More than 50,000 people will file through the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center this week for the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). But they won’t see a booth for Electronic Arts.
EA pulled its booth and created its own press event and fan event in the LA Live complex next to the convention center. The unconventional strategy is a sign of of how the leadership team at EA is shaking things up. And one of those people is Laura Miele, the executive vice president of global publishing at EA.
Miele has spent two decades in games. EA chief executive Andrew Wilson recently appointed her as the head of publishing at EA, making her one of the top-ranking women in all of video games. She sees herself as an “agent for change.” We talked about EA’s E3 strategy, its new focus on players, the strategy behind game revelations, the new influencers in media, and diversity in the game industry.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: What have you thought of the press conferences so far?
Laura Miele: The Microsoft hardware announcements were exciting. Sony had a spectacular lineup of games last night. I was blown away by the quality and the diversity of their experiences. They showed up as an entertainment company. They had a great press conference.
GamesBeat: What was some of the strategy on how much to share? It seems like Titanfall wasn’t an intentional leak, but some of these announcements happen so much more before the show. There’s not as much surprise when the show comes around. Does that affect the way people get excited about games at the show?
Miele: We want to keep our fans excited and surprised at every opportunity. EA is fortunate to have a large, diverse portfolio. We can’t surprise everybody on every game in one day. We definitely try to pace ourselves as we lead into the moment of E3.
In the case of Battlefield 1 as an example, we announced in May, but we held back a lot of details on gameplay and multiplayer. We can continue the story here. Sometimes we continue a story and sometimes we come out with a surprise. Announcing the story mode in FIFA, for example, is one of our biggest changes in the franchise. That was a pretty big deal.
And of course Titanfall. The leak really was unintentional. But it was only a few hours before the press conference, so it wasn’t too bad. We’ve had worse leaks before.
GamesBeat: You mentioned Sony had a strong showing. Sometimes, when I look at the announcements Microsoft and Sony make, it’s almost more an issue of presentation. Who does the best job of showing what they have to get people excited? Microsoft, I think, suffered a bit from showing a lot before. People knew what games were going to show up. Sony had more surprises.
State of Decay 2 and Days Gone might not be so different. But the impression I had of the two was night and day based on what was shown. Do you have to do some serious thinking about these things, what part of a game you show to make the biggest impact?
Miele: We always start with the creative vision from our developers. That’s where everything begins and ends. However that wants to express itself. Then we connect what we think players want to hear and when. We’ll pace out a campaign.
You have to have creative, unique, differentiated content in the marketplace, which is why we decided to zig while the market was sagging a bit on shooters with Battlefield 1. The World War I setting is very surprising and players are responding incredibly well to it. We broke records with our premier video, on Twitch and on YouTube. The trailer has the most likes on YouTube ever. Players reward us and respond.
Sometimes publishers and developers will put a message out and it doesn’t resonate. Then you have to pull back and rework and figure out why your game offering and your messaging isn’t connecting. We’ve been lucky this year. We’re focused. We have fewer titles than ever, but they’re far deeper. We’re offering more expansive experiences in all of our franchises. But it’s an art, definitely, pacing along with your players. Giving them enough that they feel like it’s a meaningful offering, but still holding a bit back so we can continue to have a conversation up until launch.
GamesBeat: Was the decision to pull the booth and do this event linked in some way to what you decided to show here?
Miele: You’ve been following EA for a long time. The culture of the company has changed pretty radically under Andrew Wilson’s leadership. He’s done a phenomenal job. When he first came in, we changed our focus and our filter to be a player-first company. A lot of things changed for us, whether it’s when we release games, what those games are, the values we offer to players.
Fast forward to where we are today, that brings us to EA Play. We had to be player-centric. Being on the E3 show floor wasn’t player-centric enough, so we decided to try this. We’re happy to see the player response. It’s as rewarding for us as it is for them. We get to see them play our games in person. That’s a rich experience for employees at EA as well.
GamesBeat: It’s not retail first or press first here. It’s player first.
Miele: It is. We certainly welcome and host our partners from the press and from retailers as well. We’re accommodating that in a unique way. I hope you feel that our press and our retailers are going to have more intimate experiences with us and our games than they maybe could have on the show floor. We’re able to curate our audience here as well. We have game creators we’ve invited, players, our partners. We’ve hand-selected who is here, as opposed to an open booth where everyone’s coming through. We hope it creates a better experience for everyone.
GamesBeat: Do you feel like this is successful enough that it’s the road you’re going down in the future? Or will you revisit the decision in a year?
Miele: The early feedback seems positive for us, from people here at the event. What we’re seeing online as far as the access and views and video content people are consuming—we released everything yesterday and on Sunday, so we’re early relative to the rest of the industry. As with all things, though, we’ll evaluate and see. It’s early still. But the feedback is positive so far. We’ll see if we missed anything.
GamesBeat: How do you feel about being in your particular position within EA?
Miele: I’m honored. I’ve been in the role for a couple of months. But I’ve been at EA and in the industry for 20 years. I’m pleased to be in a position to help us drive change. I’ve had many roles at EA. I’ve been in studios, in marketing, in sales, in analytics. I was the general manager on Star Wars for about a year. All roads for me have led to this, though. I’m known for driving change in the company. That’s why Andrew wanted me to take on the role, to help us evolve our commercial strategy and connect our players to our content in more ways.
