"Console transitions can be pretty ugly."
That was the assessment of Electronic Arts COO Peter Moore during an E3 interview with GamesIndustry International. He should know, having plenty of experience with them. In 1999, he helped Sega launch the Dreamcast. In 2005, he was with Microsoft as the company rolled the Xbox 360 into the market. This time around, Moore is with a platform-agnostic third-party publisher for the process, and while the switch-over started with last November's new console launches, Moore said the second holiday season is "incredibly critical" for the new generation of systems.
When he was at Microsoft in the last transition, for example, Moore spent the run-up to the second holiday sweating out the installed user base, bolstering production capabilities to ensure plenty of hardware hit the shelves, and mustering the consumer interest to match.
"The demand needs to be there," Moore said. "You can no longer say 'We can't deliver.' The games should be there to support them, which is not always the case around launch period. Although we managed to get five games out, it was a pretty stark lineup I think on both boxes at first."
"It feels like there's a lot of content at the end of this year, and by the way, with everything we've now seen for 2015--ourselves included--it feels like it's going to be a huge year."
As a third-party, Moore is still busy looking at where the installed base for each system is going, and thinking about what EA needs to do as a developer to take full advantage of the hardware. And while the transition is only going to increase the already-staggering costs of making games--Moore said EA is spending billions each year on people, technology, and development--this console transition is shaping up to be not quite as ugly as some in the past.
"The last time we looked, we were up 127 percent on hardware vs. the previous generation, same month after launch," Moore said. "So all indications are it's been a strong start. If you remember this time last year, we were sweating whether these things would fly, right? And to both Sony and Microsoft's credit coming out of E3 last year, I think they convinced us all they would, and now they're certainly proving it."
For this holiday, Moore said he's excited to see how the price drop helps the Xbox One, how much sports titles drive hardware adoption, how Destiny performs, and any number of other potentially positive stories in the industry. Going beyond the console market, Moore said the expected launch of the iPhone 6 this fall could also provide a boost, adding that he believes Apple realizes now just how much games drive new mobile hardware.
"It feels like there's a lot of content at the end of this year, and by the way, with everything we've now seen for 2015--ourselves included--it feels like it's going to be a huge year," Moore said.
Despite the renewed optimism on the console front, Moore suggested that EA hasn't re-allocated its resources to more vigorously support the living room business because the infrastructure required for development just doesn't allow for companies to flip teams quickly.
"Our resource planning is done two to two and a half years in advance," Moore said. "So the bets we made on next-gen in 2012-ish, 2011-ish, where resources started to be moved, dev kits were acquired and teams started to work on next-gen, that all came to fruition... I can look at our lineup for FY2017 pretty solidly right now because it takes [time]. We don't do these things in six months."
"[W]e've got to be planning for FY17 and FY18. Do you think the Vita and 3DS are going to be around in some shape or fashion by then on a scale level?"
That might ensure a healthy amount of EA support for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in the coming years, but it also makes it unlikely that EA will ever return to development for the 3DS and PlayStation Vita, two dedicated gaming handhelds for which the company released a handful of titles before stopping production.
"We were supportive of both of those platforms," Moore said. "But then you've got finite resources and you've got teams that say, 'We really think that two or three years from now, these are the platforms that people are going to be consuming games on.' And you look at the quality of what you can do on phones and tablets... Sometimes strategy is not about what you do but what you don't do, and you have to make some hard calls when you've got only so many people. To my point, we've got to be planning for FY 17 and 18. Do you think the Vita and 3DS are going to be around in some shape or fashion by then on a scale level?"
Moore was particularly enamored with the potential of mobile platforms, PC free-to-play, and browser-based titles to "take the lumps" out of the industry, easing the pains of a console transition. Another key element for transitional industry health is just how quickly the legacy platforms (in this case, the PS3 and Xbox 360) disappear from view.
"The hope is we get a decent tail of two or three years, and we'll continue to make games for those platforms as long as fans buy them," Moore said. "What PlayStation did with the PS2 was a wonderful tail. I was at Microsoft and we kind of buried the Xbox quickly because to be blunt, it was just losing money. We stopped making games for it ourselves and stopped manufacturing it because the view was, 'Let's move to Xbox 360. Let's get there quickly, establish a beachhead before the PlayStation 3 came out,' and that certainly worked well in that generation. You could argue maybe the tables have been somewhat turned in this generation, but I think it's going to be a great fight in the holiday. And as a third-party publisher, we sit right in the sweet spot."
EA isn't the only console war profiteer. Moore said vigorous competition is beneficial for everyone.
"We've been making games for the PC platform before Gabe Newell was graduating high school."
"Consumers love it as well, and it's good for the industry," he said. "You need powerful companies like Sony and Microsoft to be battling out with each other because it drives investment in their platforms. It drives competition. You want to see Nintendo come back with the Wii U. All in all, it becomes healthy for gamers, for the environment. When you have a runaway winner, that actually has a reverse effect."
One place where gamers bemoan a lack of competition is in the PC digital distribution market. Moore takes issue with the notion that Valve has a monopoly in the market with Steam (EA's Origin does have more than 50 million registered users, after all), but he doesn't see the two as in direct competition.
"I think Steam does a fabulous job," Moore said. "They have a great catalog of games. It's got a broader catalog than we do, and a different focus on the business model than we have. We didn't go into business to compete with Steam. We went into business because we saw the future being direct-to-consumer."
Steam had a head start on Origin, and Moore said it shows, but EA is giving customers a variety of incentives to check out its own offering. As evidence, Moore namechecked the "On the House" program, where AAA titles of years past are offered to users for free for a limited time, and the "Great Game Guarantee," which lets players unhappy with a purchase obtain a refund within 24 hours. That said, Moore does seem a little irked that EA perhaps doesn't get enough credit for its work in the PC space.
"You hope [VR] doesn't get what I'll call the Segway effect: incredible technology that kinda looks dorky."
"We've been making games for the PC platform before Gabe Newell was graduating high school," Moore said. "And we've been the number one publisher forever, and have been the one developer/publisher that has supported the PC platform even more than Microsoft over the years. Yeah, you may say that's a low bar, but that's who we are, and our roots."
While EA is bullish on consoles, mobile, and PC, the company is a bit more cautious about the latest "next big thing," virtual reality.
"We keep looking at it," Moore said, "But there's not much to jump on board towards right now."
Moore lauded the technology at work in both Morpheus and Oculus, but said its biggest strength--creating an incredibly personal experience for the user--could also be its biggest downside.
"It's an incredibly immersive experience, but it's you," Moore said. "You're inside this world and you're oblivious and of course, you can't see. You hope it doesn't get what I'll call the Segway effect: incredible technology that kinda looks dorky. Or the Google Glass effect, which is the dork factor that goes with that. And that's what we have to overcome, because I think the tech is great. These things done right, commercialized so they can be truly a consumer device with plenty of innovative content to go with it, feel like a blast."
For more from Moore, check out the second part of our interview.