see all these games and companies coming in — Gung Ho, Supercell — and you say, “Who?” We can predict the console business 12, 24, 36 months out. I could take a shot 24 months from now at the top console 20 titles in the world and I bet I could nail 15 or 16 of them. Mobile? There will be companies that aren’t in existence right now on that list. It’s exciting, and for companies like us it’s a bit of a risk.
Over the years, since the JAMDAT acquisition, we’ve made a lot of mobile titles that we’ve moved nicely over to iOS and Android. What I do like about the mobile business is Google coming after Apple. It’s the model that you and I have known for many years, of big guys coming in and fighting as platforms. Sega, Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft. Now you have Google and Apple in the mobile business. Apple’s starting to hear footsteps, which is good for us. We’re very close to getting our Android business day and date across all this stuff. There’s still work to be done for Android within Google Play, but with companies like Samsung powering Android devices and taking on Apple, that’s very healthy for the rest of us that can sit back and enjoy that battle.
Moore: Yes. It’s a free-to-play title, like all of our titles will be going forward. The team at Popcap knows — as we always do with all of our free-to-play titles — that you have to be able to engage the consumer. Then you have to be comfortable with the fact that the great majority of people won’t pay you a penny.
But if you do your job right, there are games that hook me in, and I’ll pay $10, $20, $30, $40 and think it’s good value for money because I’m enjoying it. That’s our goal, to be able to figure out how we can engage people who want to spend some money with us — to be able to progress themselves faster through the game, or in my case to be competitive on Facebook Connect, so that when the leaderboards change on Bejeweled Blitz on a Tuesday night, I’m in there spending money with a Kanga Ruby or a Blazing Speed or a Cat’s Eye. Two or three dollars every Tuesday night times 50 weeks I’ve been playing Bejeweled Blitz, that’s money.
The teams know what they need to do. We talk about the economy. The economy is, make the game fun, make it free, and if you want to be able to play through it and grind your way through it, so be it. But if you want to really get engaged with the game, there are opportunities for monetization. At some point you have to recoup your costs and hopefully make a profit. That’s what that is.
GamesBeat: Is it a little weird operating under uncertainty about who your CEO will be?
Moore: No. I’ve been asked that question many times. We badly miss John. He was here yesterday. But we miss John Riccitiello the human being. We were very fortunate to call in a Larry Probst to step in. Very few companies have the benefit of the chairman being the guy who pretty much built the company for 20 years, and having him be able to step in the next day when John left us.
As we’ve stated publicly, the board of directors is searching for a CEO. There’s an executive search group looking aggressively. There are internal and external candidates. But in answer to your question, no. Frank, myself, Gabrielle Toledano, Joel, our CTO Rajat Taneja, it’s business as usual for us. You often forget that Larry’s there, but Larry’s a steady hand on the tiller. It’s an interim role. It’s not stopping us from making strategic decisions, strategic bets, because what JR did was lay down a great strategy. This is about execution now. There will be a new CEO. He or she will be a great part of what we need to do going forward. But there’s a strategy set, and it’s execution for us.
GamesBeat: Back to some of these bets that you’ve put down, the Wii U seems like a tough one to bet on now. I don’t know if you feel like that’s passing us by.
Moore: Well, we put four games on it with mixed results. We continue to watch it. I haven’t had a chance to look at consumer sentiment coming out of E3 for Wii U, but we know how to build Wii U games. Our relationship with Nintendo goes back 30 years. Should we see opportunities to do innovative gameplay, or we start to see installed bases of hardware grow at a rate past what we’re seeing right now, we can jump in pretty quickly. But right now, as you saw in the press conference, the complete focus now is on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
GamesBeat: Things like Kinect and the new Microsoft controller, are these things getting you excited?
Moore: We’ve done a lot of work with the original Kinect, in sports in particular. A lot of it has to do with voice controls, which I always enjoyed in Madden, being able to call plays and what have you. The teams are now working with Kinect 2.0 and seeing what it can do, whether it’s sports or some of our other titles in the Games label.
Where it’s relevant, and where it adds to the user experience, you’ll see us using Kinect as a part of what we do. It’s fascinating what Microsoft’s proposing to do with this device as a voice control device for home entertainment. There have to be all kinds of ways we can exploit that as a company in our games. But the development teams are noodling their way through that right now.
