Earlier this week Electronic Arts announced that one of its oldest studios - EA Redwood Shores - was to be rebranded as Visceral Games.
Before the new identity was unveiled to the internal team, GamesIndustry.biz spent some time with Glen Schofield, the studio's VP and general manager, to talk about the process of choosing a new brand, the importance for EA of mature-content games, and the challenges of launching a new IP.
Q: Why was Visceral chosen as the new brand?
Glen Schofield: I wanted something that would almost be a mission statement in a name, that would give us more focus, if you will. The types of games that we're making these days are pretty intense, action-packed, in many cases mature - although they don't have to be.
We're moving in a direction that's less Mickey Mouse and more realistic, intense, fighting-kind of games. Visceral works really well for Dead Space, Dante's and Extraction.
Q: Is it a name that will give an added layer of definition to the games you make in the future as well?
Glen Schofield: Yes, that's the plan here. Let's say EA might have license, or an idea - they'll look at it and say it's perfect for Visceral Games. What we want is to define the genre that we make in the name.
Q: What sort of steps did you have to go through to finish up with Visceral?
Glen Schofield: It took, I don't know, five to six months. What I wanted to do was make sure that we were branding and not just making a logo - when you brand you really have to think about something that's going to stay around for a while.
You need to think about what you want people to think of when they hear your name, and then there's all the collateral material as well - what will the website look like, what about the stationary and business cards? Everything that we do is sort of reflected in the brand.
It started with a bunch of different names, and you throw them out to a few people and see which ones stick. I didn't open it up to a large, large group, because even just coming up with the name Dead Space - you can't believe how much work that took - and finally, at the end of the day, I just said that's what I was calling it.
Every time you name something, people have an opinion. They either like it, or don't like it, but at the end of the day six months later everyone and their mother will tell you it was their idea to come up with the name Dead Space...
So I kept the group a little smaller on this one, just went to my top advisors and executive producers - then of course vetted it by John Riccitiello and Frank Gibeau... because here I am renaming maybe the oldest studio in videogame history? I don't know, it's been around a long, long time, at least twenty years, so I wanted to get it right.
Q: There's a big legacy involved with Redwood Shores - did that make you a bit nervous? From now on it's unlikely people will associate any of that history with Visceral Games.
Glen Schofield: No, they won't - I'm not sure how much people really associate it with Redwood Shores, either though. That was the problem. We didn't have a logo, and that was part of my reasoning for wanting to change - after years of doing interviews, Lord of the Rings, James Bond and Dead Space, I kept hearing the same thing over again: "EA Redwood Shores, is that the name of your studio, or headquarters, what is that?"
It was very confusing.
Q: The old acronym - EARS - was a bit unfortunate for a company producing games like Dead Space. Do you have a sense of whether or not the team there likes the new brand?
Glen Schofield: Well, people are looking forward to the name change, but not everybody knows what it is. We've got the big meeting today, with the whole studio, so I think my nervous point will be showing them the logo and hoping that they like it - because let me tell you, this is a departure for EA, just like Dead Space was.
You want people to like it, but it's a great departure.
Q: It seems to fit with the image you're trying to convey - is this re-brand a symptom of the way that EA has changed internally in the past 12-18 months do you think? Does it give people a better sense of individuality, a sense of place?
Glen Schofield: Yes, there's no doubt about it. I think "sense of place" is a great term, and I also look at it as a morale-builder, something people can be proud of. Signage is going up, posters are going up, everybody's getting T-shirts - I hope they feel really proud, and I think they are about some of the games that have already come out, as well as the games we're making now.
By making Dead Space, and hitting that quality, I think that gave me a little bit more credibility, if you will, and the ability to change the name.
Q: Out of interest, can you share some of the options that were discarded?
Glen Schofield: I'd rather not tell you any of the options, but I will tell you that we first looked for a theme - to begin with I was a little conservative, thinking of the EA brand, so I started thinking of themes to do with the area we work in... so earthquakes, and fault lines, and things like that.
I even thought of making it Redwood Studios, so people would see it's not so different, they could live with it. Then at the end of the day I didn't think it felt like me, didn't feel like the games we're making, doesn't feel like the direction we're heading in... so I just said "Screw it, we're gonna come up with something that points in the direction of the games we're making, that's brand new" - and Visceral just fits.
