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EA's Frank Gibeau

On console versus free-to-play, Wii U support and growing Origin But it's more than exclusive content, it's an entirely new game based on one of the biggest entertainment franchises ever. Is there a danger of alienating your retail partners by only releasing it digitally via Origin?
Frank Gibeau

For us it made sense to make this move and grow the platform this way. We are going to continue to be great partners for our retail channel partners and as they evolve their business models to account for digital. But at the same time you talk about platform exclusives like Halo or Uncharted, EA's going to have some of our own platform exclusives. Speaking of Star Wars, there has been a lot of speculation on the game in terms of the cost, and EA has said itself that its one of the most expensive projects its ever been involved in. Can you clear up any of the chatter that suggests you've over spent on the game?

It's going to be a tough place for a lot of publishers. It's going to increasingly become like theatrical movies.

Frank Gibeau

I don't pay much attention to that talk, I get a lot of questions from analysts and press about it. What I try and concentrate on is, is it a good game and is it ready to go? You look at a game that has 200 hours of gameplay for each of the six classes, and that doesn't include the crafting, the raids, the multiplayer. It's vast. It's a gigantic game. And that costs money. But when you get one of these launched they persist for a long period of time. Ultima is on its first decade and it still has tens of thousands of subscribers and is widely profitable for us. It's just the nature of the beast that you have to build this amount of content. Do I wish it wasn't this expensive? Absolutely, but I think everybody does. At the same time it doesn't really do us much good to comment on how much it costs. Ultimately what matters is whether it's a good service and do people really like the game? It's also an ongoing cost that requires spend as the game remains live.
Frank Gibeau

Yes, but you meter it up and meter it down based on how the user base is growing and the profits of that. Triple-A budget titles are growing across the board though, right? Are they getting out of control?
Frank Gibeau

It depends on whether it's a first version of a game or second, where the technology is at. For the most part EA is comfortable with the budgets for our blockbusters right now. We've gone from a place, where I was running the Games label about three years ago, we had 20 titles released a year. Now we're down to six. We've taken our development titles down accordingly, but at the same time it's been really important for us to do a few games great as opposed to a bunch of games above average. It costs money but at the same time there's new ways to monetise those online, through DLC, bringing assets over to other platforms. We're pretty comfortable with where we're at, and it does cost money to compete and we do agree that this is a top twenty market. If you're outside the top twenty it's exceedingly difficult unless you're at scale or have some low cost centres. It's going to be a tough place for a lot of publishers that don't have the scale of Electronic Arts or our breadth and depth to compete. It's going to increasingly become like theatrical movies.

But at the same time we're aggressively investing in things that are very low cost like free-to-play. The free-to-play group inside of EA Games is growing extremely fast - we've got 17 million users, 4-5 services stood up right now. And if you get a couple of those to scale they're as profitable as a console game. What we're trying to do is really prosecute the high-end strategy of a few big theatrical style releases, top 20 games - which for us this year are Battlefield, Need for Speed, Mass Effect 3. Launch some new services like Star Wars that are unique, and in addition to that do a bunch of free-to-play businesses, that frankly when they get to scale, have huge audiences, are very profitable, they're not cannibalising the main games and they actually reach markets that we're not currently serving. With Need for Speed World, Russia and Brazil are number one and two - the Ukraine is in there. I can't sell packaged goods in those territories. But I'm reaching an audience with Need for Speed content. It's an engine that's not as advanced as Frostbite 2 but it's certainly got great production values and great game designs, and it's free-to-play with micro transactions. It's a very exciting time from our perspective because it's not all about consoles. It's about smartphones, tablets, free-to-play, browser, social. Interesting that you point out Russia, the Ukraine and Brazil. Are there any markets that are still proving elusive?
Frank Gibeau

We're in a lot of different things. There's new emerging technologies that we're always interested in. Exotic stuff like smart televisions, where you get the full chipset and push the game directly to them. That's right on the horizon and could be a very disruptive technology for the console manufacturers. But not for us because we'd be perfectly happy to do that. We wish we had a bigger business in Asia but we're working very aggressively to do that. It would be interesting to see how India evolves as a gaming market as the middle class grows and purchasing power and broadband expands in that economy. Right now it's fairly limited but something we're interested in. EA seems to be in a strong position - from console to social to free-to-play and digital distribution. But is there a danger of overstretching the business to cover too much?
Frank Gibeau

Sure, there's always that. But we have a disciplined management team that looks at prioritisation and understands that we came from a place three years ago where we were doing way too many things not very well to a place now where we've really scoped it out. We think about in these case of specialising around IPs and being able to put them out across platforms as opposed to having too many IPs trying to do too many things. It's a lot easier to figure out how to get FIFA to work across console, smartphone, tablets, mobile and grow that. Focusing on a few of the great and reaching more audiences through multiple platforms seems to be a formula that's working for us.

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Matt Martin avatar
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.
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