GamesIndustry International sat down with EA SVP of Origin Dave DeMartini to discuss the company's new support of crowd-funded titles. EA has decided to give any and all games that are fully funded, ready-to-publish, an all access publishing deal that would be free for the first 90 days on the platform. DeMartini simply states that the goal is to give developers and core gamers a real glimpse of a platform that is attempting much to improve its status with a very devout and fanatical fanbase in gaming.
Origin, and by extension Electronic Arts, hopes to draw in a major flow of games from developers working on IPs from yesteryear, as well as new titles that are piquing the interest of gamers on sites like Kickstarter. Their hope, they say, is to make Origin less about restriction and more about creating an open platform for developers and gamers to embrace.
This move is just another in a series of opportunities EA has been taking to communicate and work with their community. EA recently conducted a Q&A session with gamers specifically relating to Origin, one that helped to address many of the perceived problems that have been had by the 12 million plus active users on the platform.
Q: What led to Origin deciding to go the indie, crowd-funded route?
David DeMartini: I think that sometimes there's a tremendous amount of thinking that goes into something and sometimes there is an idea that just catches on. So I was on one of the crowd-sourcing sites and was speaking with Craig Rechenmacher (EA VP of business development and marketing) about one of those crowd-sourcing sites and we saw how passionate some hardcore gamers were around some of the intellectual property that was being proposed. I'm not going to dodge the fact that some of the hardcore gamers have been critical of Origin over the past year as we head towards our first birthday. We're making moves to try and make sure that they are having a more satisfying experience.
1 plus 1 came together to equal three, and it's staring us right in the face. We're going "we love the guys who are trying to get these games funded, and we're certainly passionate about the people who are trying to fund these things. How can we help?" A simple way for us to help, for the pre-order period and the first 90 days, when the lion's share of that product would be sold, if we waive our fee that will give developers two alternatives. They could price the product even more competitively to reward the hardcore gaming community by selling the product at a most competitive price, or even better for the developer, they could continue to charge the reasonable full-price and then they have a chance to make some money on that title and potentially invest in the next version of that title.
"I've looked at a few comments online and seen people saying 'boy this looks fishy because it doesn't look like there is anything wrong with it. Why is EA doing this?'"
The idea was staring us right in the face and it kind of hit every check box that we had. Some ideas require a committee to approve, but this idea was so obvious...and in a very short time you saw the press release.
Q: How many developers do you expect to jump on this? Did you talk to developers beforehand?
David DeMartini: I think a lot of people are going to jump on it. They really have absolutely nothing to lose, so I couldn't imagine why they wouldn't want to do this. We're always having conversations with developers. We've signed well over 50 developers and publishers to Origin already, but we didn't specifically reach out to anyone who was being crowd-funded. We just knew from our experience within the community that of course they would be happy about us doing this. I've looked at a few comments online and seen people saying "boy this looks fishy because it doesn't look like there is anything wrong with it. Why is EA doing this?" EA has been a strong advocate of independent game development for a long, long period of time.
I think this is an absolute, logical extension of our close relationship with independent game developers. Offering the ones that are crowd-funded an opportunity to get published on Origin and not charge them any fees is an acknowledgement of the hardcore gaming community, it's an acknowledgement of some of the most popular IP that has ever been developed and it was just an obvious thing to do and we just did it.
Q: So what is the process when they put their game up on the platform? More of these guys are programming and development oriented, not so much on the marketing side. Are you working to help them out more so than simply publishing? What are you going to do to help push these crowd-sourced games even more?
David DeMartini: Absolutely consistent with the entire rest of our approach on Origin; we don't force anyone down the path of our SDK. We don't force them to be exclusive on Origin. We really don't put any rules on these crowd-sourced games or non-crowd-sourced games that are going to be published on Origin. We really are open and open-minded to anybody that wants to have their property available for sale on Origin. Along those lines, there are no restrictions, no clever hooks, there are no ways to try and tie them into us.
That being said, if an independent developer can benefit from our assistance, as is usually the case, we are always willing to talk to them and listen to their ideas and potentially offer pieces of technology which would assist them with online or matchmaking, or as we move down the path to an Origin SDK, offering them access to the Origin SDK. If they choose not to, we're completely open-minded to the platform that they have and the technology that they have. It literally is an open offer - there are no strings attached. I certainly understand people's skeptical reactions to things, but there really is nothing to be skeptical about in this case.
Q: As you said, some consumers are skeptical of Origin. We know that EA just conducted a fan discussion on May 8th, so is this something that arose out of that, or was this simply a "this sounds cool, let's do it" idea?
David DeMartini: Literally it was a "this sounds cool, let's do it." It didn't really have anything to do with the session we had the other day. The session the other day was fantastic because we are reaching out, we're engaging our consumer. When you are starting something, and when you are building a franchise you start by getting great offensive linemen and great defensive linemen. It isn't sexy to build up your trenches. It isn't sexy to build up your foundation. Once you have that strong foundation, it provides an incredibly strong springboard for the rest of what you are trying to do.
"Origin is absolutely no different than the games we make; we're just trying to make the service better and better every day, incrementally improving the service as we go"
We've not been in this game before; we've been in for less than a year in all reality. The service has grown tremendously and we've created a strong foundation which we've been improving incrementally over time. I know people are impatient, but we've created that strong foundation. What they are going to see in the next twelve months is going to be incredibly exciting for them. We're going to start to create those "skilled position players" in the next twelve months.
Q:What is the future for these kinds of games on Origin? Could you see Origin becoming a place for crowd-funding itself, aside from just being a digital distribution platform?
David DeMartini: Yeah, I could see that potentially, but we're trying to be great at what we do. EA is trying to make great content over and over again. The Origin platform is trying to provide a place for people to be. I think that we're trying to let the crowd-sourcing sites do their crowd-sourcing thing and we're trying to link into that and provide a service. I would love to say it is part of a complex over-arching strategy that I've contemplated for the past year with the team. It really was as simple as I described though. My head of business development and I saw these names we're familiar with like Tim Schafer and others and went "wow, we could really throw something up that the audience would appreciate. We could publish this for free for the first 90 days" and the next thing you know we were on the press release.
Q: Is there anything else you wanted to touch upon with Origin and the future of the platform?
David DeMartini:The main thing is that if I was to make a statement to the community, the Origin platform is less than a year old. I think outside of the context of people's impatience with something to be great in all phases, if you look at the trend of the quality of the service, and the trend of the quality of the transactions that take place on the service... if you look at moves like this, if you look at the chat we held the other day, we're truly trying to engage the community, both hardcore gamers as well as the casual gamers.
What I think you can write about as the overarching trend is we are truly trying to engage the consumers just like we do in the creation of our games. You saw the news from BioWare as well, where they are trying to hear from their fans while they head down the path with Dragon Age III. EA is truly a company where this kind of engagement with the community is encouraged and we try act upon that engagement and feedback as best as we possibly can. Origin is absolutely no different than the games we make; we're just trying to make the service better and better every day, incrementally improving the service as we go.