Electronic Arts Chief Studios Officer Laura Miele is an unwavering optimist.
That's how she described herself in a presentation at the Collision tech conference in Toronto today, in which she argued that despite the challenges the world faces now, everything will turn out OK.
"I believe that our future will be better than our past because of Millennials and Generation Z," she explained. "Yes, I said it. And I realize this may be a contrarian view given how many people have a negative opinion about Millennials and Gen Z. 'They're self-centered. They're entitled. They're not prepared for the world's problems. They're addicted to technology.' Well on the flip side, I don't think Millennials and Gen Z are too thrilled about the world they're inheriting either.
"But where some see pessimism, I actually see great promise. And I see great promise because I have the privilege and perspective of 23 years in entertainment. I have the insight from decades of research, and the data of hundreds of millions of gamers. My deep-rooted optimism is based on the belief that these generations will change the world for the better because of the power of play."
"We are heavily influenced by the entertainment media we consume. We are what we hear. We are what we watch. We are what we play"
90% of teenagers play games, she noted. 70% of teenage boys in the Gen Z demographic "identify with core gaming as the core of who they are and their social lives." And basically no Gen Z teenagers prefer TV over their online devices, a preference for interactive entertainment over passive media that Miele said has significant implications for the future.
"The impact of interactive entertainment on an individual is profound," Miele said. "It impacts the way people learn, the way they engage with the world around them, and how they problem solve. In fact, I believe it is potentially one of the largest differentiators around generations ever."
She said passive entertainment is often a solitary experience that puts the viewer on auto-pilot, requiring no thought, problem solving, or creativity to progress.
"We are heavily influenced by the entertainment media we consume," Miele said. "We are what we hear. We are what we watch. We are what we play. And play is essential to a healthy society and to the way we build relationships with each other."
She added, "The future will require and reward people who think differently, and that's where games play a significant role. A generation raised on games is going to think differently about problems and how to solve them... They didn't create the problems we have, but Millennials and Gen Z will be well-equipped to solve them."
The future for gaming and EA specifically is similarly bright in Miele's mind, and it will be realized by a combination of advances in technology and the creativity of developers combined with the "gift" (and she stressed it was a gift) of passionate, vocal consumers.
"Imagine a universe that is so expansive, so intelligent, so realistic that you will go from game experience to game experience as the same unique character and avatar"
"Imagine a universe, a network, that is so expansive, so intelligent, so realistic that you will go from game experience to game experience as the same unique character and avatar," Miele said. "With games recognizing the experience you had in other game experiences, with your friends connecting with you wherever you are, and worlds so realistic it will be as if you're in a dream. And the worlds you'll be able to explore won't just be what we can imagine as game developers. It's what you are going to imagine.
"With the applications of machine learning, worlds in the metaverse will react to you. Entirely new imaginary dreamscapes built on your settings, your stories, your interests, and of course your friends. And I believe within the next 10 years, this will be very real."
Miele spoke with GamesIndustry.biz after her presentation and provided a little color on that vision of the future. We were particularly interested in how she saw that metaverse coming about and whether it would be the product of one platform holder or some sort of permanent user-controlled identity with an industry-wide standard outside of any one company's control.
"That will have to play out in the next five to ten years," Miele said. "And I don't think we know, entirely. We at EA do have a large network. We do have subscriptions. We would like to create universal experiences for players. So we have a very good start on that. We have federated ID. We can help players through their experiences from game to game. We understand player behaviors better than we have in the past because we have this information. So we're starting to lay the foundation, but to answer your question of, 'Will I have my avatar? Will I play in Microsoft's world? Will I play in EA's world, or a company that doesn't even exist today?' I don't know how that will play out."
Regardless, she did believe that the seeds of such a metaverse have been planted, and that the traditional industry mindset of closed systems and walled gardens is changing.
"I think players have motivated it," Miele said of the shift. "Players have motivated our desire to meet them where they are and allow them to play with their friends. I think players are motivated by their social connections; if they're on PC and their friends are on an Xbox, they don't want to be held back by that.
"Challenges still exist as it relates to business terms and partnerships and all that, but I'm pretty optimistic we're going to be able to work through those because I think this is what players want and need, and what motivates them to play our games is to have these shared experiences with their friends and social circles. So we have to adapt to those motivations they have."