In late February, right in the middle of the Game Developers Conference, it was revealed that EA's chief competition officer, Peter Moore, would be leaving the publisher to take a dream job as the CEO of the Liverpool Football Club this June. After two decades in the games business, having overseen the launches of the DreamCast, the Xbox 360 and contributing to the rebuilding of EA's brand, the veteran talked candidly with Glixel about a number of his experiences in the industry over the years.
Perhaps the most fascinating insight came from Moore's discussion on Sega and how the once great gaming company had failed to evolve with a quickly changing games ecosystem. After Sega had already ceased DreamCast production and transitioned into a third-party software firm, Moore said he had a lot of trouble attempting to get Sega in Japan to understand the shifts that were taking place in the global business.
"We started to go up there a lot and build a relationship, and I was going back and forth to Japan and I was just so angry with Sega that they didn't see the stormclouds of what was happening in the industry," he commented. "Games like GTA 3 were changing the vibe of the content. That was, to me, this inflection point. Once the tech started to get more powerful, the creative elements that would come over from Hollywood and from television all of a sudden - that was what gave us Rockstar, and what the Houser brothers, to their credit, did for games. I mean, you look back on the history of this industry, you can point to these moments and say, 'That's when everything started to change.'"
Moore explained that to prove his point, Sega had conducted focus groups with players in America to get a sense of how they view different gaming brands, including Sega, of course. "I needed to prove to the Japanese that our brand was starting just to fade away. And so we asked the focus group, a bunch of 18-, 19-year-olds, a classic question, 'If a video game publisher was a relative or a friend, who would they be?' Ah, EA. Arrogant quarterback, 6'5", walks in, gets the girl, nobody likes him, blah blah blah, but, you know, fills the room with his big personality, all that. I can hear it now.
"Rockstar. Ah - that's your drunken uncle that shows up from Vegas once a month with a hooker on his arm and looking for money and then he's gone again. He comes in and he's the life of the party for a little while, and then he disappears for a long time. Sega. Yeah, that's your grandad. Used to be cool, but even he can't remember why anymore."
When Moore brought a video of the focus group to present to his Japanese colleagues, they refused to believe the validity of what the American consumers had been saying. That's when things got especially rough with Sonic creator Yuji Naka.
"I said, 'We need to be incredibly aware of the challenges we face as a brand at Sega,' you know, and so I play the video. Yuji Naka, Naka-san, maker of Sonic, is in the room. Now, he and I have a love/hate relationship on a good day. And we show him this, and it's subtitled in Japanese, and when it comes to that piece he just [slams his hand on the table], 'This is ridiculous. You have made them say this. Sega is the great brand, nobody would ever say this, you have falsified!' He just gets in my face. So I said to the translator, 'Tell him to fuck off.' And the poor guy looks at me and says, 'There's no expression in Japanese.' I said, 'I know there is.' And that was it. That was the last time I ever set foot in there," Moore explains.
"I rarely get upset, but to be accused of doctoring a video, because there's none so blind as those who will not see, right? I loved Sega, still love Sega, but it was dominated by the developers to the extent where Sega as a company couldn't move if Nakagawa-san, Yu Suzuki, Iguchi weren't into it. The world was changing around them, and we were desperate. I said that we've got to get content that is mature. It's ironic to me that one of their best-selling games, subsequent to all of that, is now Yakuza."
Serendipitously, it wasn't long after that argument that Moore was approached by Robbie Bach and the Xbox team. Moore talked about how he loved being the "challenger brand" to take on Sony, and how he orchestrated the whole launch strategy, including information leaks about the Xbox 360. The toughest part for Microsoft, of course, was the infamous "Red Ring of Death" that plagued the hardware and could have permanently tarnished the Xbox brand. In fact, Moore asserts that if Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer didn't agree to take the financial hit to invest in a fix, it would have been game over - there would be no Xbox One or Scorpio.
"Thank God for Steve Ballmer, you know, not flinching when I told him, 'I think this is a $1.15 billion problem we've got on our hands.' He just said 'do it.' And, you know, if we hadn't have done that I don't think Xbox would be in existence today," he said bluntly. "Our product was failing, it was failing the players, and we needed to do something about it. There was a lot of overnight shipping going on there, and a lot boxes being fixed or replaced, but it solved the problem and salvaged the brand. Otherwise we'd have been done."
There's plenty more reminiscing in the full interview and it's worth your time to read it.