Electronic Arts announced it will acquire Titanfall maker Respawn Entertainment for as much as $455 million on Thursday, in its biggest deal since it acquired PopCap Games for $750 million in 2011. The deal brings Respawn’s Titanfall property into EA’s fold of first-person shooter franchises.
The reaction of fans was mixed, as some worried that EA might eventually shut down Respawn, as it recently did with the 70-person Visceral Studios in Redwood City, California. But EA paid $2.2 million per employee to get the 205 employees of Respawn, and shutting it down so soon would be silly.
I talked about the deal with Vince Zampella, CEO of Respawn, and Patrick Soderlund, executive vice president at EA. They say that the opportunity arose and the timing was right to take the familiar relationship to the next level. They said that Respawn will operate autonomously and continue its work on a Titanfall game, a Star Wars game, and a non-Star Wars, non-Titanfall virtual reality game for the Oculus Rift VR headset.
“We want to have the best games. We have a good relationship,” Soderlund said. “The creative freedom is still here: DICE, BioWare, our studios have creative freedom and creative integrity. That’s what gets those studios to make great games.”
Kotaku reported that Nexon had a deal to buy Respawn first, but EA made a counter offer and clinched the deal. Both EA and Nexon declined to comment on that.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: I thought I would ask this in the most humorous and outrageous way possible. Is Respawn still making its Oculus VR game and does that mean EA is going to be dragged kicking and screaming into VR?
Vince Zampella: Yes, we are still making the Oculus game, and I’ll let Patrick answer. Do you feel like you are kicking and screaming?
Patrick Soderlund: No. I don’t feel like we are. VR for EA is, as I have said many times before — We are big believers in the medium. We are big believers in the immersion and what VR can do. We put the Star Wars VR experience out and it is still one of the better ones. It shows you can make a real game instead of just small demos. We have other things in development in prototype mode now. The fact we get to work with Oculus and Respawn on this is great. This is the biggest experience we will build at the moment. I love it. I don’t know why the perception is we are against VR. We are not.
GamesBeat: Why is this deal happening now from both of your perspectives?
Zampella: We have worked together a long time from the inception of the studio. It has come up from time to time. I feel like now, where we are in the industry and what we can do. How do we take a next step in making bigger better games? From the Respawn side, it is a no brainer that this will allow us to do something greater.
Soderlund: From the EA perspective, I would echo what Vince said. For us, it is about making sure we are partnering with the best teams in the industry. With Respawn, I know we have two of the best teams in the industry. We also have seasoned leadership teams. And a very good relationship with Respawn. For us, it was a natural evolution. It isn’t more complicated than that.
GamesBeat: Is anything happening in the game industry and the process of making more games that made this more likely?
Zampella: We see the need for bigger resources to make bigger games that are at the right level of competitiveness. EA has great knowledge for live services stuff that we are looking at and the game industry is transitioning to that. We can learn a lot from.
GamesBeat: In some ways, some of EA’s games haven’t been as huge hits as EA might have liked, and for you, Vince, Titanfall 2 wasn’t as big as you might have liked. Did that create an impetus in pushing you guys together?
Zampella: Maybe not so directly. It’s always good to have better alignment and better resources. So we can do the game that we want to do and properly position it and market it. There is a benefit to it for sure. I don’t know I would directly tie it together like that.
GamesBeat: You have been working on these Titanfall and Star Wars games for a while. How is the progress on those?
Zampella: Great. There’s always, when you look at games in development, there are a thousand things left to do. I’m always a stickler for that. The Star Wars game is coming along. That had a milestone recently and it looks fantastic. In Titanfall, we are exploring some things that are looking some things that are looking really good right now. The Oculus one as well.
GamesBeat: The Oculus game is a new intellectual property, and that is important to you?
Zampella: Doing innovative experiences is really more what it’s about. Doing great IP is important too.
GamesBeat: EA just shut down Visceral. Did that worry you, Vince, about how far into the future you have to think here?
Soderlund: I think it is important to make sure to go back to the Visceral decision. It was a creative call. A creative decision. It has nothing to do with Respawn. They are not linked at all.
Zampella: We have to stay successful. Just as we have done independently. We constantly have to push ourselves to be more and more successful and that will breed our success within EA.
GamesBeat: As far as being independent, were there pluses and minuses for you?
Zampella: It’s always a balance. You have to worry about security and foundation of the company. How do you get to new games while still maintaining old games. I am not worried. I think the creative freedom is still here. So we get the best of both worlds.
Soderlund: When you worked inside EA at DICE, or BioWare or Vancouver, they all have creative freedom and creative integrity. There are different cultures in different locations. That’s what gets those studios to make great games. We are not interested in changing any of that. We want to keep what is great here. One of the reasons we are going into this acquisition is because of what Respawn is. It would be very unwise of us to change any of that.
Zampella: Ultimately, it is a contract with EA. We have to collaborate well together and that doesn’t change.
GamesBeat: Patrick, is it important for EA to have a leadership position in first-person shooters?
Soderlund: EA is a big company. We want to lead in all genres. It’s not about that, to be honest. It’s about getting closer to a partner we have know for a long time. A partner that I have a lot of respect for. A partner that can be even better with us together than separately. We found from the dialogue that we can learn from Respawn. Vince will join my executive team as one of my direct reports. Vince will have an ability to affect other games inside of EA and that is a good thing. For me, there are multiple reasons why this makes sense for us.
GamesBeat: The fans are going to have a very big reaction to this, I’m sure. I’m curious for what you are looking for in some of that reaction.
Zampella: Ultimately, my message is we are still Respawn and we are going to make the same games we did before, and hopefully better. Anyone who is a fan of Respawn should trust us that what we are doing what we think is best for the future of Respawn and our games. We intend to deliver to our fans everything and more than we did in the past.
GamesBeat: Can you say this is going to be great for the future of Titanfall?
Zampella: It doesn’t change the future of Titanfall. Except maybe we get more resources and better alignment. There are only positives to come from it. We are not going to drastically change the game because of it. But we may get resources to make the game slightly better.
GamesBeat: Is it possible that more than one studio could work on Titanfall?
Zampella: We haven’t discussed anything but if it is the right idea, sure.
GamesBeat: How long ago did the conversation start? Was it recent or a long time ago?
Soderlund: We have been partners for so long. Discussions like this come and go. We have certainly talked about it before. We came to a point now where it made sense for both parties.
Zampella: We’ve been flirting for years. We just decided to date.
GamesBeat: Sounds like you got married. Anything else you’d like to say?
Zampella: It’s a good move and the right time. It positively impacts the team and the fans and the games. We are excited about it. We have 205 people in beautiful downtown Chatsworth. We are hiring.
GamesBeat: The Oculus deal still stays the same and it is not affected in any way?
Zampella: It’s still the same.