EA's Jens Uwe Intat
The European VP talks about the region's market, mature games on the Wii, and the iPhone's importance
The next six months will be an important time for Electronic Arts, with a difficult start to the year evidenced by its recent lukewarm financial results - but as the company's press conference at Gamescom pointed out, there's a host of key titles set for release in the run-up to Christmas and beyond.
Here, European VP Dr Jens Uwe Intat talks about business in the region, the increasing role of the iPhone in games, and why Dead Space Extraction could be the last mature game the company makes for the Wii.
Q: What have you noticed about the European market in the past twelve months?
Dr Jens Uwe Intat: Well, we did see the first half of the calendar year in Europe as slightly shrinking, so the packaged goods market itself was down about 10 per cent - that's excluding online, which isn't really properly surveyed yet.
For the second half this year we actually assume that it will be stronger than last year, so we're still expecting the total market to be stable.
Q: It's certainly been an interesting landscape, with consumer spending changing shape.
Dr Jens Uwe Intat: Yes, and we would actually expect that - the Sony PlayStation 3 price cut will help to grow the installed base of hardware, which is still a little bit behind the last console cycle. At the same point the last time around we had an installed base of roughly 125 million, while this time around we have ballpark 75 million.
So fuelling that growth of the installed base of consoles by reducing the price is actually certainly something that should help us, particularly in this financial environment.
We've not seen a reluctance of people to buy software yet, but we've obviously seen a reluctance of people buying consoles, which you could certainly say is an entry barrier - or entry ticket - into higher software sales. So that should help.
Q: We'll wait to see what the consumer spending is like over the Holiday season, but do you expect it to balance out a bit more between the three main platforms now? How do you see it changing in the next 12 months?
Dr Jens Uwe Intat: We actually do see that, particularly with consoles, they'll get closer to each other in terms of software sales - but still Nintendo Wii has the highest installed base by far. But due to a lower attach rate, compared to Xbox 360 and PS3 we can see that both of the latter are getting much closer to the Wii - so that becomes a much more balanced play, yes.
Q: The installed base for the Wii is fantastic, but how do you see that user base engaging with the console on an ongoing basis - who is the demographic that EA targets with Wii games?
Dr Jens Uwe Intat: I don't think you should underestimate the number of people who really try to have very demanding games on the Wii. It's certainly true that Nintendo has bought new audiences into gaming, with the driver being a combination of more intuitive to use interfaces - away from the traditional controller that's not really intuitive to a 50 year old person, to the more intuitive Wii Remote.
But secondly also, the games are also appealing to people who don't want to spend hours and hours to master a game, but really enjoy playing it.
I think they brought new people into gaming, but the sheer amount of consumers on the Wii is not just explained by new consumers - they still have core players, and for those people we have to still continue to develop demanding games.
What we're actually trying to do is address both of those, so we're developing games like Tennis, or Tiger, where we're using Wii MotionPlus, in which you can really master that game over time - that's for people that are interested in more demanding gameplay, it takes longer to master.
Secondly we have to find either new target groups and/or new opportunities for existing target groups - one example for EA is EA Sports Active, where we're trying to use the general lifestyle and health trend in order to create new opportunities for people to play games on the Wii.
I'd also add to that point that we're expecting the Sony motion controller and Microsoft Natal should also open the space for new consumers on one hand, and new gaming opportunities for existing ones that should help to broaden the market overall.
Q: You've got Dead Space Extraction coming up - mature content on the Wii hasn't really taken off yet, so do you expect that game to act as a turning point in people's perceptions of what the console can do?
Dr Jens Uwe Intat: We're trying - one of the explanations we have is that there's a lot of double ownership, so people having a Wii and a 360 and/or PS3. They're really playing different types of games on those two machines, and historically up to know we assume those people will have played the more mature content on the more high-tech machine.
Dead Space Extraction is going to be a very nice test of that hypothesis, because we're really building a game where the Wii version is very different to the Dead Space game on 360 and PS3, and we'll actually see whether we can reach more people with a) a great game and b) interesting content.
If that's not going to work, then obviously the whole proposal from our point of view at least of more mature games on the Wii just does not work.
Q: So you'll know within six months if mature Wii games is a genre you want to follow up?
Dr Jens Uwe Intat: Yes, I agree.
Q: Changing tack slightly, what do you feel are the opportunities for EA on the digital download platforms, the iPhone, and so on?
Dr Jens Uwe Intat: Well, we certainly see in our investment into the mobile division, with the acquisition of Jamdat, as a clear testament to our belief in the future of mobile gaming. We certainly see a lot of growth in that space, and we've certainly seen that mobile phones have a much, much higher development speed compared to anything else, including PC.
And they're becoming much more powerful in order to play games - one of the key challenges we're having is that they have some sort of base standard, there's still a lot of variety in terms of processing power, storage space, screen sizes even, which make it a bit more challenging.
The iPhone is actually a nice example, because there you've got a huge amount of one type of device on which you can programme, which is similar for the Nintendo DS, and for the videogames consoles - one of the biggest benefits is that you have one standard into which you build.
It's a very easy-to-use device too, so it will certainly be another future pillar of interactive entertainment.
Q: How does iPhone penetration split out across Europe?
Dr Jens Uwe Intat: I would say that the penetration of the iPhone is still very much at the beginning. It's driven by some high prices in some markets, by some exclusive distribution agreements... in absolute terms it's a really nice number of gadgets out there, but in terms of the fraction of the total mobile phone market it's still marginal.
Q: And are the key markets as you'd expect: UK, France, Germany?
Dr Jens Uwe Intat: And Italy - the Italians really love their mobile phones.
Q: We talked last year about the emerging territories in Europe - how has that picture developed since then? Have Russia and the like begun to realise their potential in that time?
Dr Jens Uwe Intat: Candidly-speaking I'd say that Russia is still a growth market, it's still high up on our priority list to build it, but it has certainly been hit very hard by the financial crisis. We had expectations a year ago that everything would grow faster than it has done, and Russia has been particularly badly affected, but it's not going to put us off from any of the investment we're making there. It'll just take a little longer than we originally anticipated.
Q: You mentioned the Brutal Legend legal battle in the EA press conference - how important was it for EA and Double Fine to move on from all that and get the game out the door?
Dr Jens Uwe Intat: We think Brutal Legend is a really cool and fun game, and Tim Schafer is a real icon of the industry. We're certainly very happy and proud that he's working with us. We were very happy that we will get the game out in time and allow people to have a lot of fun at Christmas.
Q: You made a wry dig at the arch-enemy, referring to "slaying the monster" with respect to the legal battle between Double Fine and Activision...
Dr Jens Uwe Intat: We're the entertainment industry, right? If we can't make subtle jokes, I don't know in which industry you can make subtle jokes...
Dr Jens Uwe Intat is VP for Europe at EA. Interview by Phil Elliott.