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A year ago, Laura Miele moved from head of global publishing at Electronic Arts to chief studios officer at the video game giant. She is in charge of EA’s global collection of 20 studios with thousands of game developers at places like EA Tiburon, BioWare, Respawn, and DICE.
Those studios create games that generate billions of dollars in revenue, and Miele rose through the ranks at EA in both development and publishing roles. She has overseen the studios in a tumultuous period, with the high of the success of Respawn Entertainment’s Apex Legends, and the low of the poor launch of BioWare’s Anthem.
I caught up with Miele at EA Play, the company’s big fan event in Hollywood over the weekend ahead of the Electronic Entertainment Expo. We talked about her changing role at EA and the lessons of big launches such as Anthem, which didn’t go well, and Apex Legends, which turned out spectacularly. We also spoke about diversity, the evolution of gamers,
Here’s an edited transcript on our interview.
The 2nd Annual GamesBeat and Facebook Gaming Summit and GamesBeat: Into the Metaverse 2
January 25 – 27, 2022
GamesBeat: How are you doing?
Laura Miele: It’s a fun time of year. It’s a big inflection point for us, to pull together all of our content for the year and, at EA Play—historically Gamescom was always my favorite trade show or conference, because it was about the players. That we’re able to bring that to life here with EA Play is pretty fun. I get a lot of meaningful insights from being here and watching our players, talking to players, talking to influencers about how we’re doing, what we could be doing better, what’s exciting to them. I quote them all year through, so now I have a fresh batch of quotes for the year ahead. [Laughs]
GamesBeat: Have you been running all the studios for about a year now? What do you reflect on as far as what’s happened in that time?
Miele: Yeah, a little over a year. It’s been a pretty eventful year for us. It was a good year in many ways, and it was also a year that we learned a lot of things. For me, at least, it will potentially go down in history as a big inflection point for us as far as how we think about creating player experiences for the future and what our thresholds are for quality and how we create the best environment for our game creators. I learned a tremendous amount from what we put on the market.
We saw some great successes. We learned from some experiences that played out a different way than we wanted to. But it was a good year. I chalk it up as a great year. We learned a lot and it’s setting the foundation for our strategy in the future.
GamesBeat: When you think about the beginning of that, the transition itself, was it a challenging transition? How would you describe the process of taking over?
Miele: It was incredibly interesting. I’ve been with the company for 23 years. I’ve had a lot of positions in marketing and the business side, analytics, data. I ran Star Wars. Ultimately I started in a studio. I started at Westwood. I worked on Command and Conquer and ran our online teams there. For me, coming back into the studio organization has been a bit of a full-circle moment, though certainly at a different scale.
The transition process for me was to go deep into our studios and our leadership teams. My first 100 days, I toured all of our studios. I went to more than 20 studios around the world and spent time with the teams. I had rules about—they weren’t allowed to present a Powerpoint to me. We spent just a bit of time on the games, but we really spent time talking about the creative process, talking about what’s working well and where we want to see improvement. It helped me tremendously to go in deep and learn and be part of the—to assess the process and spend time with our people and get to know what motivates them and how they see our players.
I also spent time with our game influencers and some of our players. I was able to take the insights and conversations and help that shape and form our strategy for the year ahead. I wanted to come in as if I hadn’t been at the company for 23 years. It was important for me to learn and be very open to hearing and receiving insights and information about our games and our company and our processes. It was incredibly interesting and a lot of fun in a lot of ways. I learned a lot about what’s going well, how we approach our game creation, what our players think of us, and what they would like to see from us – the things they love about what we do and the things they’d like to see us do differently. It’s been great.
GamesBeat: Did you get any instructions or advice from Andrew as to what your mission is, what needed to be done? Was there a mandate of any kind, or was it more exploratory?
Miele: Andrew is probably one of the most inspired leaders I’ve ever worked with. He’s not a prescriptive manager. He’s an inspired leader. He helps me think about our strategic frameworks, our strategic vision. He helps me think about how to manage my own energy and my own time to be the most effective leader that I can be. He helped me lead at scale, which he does incredibly well. He helped me think about and refine our strategic framework and streamline the communication of that to our organization. He also inspires me to think about innovation in the future, that we dare to show up and be disruptive in the marketplace. That’s where he’s pushed me.
As I say, he’s not a prescriptive leader. “Step one, we’ll do X, and step two, we’ll have this new plan.” That’s not how he operates, and I’m grateful for that. He’s pushed me to be a stronger leader. Candidly, I’ve been at the company for 23 years, and I know a lot about the games business. I know a lot about our players and our marketplaces. It’s really about how to lead a creative collective of thousands of people to be the best versions of themselves, to show up for our players in a way that gets us to great games. That’s where he helped me in spades.
GamesBeat: Can you help us understand what decisions you might own, as opposed to what the studios would do or what Andrew would have to decide?
Miele: I believe in having great talent, the best talent we can possibly have. There have been leadership changes in the studio organization over the past year. I believe we have an incredibly strong leadership team in the studio organization today. My job is to empower them. They’re executive vice presidents and senior vice presidents, so they’re empowered to provide creative direction, to kill their games, to greenlight games. They’re at a high level, not just within EA but within the industry overall. They’re leaders with decades of experience in making games.
My role is to inspire them and to remove barriers and to enable the collective to come together. I really see myself as someone who’s creating a framework for them to do their best work and be the best versions of themselves. We’ve created things like a creative council. Vince Zampella, who runs Respawn, he’s leading a creative council for the organization that is akin to the brain trust as far as creativity. We allow teams to come present their games to them, and he gives feedback. The teams don’t have to take that feedback, but they get the benefit of him and craft leaders across our studio organization to get these amazing insights about their game.
That’s the power of being part of EA and having 20 studios and all of this creative experience, bringing that to bear for individual studios and teams. Those are the types of programs that I’m putting together in the studio organization to bring the teams and the best creative thinkers to help each other push beyond the boundaries that any studio would have by themselves, sitting in a remote location. They’re getting the benefit of that. I don’t sit in on those meetings. We don’t have executives sit in. It’s purely creative. Again, the teams can take the feedback if they want to or not.
Another example is that we’re bringing the studio organization together as a team. We’re doing peer reviews on games. The teams and studio leaders are playing each other’s games now, which didn’t happen before. Again, I believe in the power, the creativity, and the leadership we have in the studio organization. My job is to bring them together so they can be a multiplier for each other.
I set strategy for the studio organization, for the areas of innovation that we need to pursue, for the generations of players that we need to meet in the marketplace. I work with our partners across the studio organization and across the company – marketing and the CTO organization – bringing their strategies together with our strategies to ensure that we’re meeting the company goals. Andrew sets strategy for the overall company, innovating in how we’re thinking about five years from now and where we’re guiding the company, the business strategies.
And then of course, as you would imagine, there are some black-and-white, binary buckets I’m talking about, but we communicate and talk. The strategy that Andrew sets for our subscription, for our player network in the future—we talk about the games we’re creating. I’m a very transparent leader as well. I want as many people seeing the games we’re creating and getting excited. We have the company advocating for what we’re doing. The company is truly inspired and excited about the content we’re creating.
GamesBeat: I see some things from the outside that look interesting. I wonder how you think about them, or could summarize what happened. There’s the question of whether to use Frostbite or use the team’s engine of choice. How do you look at that, especially over the past year?
Miele: Frostbite is a powerful engine. The vision I’ve set for the studio organization is that I want it to be the ultimate destination for game developers to make great games. In order for us to be the ultimate destination, we have to have the best tech and the best tools to use. As an example, Respawn has come into EA and into the organization, and they’re using different engines.