Q: How important is it for EA to have a studio that got an edgy nature to it?
Glen Schofield: I think it's very important. In talking with John and Frank, they also agree - they want a studio that can take chances like this. You see movie studios will have branches that aren't the same name as them - those are the ones that will make the R-rated movies, that will take some chances. That's what we're going to do here.
Q: Mature content is certainly a valid option for videogames based on the ages of gamers, but there's still a little bit of a stigma with respect to violent games - how far do you think society has come in that regard?
Glen Schofield: I think in the United States that content isn't such a big deal, in comparison to when I go to Europe and there are some countries that have a tougher time with it. Europe is 50 per cent of our market, so I'm well aware of the issues in always making games with mature content - although we don't have to make mature content all the time, we could make a T-rated (Teen) game, but it would have to be a Lord of the Rings, or something like that, that fits what we do... just not as bloody.
Q: Is that because the ESRB has done a good job, or is it a cultural difference?
Glen Schofield: I just think it's a different sensibility. In the US, nudity is bad, but violence isn't quite as bad. In Europe nudity is a little bit easier to take - it's just different. I don't know how that sort of thing happens, bit it seems like the UK is more like the US in terms of mature content. There doesn't seem to be as big of an issue, we had no problems with Dead Space.
Q: Dead Space was hailed by the EA top brass as one of the stable of new IPs that the company was championing last year - but launching a new IP isn't easy, so how pleased were you with the way Dead Space turned out?
Glen Schofield: Well I'm really happy with the Metacritic score, the critical acclaim and the 75 awards we've won worldwide. I don't think I could ask for any more than that - I didn't think I'd be up there accepting a BAFTA award, or getting the DICE award for best action game. That just blew me away.
Do we wish the sales were better? Yeah, but we learned a lot. We launched in a really tough window, in an economic climate that wasn't that great. I think that Dead Space: Extraction is going to benefit a lot from the original, and we're already getting a tonne of publicity on that. If we ever make any Dead Space games they'll benefit from the fact that we had great critical acclaim.
Within EA it's the highest-rated internally-made game for the last year, and I think it's probably our highest-rated action game in the last five years.
Q: That's always a nice statistic to be able to hold up in a board meeting... in hindsight do you think you'd have benefitted if you'd released the game early this year, for example?
Glen Schofield: Well, we did pull the game in two weeks early - it went through Sony and Microsoft test with flying colours. We didn't get bounced once, so we were able to release two weeks early. I think maybe part of it wasn't having online, but other than that... EA came back and I think learned a lot about how much to spend on new IP at launch. Maybe we underinvested in the beginning - it was a good investment, but maybe it needed more.
But the name is surely out there now, and the awards really helped. If you look back at the history of videogames, a lot of times it's been the second game that's benefitted from the first game's critical success.
Q: Have you seen a long tail on sales of Dead Space as a result of that acclaim, so the word-of-mouth effect was getting around?
Glen Schofield: Yes, there was probably a longer, more consistent tail on it. What I mean by that is that each week it was selling the same amount of units for a long time. A lot of the time it will dip until it completely drops off, but even today it's still selling a pretty consistent amount of units per week.
Q: Extraction is due later this year - there's been a fair amount of discussion about what the market is for mature content on the Wii platform, but I'd assume you're fairly confident?
Glen Schofield: I'm confident - it is an experiment, but there's going to be 50 million Wiis out there by the time the game comes out, so if you only hit 2 per cent of the installed base and you've got a huge number.
I don't know - there have been some already, Resident Evil and House of the Dead, that have done really well, so we're pushing for that 80-plus-rated game, and that'll put you in the top 5 per cent of all Wii games... because most do not have a great score.
Q: Will marketing be the key for success?
Glen Schofield: Marketing's always the key. We're coming out a little bit earlier, so hopefully not in the middle of a whole bunch of other stuff, but also the gameplay - you haven't seen this kind of gameplay on the Wii. You've got zero G, and a lot of the mechanics that we had in Dead Space, and more, we've put into Extraction. It's a pretty robust game.
Glen Schofield is VP and general manager of Visceral Games. Interview by Phil Elliott.