Moore: Yeah. I think you’re right. That would have helped gamers understand why Kinect is so important to the game experience, rather than to the entertainment experience. As great as the unveil was, and I was there in Redmond, the word “TV” was said too many times, as we’ve all seen on the internet. The word “games” was said too few times. Now, E3 was always going to come around the corner and their strategy was obviously to show the games there, but that awkward period between their unveil and E3 – which is fortunately now behind them – was a rocky one for them. Having a game that shows us why Kinect is important, why the box is $499, why that’s great value for money—We’ve got a long way to go before these things ship, and I’m sure something’s going to happen to prove that out.
GamesBeat: I was writing that Microsoft could make the case that they have the better box in a 30-minute infomercial, but Sony could do it 30 seconds.
Moore: Their spoof on used games was pretty funny with Adam there. But that’s the issue. The messaging has been cloudy. Clouds can go away and sunshine can break through. Gamescom is the next thing we’re looking at from our perspective. We’ll be in Cologne. It’s only six or seven weeks away. There’s work to do there. That’s a big deal for us, particularly for FIFA and Battlefield. Titan Fall, obviously. Our next focus is getting ready for Cologne and deciding what we’re showing.
GamesBeat: I’m curious what your take on community is, going forward. There’s the rise of things like eSports — League of Legends and all that — but you’ve also had this experience with SimCity, where community can go the other direction too.
Moore: You have a megaphone, and people either shout good things or they shout bad things. Community is everything, quite frankly, because you’re creating experiences for them, not for yourself. If they don’t embrace them, your business is out of whack.
SimCity was a great example of a community that was rightly upset at the beginning. The great thing about it, as we sit here today, is that everything has calmed down. I watch the community and everyone’s having a great time. Lots of cities are being built. People understand it. That was one where we didn’t get our messaging right. DRM pops up and we couldn’t get our servers in order for the first 24, 48, 72 hours. It was a mess. The community was outraged, and rightly so. We’ve done a lot of work to calm that down a bit by fixing all the problems.
GamesBeat: I was wondering if that actually impacted some games like The Sims 4. I thought that was going to be more of an online thing.
Moore: Well, no. It was always designed to be what we announced during the community days for Sims 4. But believe me, a lot of lessons learned with SimCity as far as how you balance out the messaging, how you understand what is actually going on in the cloud and what is going on in the client. You have to listen to feedback. If you’re deaf to that, you’re on a limited lifespan. You know me. I read more than I should be doing in all those forums figuring out what’s going on. So do the teams.
We’ve started to focus on our communities. When I was at EA Sports, we built our community management. We built our feedback loops. We built things like Game Changers — which are hardcore Madden players, hardcore NHL players – to provide that bridge to the community. Community management now — because marketing all reports directly to me — is a very core piece of what we do.
Moore: I get that. I read a lot of stories. I think the always-on element of it is an issue. In America we forget that the Internet is unpredictable in some places and unattainable in other places. But we’re in a world of connected entertainment. You need the Internet to be on. If the Internet goes down here, my laptop is more of a doorstop than anything else. It’s not a living device anymore. I’m sure that there were issues when electricity was inconsistent at the turn of the century.
As an industry, we’re learning what we need to do to make the gamer experience more vibrant and real through the internet, rather than making it some kind of a punitive device that lets us control the game. That’s more a platform holder issue. Cloud computing, taking a lot of the heavy lifting away from the CPUs and the GPUs and the hardware, is a huge opportunity for us. Through a single generation, you can do different things with games as that hardware evolves. It’s never done that before. When you lock down the final piece of an Xbox 360, that’s it. That hardware isn’t going to change. Those guys need to figure that out.
GamesBeat: They accomplished that with Xbox Live. It kept on changing every year. That made it a competitive advantage.
Moore: Absolutely. They have to use Xbox Live to migrate the 360 consumers over to Xbox One. It’s a great opportunity to move tens of millions of people pretty seamlessly, if you do it right.
GamesBeat: Are you feeling okay about your staff levels? You had some weird things going on. You had layoffs. You added Star Wars. DICE has three games to do. There must be a lot of juggling going on there.
Moore: I saw your story a while back on staffing levels.
GamesBeat: And you laughed at it, right?
Moore: I did. [laughs] I said, “Oh, no! We forgot to hire people!” If you could ever see the complexity of resource allocation models that we build as a company — thousands of people work at EA and make games all over the world. We plan out three years in advance who does what and when to deliver where. We have this thing called GDF, Game Development Framework, that figures it out.
GamesBeat: You have to explain it to me in a 30-second commercial, not a 30-minute infomercial.
Moore: [laughs] It’s pretty simple. We have a lot of people who make games. We know exactly what they need to do. I can look three years ahead. Frank Gibeau can tell me who’s going to make what game when. My job is to go sell it. And we have people for that.