When EA Motive was created in 2015, the headline was not about the studio, but the well-known developer who would lead it: ex-Ubisoft Toronto head Jade Raymond.
While EA was clear from day one that Motive had an unannounced new IP in the works, the only thing the public has known it for has been co-development or supporting work on titles most closely associated with other studios: Star Wars: Battlefront II, the cancelled EA Visceral Star Wars game, and Anthem.
So when Raymond left EA to join Google last year, she arguably took EA Motive's public identity with her. Earlier this year, EA turned to another Ubisoft veteran to help fix that, bringing in Ubisoft Quebec managing director Patrick Klaus to serve as VP and general manager at Motive. At the Montreal International Game Summit, Klaus tells GamesIndustry.biz that Motive is still figuring out what its identity is supposed to be.
"[The identity] is being built right now," Klaus says. "And we're doing a lot of work internally in order to identify our DNA, who we are, and what we do. We're in the process of communicating that internally and making sure the teams buy into it, that they're fully committed to where we're going and they understand why. And then I think the identity externally gets proven when we release games, and when we release successful games. "
Klaus says Motive's Montreal location (a Vancouver office is working on its own projects) is two teams working on separate projects: one "a very unique Star Wars experience" and the other "a new IP, which is a new project by a new team, effectively."
"When I joined, I certainly didn't want to just do a hard reset because there are plenty of things that are great"
When he first arrived at the studio earlier this year, Klaus says he was in "listening mode," figuring out what the studio's strengths were and absorbing everything about it before charting a new course. A small leadership committee worked on creating a set of values built around empowering the team to innovate, focusing on a quality experience, working as a team, and growing together. With those values set, Motive formed a culture club, a group of employees who are now tasked with "putting a little bit more substance to those values," Klaus says, explaining that they are identifying "what we need to start doing, stop doing, and continue doing for those values to be truly felt and become a backbone of who we are and how we make games at Motive."
"It's not a massive pivot from the past," Klaus says. "It's an evolution to put winning conditions in place. When I joined, I certainly didn't want to just do a hard reset because there are plenty of things that are great. So we added some elements, tightened up the mission, tightened up our production plan. We refocused the new IP we're developing in order to make sure the studio becomes a powerhouse for years."
To achieve that goal, Klaus is assessing the studio culture in a way he says is similar to how they evaluate player motivations. A healthy studio culture will have three key aspects in his mind: autonomy, competency, and relatedness.
Klaus described autonomy as "empowering our team to innovate," and as an example points out that Motive has two days per milestone period where developers can work on whatever they feel like to explore new ideas, whether it be tools, animation, gameplay features, or whatever. Competency involves fostering and maintaining a mindset of ongoing learning and investing in teams, while Klaus emphasizes relatedness by "regularly communicating, and communicating the context of what we're doing and why we're doing it."
"No individual will be more important than the team or the product. That's a lot of the mindset we try to put in place, no rock star attitude or person working with their own agenda"
This is actually Klaus' second stint with EA. He spent about a decade with the publisher before jumping to Ubisoft in 2012, and says the EA he has returned to is significantly different from the one he left.
"It feels like a different company, a company that's very much focused on quality," Klaus says. "That's part of the reason that got me excited about coming back, really the number one priority is that we want to make great games, and EA execs are really empowering Montreal with the amount of talent we have in the studio to play a big part in making some awesome games for EA."
Klaus concedes it's not like the EA of old was trying to make bad games, but explains that, "It's different times, a different leadership, a different message. And it's reinforced every day in the messages and discussions we have. It really feels like that's the absolute priority."
He adds, "I have a strong belief that quality trumps all. We have to have the faith that if we focus on quality, on player experience, test and prove our hypothesis regularly -- move away from the mindset of one creative genius having a vision for the game and the whole team executing -- it's working as a team, trying out different things and then testing it and iterating based on that. We're doing a lot more than that, and success will come if we focus on team and focus on quality."
Klaus emphasizes that team-first approach throughout our conversation. And while he never says anything disparaging toward his predecessors or how the studio was working before he arrived, we get the distinct impression Motive's public identity will not be defined by any specific developer again any time soon.
"Ultimately it's about making the right decisions for the company, for the studio, for the project," Klaus says. "No individual will be more important than the team or the product. That's a lot of the mindset we try to put in place, no rock star attitude or person working with their own agenda. Those kind of things are not values we want in the studio."
Disclosure: MIGS provided travel and accommodations for GamesIndustry.biz to attend the event.