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EA's Frank Gibeau

On console versus free-to-play, Wii U support and growing Origin

As well as managing the EA Games label, Frank Gibeau has a good overview of the entire Electronic Arts business, from free-to-play and casual to console blockbusters and digital distribution. At E3 earlier this month, sat down with Gibeau to discuss long term strategies at the publisher - the Origin distribution service, the reduction of console and growth in free-to-play games, reaching new markets like Russia and Brazil and new technology opportunities. John Riccitiello was on stage at Nintendo's E3 conference earlier this month, the first time he's been on stage with the company before. EA is obviously betting big on the Wii U.
Frank Gibeau

We were really blown away by the unique innovation that Nintendo brings with the Wii U controller on a high performance machine. The ability to do HD graphics and access game experiences in a completely novel way and a way that's never been seen before, it really struck our fancy. We were excited by what Nintendo presented to us, we thought about it and it fits well with what we're trying to do with our franchises like FIFA and Madden and Battlefield. There's great horsepower there, great innovation and Nintendo's got fantastic branding. We're platform agnostic as a company so if we find something we believe will have success commercially and critically, and has a business model that works for us, we're in. How long have you been working with Nintendo behind the scenes on that?
Frank Gibeau

We've had it for a little while, I can't really go into the details of it. We've had machines and we've been working on games. At the E3 press conference what was really important for us was to establish the relationship and talk about a few things, what we're thinking about and excited about, and we'll show games when they're looking ready, when they're looking tight.

With the Wii U it's important for us to get there on day one so we can get in and build as big an audience as possible It's still important for EA to get in there and grab the first mover advantage on new hardware?
Frank Gibeau

Absolutely. It served us well on PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3. Getting in early is partly about being a successful transition company and figuring out where the hardware is going to go. With the Wii U it's important for us to get there on day one so we can get in and build as big an audience as possible. The risk is that if it's doesn't have the impact you'd expect, it's a big gamble…
Frank Gibeau

We've been doing this for 25 years and trying to pick platforms and more often than not we get it right. I hope we have this one right. That's the gamble. You've recently announced Origin to bring digital downloads in-house more and sell games directly to consumers. How is that transition to service provider coming along for EA?
Frank Gibeau

It's something we've been doing at EA for three years now. Really transforming EA from a fire and forget packaged goods business to an online services company and Origin is the next iteration of that strategy or the next milestone in that strategy. Prior to that we created a technology called Nucleus that enabled us to have a single sign-on registration. We've been changing the way we develop games so that we can have them on Smartphone, tablets, in addition to console and PC. It's all part of the digital transition that we're going through and Origin is the platform on which we'll be able to publish and service customers on mobile as well as PC platforms. And then link to the consoles in unique ways as they develop.

For us it's really about, we're the worldwide leader in packaged goods publishing, we'd like to be the worldwide leader in digital publishing. And we think that EA has unique strengths there related to what we can do with our content, because we're a content creator as well as a retailer in this business. But in general it's not just a retail site, it's a community, it's a platform, it has traits much like you see with Steam or PSN or Xbox Live, but it's unique to EA. Star Wars: The Old Republic is a digital exclusive to Origin - should we expect more PC digital titles to be exclusive to Origin?
Frank Gibeau

It depends on the title and what we're trying to do. In the case of Star Wars we're trying to build an audience for Origin. And it's also an opportunity for us to better manage the downloads and how we bring people over from the beta and that sort of thing. For a lot of reasons it made sense for an MMO, which is a highly complex deployment. I think long-term you'll see we believe in reach so we will have other digital retailers for out products because we want to reach as many audiences as possible. But at the same time if we can use exclusive content or other ideas to help grow our audience then we're going to do that because we're growing a platform.

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Matt Martin


Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.