GamesBeat: What kind of responsibilities does your job entail day-to-day?
Miele: I’m responsible for the global revenue for the company – mobile publishing, our full game sales, our digital sales, that all rolls up under me. Our global sales organizations and our global publishing teams. We have teams in local markets all over the world. They’re all on my global publishing team. They take the content developers create, the marketing strategies the marketing teams create, and they execute in the market.
I’m also responsible for our customer service team, our worldwide consumer experience team. That’s been a phenomenal experience. I’ve had a lot of experiences at EA, a lot of different roles, but I haven’t had as much exposure to that. I’ve learned a ton. I love it because it’s the whole circle. We get to interact with players every day and be on the front line of their experiences with our games. I love the idea of being responsible for that player relationship, the player connection.
GamesBeat: We’re seeing interesting changes happening in the industry. Who’s influential, who’s an influencer, is changing. What does that mean to you guys? We’ve seen that change very quickly. I think of Twitch streamers or YouTubers. Who are the influencers you guys want to be closer to?
Miele: Marketing has changed radically. I led our global marketing for the Games label four or five years ago. It’s changed tremendously even since then. One of the greatest evolutions of social channels and people being able to communicate with each other on the internet is that the voices of players are incredibly influential. That’s the best outcome we can have.
Our goal is to arm our influencers and our players with information, expose them to our games, and let them set the tone for how our games are going to be received. They’re the ultimate judges, the ultimate deciders. It’s not us talking up our games. It’s a player, an influencer, with integrity and credibility going back out to the community and saying, “This is a great game experience.” We couldn’t ask for more.
It’s a fascinating situation for us. The burden is on us to make sure we have great game content. I’m confident and optimistic about that for EA. The democracy in the marketplace is fascinating.
GamesBeat: Would you think of going on a Twitch channel yourself?
Miele: I’d love to do that. I just don’t think I’d have the credibility as a player. [Laughs] But it’s tempting, I will admit.
GamesBeat: I’m noticing this year that there’s been an ongoing trend toward more diverse heroes in games. I see more women, more people of color taking main roles in games now. What do you think of that?
Miele: It’s great. It’s a long time coming. Our entertainment medium has grown so much. We have to reflect our player base and reflect the world around us. As we evolve to match that, we’ll see better outcomes everyone. I’m thrilled that the game industry is keeping up with that and leading entertainment in that area. We need to continue to do that.
GamesBeat: In the industry as well, in the ranks of game developers, do you see change happening?
Miele: I do. I’m probably a pretty good example. The more diversity we have on our teams, the better we represent our player base. That’s a big priority for EA. We have several programs we’ve established to ensure that we’re living up to our aspirations to be as diverse as we can to match our player base.
GamesBeat: When you count up the results from E3, how do you go about that? Figuring out whether you made a good impression.
Miele: We evaluate our a video views. We evaluate the volume of people who viewed and consume our content. We evaluate the sentiment that goes along with that, the processing and viewing of our content. We also look at things like pre-orders coming in, tangible things like that, in the weeks following E3. We see if people are converting, deciding to purchase our games. We look at web views.
Marketing has become so sophisticated when it comes to data analytics. We look at our organic searches and our media buys and we can watch the data trends that go along with them. We have years and years of history to map that against and see how we perform.
Every year we look at what our baselines were and our benchmarks are. We evaluate in multiple ways, along multiple dimensions. We evaluate how players are converting and engaging with the content we’re putting out. We do more qualitative work, reading and understanding what people are saying. Sometimes we put a message out and we want to believe that people are processing that message in the way we intended. Understanding that is like managing a giant focus test. This year we have our players here getting hands-on with our games. We’re going to get the best insights we’ve ever had this year.
GamesBeat: Social media sentiment seems scientific in some ways, but it’s so hard to come up with anything out of it. How do you parse all the things people say somewhere like Twitter to come up with a meaningful, verifiable conclusion?
Miele: It’s an art and a science. We have scraping tools to follow words and context. Those become more sophisticated every year. The great thing about EA is we have a lot of resources. We have 8,500 people. If you take something like Madden, the Madden teams and the Madden marketing teams are going to spend a lot of time reading through comments to understand what people are saying about the messaging we put out there. It’s hugely valuable to do that.
That’s the art of it, the qualitative part. But we also have quantitative tools, some science. Our game creators find it incredibly valuable and helpful to understand what’s resonating with our fans and what’s not, so we can adjust and adapt our games and our messaging.
GamesBeat: Logically, I would guess that the thing that creates the biggest impression for you guys would be the Battlefield 64-player streams. It seems like what everybody would get excited about.
Miele: I hope so. It’s such a spectacle. Battlefield does it so well. They have such large-scale battles, massive vehicles. The World War I setting is fascinating. Like Andrew said, the war started on horses and ended on tanks. It’s a great backdrop for a Battlefield game. And the 64-player maps are something that Battlefield is known for, the super-large-scale battles. Letting players into that playground to experience all the diversity of the game is incredibly fun.
We couldn’t do that with a smaller number of players on a smaller map. The full Battlefield experience needs a big map, and this is a great setting for it. People can interact with each other, talk to each other, film themselves, broadcast themselves online. We’re going to be leading the world through players’ eyes and players’ experience. That’s exactly what we’ve been working toward and what we’ve wanted this year. Not just having a player-centric event, but having our players’ voices represent us in the marketplace.