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EA's Glen Schofield

The Redwood Shores studio boss on making better games, and why the industry is still getting it wrong on release dates

Just under two months in, and 2009 has been a year to forget so far for EA and its employees. The world has tumbled into recession at a bad time for a publisher in the process of transforming its portfolio with a heavy emphasis on new IP, with titles like Dead Space and Mirror's Edge falling well short of expectations, despite widespread critical acclaim. But the number that's caused the most pain, and generated the loudest headlines, is the 1,100 redundancies announced off the back of a massive USD 641 million loss for its third quarter.

Glen Schofield is general manager of EA Redwood Shores in California, the studio behind Dead Space, the forthcoming Godfather II, and Dante's Inferno, a big budget, God of War-style action title due in 2010 and shown off to the press for the first time at an event held last month in Florence, the birthplace of the poem's author.

GamesIndustry.biz sat down with Schofield in Italy to find out his views on why Dead Space underperformed, the lessons learned, and why the recession might finally force the industry into a sea-change on release dates.

GamesIndustry.biz Since John Riccitiello came back, there's been a big drive towards creating new IP, new games under the EA umbrella. With Dante's Inferno, although it's an established literary brand, do you see it as part of this strategy as a new franchise for EA?
Glen Schofield

Yes, this is a bit of a hybrid isn't it? It's a new IP, yet people have heard of it before. Which means it's not a blank sheet of paper like, say, Dead Space was where you have to go out and sell this brand new name. It comes with a big brand behind it already. I think it's probably bigger in Europe than it is in the United States, but still I know about it and a lot of people do.

GamesIndustry.biz Looking at other EA games, the new IP like Dead Space and Mirror's Edge, they were very well received, but didn't perform as well as you'd hoped at retail. With Dead Space, why do you think it flopped compared to your projections?
Glen Schofield

Well, it definitely didn't flop. It didn't hit all of its numbers that you want, but let me tell you, most companies would be pretty proud to have some of the numbers we had with it. And, you can blame some of it on the economy – I think there's a percentage there that's based on the economy – and it also came out... The one big thing we learned was, we came out with a bunch of new IP, actually with a bunch of new games at the same time. Some people are calling this last year one of the best years in the history of videogames. You just had one great game after another, so we were just right in the middle of it, and you have to have a lot of money behind you to shout out.

GamesIndustry.biz There were lots of great games, but far too many in such a short period of time.
Glen Schofield

Far too many.

GamesIndustry.biz Simply put, people 1) couldn't afford them all, and 2) didn't have the hours to play them.
Glen Schofield

Right, so you have the recession, which they're really looking at and going, "I can only afford three games or two games at Christmas time. Which two am I going to get?" Well, the sequels seem to have done really well. But we did sell quite a bit of Dead Space, and we've won well over 55 awards worldwide and there are many more that we've been nominated for. I think we got some huge, huge critical acclaim, and I think this is one that can go on into the future because of the quality.

If you look at the PlayStation, for example, I think it's ranked number 14 of all time [on Metacritic]. So, it's pretty high up there. And even our PC game was rated 86; that's higher than a lot of games that are made just for PC.

GamesIndustry.biz The encouraging thing people are hearing coming out of EA off the back of that is, where other publishers might panic, drop products and move on, you're saying, no, we've made a commitment to this, we've invested a lot of time into it in terms of the narrative universe. We're backing it even though it didn't perform as well as we'd like, but we're not just going to drop it, we're going to keep going.
Glen Schofield

We haven't announced anything yet, but I don't think you take a game that's rated 89 and just go, “Well, that was a failure”. You look at how you can make it better, if we were to ever make another one. And the other thing that we've done is establish a couple of things: one, some credibility back with EA. EA took some chances and made some really good games. And two, we established Redwood Shores as a triple-A studio, and now you can start to see that coming through with games like Inferno. And that's where we want to be; we want people to start thinking: "Redwood Shores – they make great games".

GamesIndustry.biz It's flipped the other way, hasn't it? Before, the games were selling but Metacritic was low; now it's flipped and the games are well received but aren't performing.
Glen Schofield

And you know what, we'll figure that out, because the hardest thing is the quality. If you figure out the quality, then at some point we're going to figure out how to get that out there. Like I said, there were just so many sequels; how do you raise above all of them? It was tough.

GamesIndustry.biz On that note, Godfather II: what are your expectations, given the recently delayed release, after it was held back from the press until very late and there wasn't much pre-hype for it. Why was the decision taken to keep a lid on it?
Glen Schofield

We were just spending more time. We kept a lid on it because we were changing the gameplay around a little bit, and with so much shouting that was going on at Christmas time, when do you say, "Hey, by the way we've got this game coming out in February!"? You couldn't do it around that time; so now the game will be coming out, and with the Don's View [a strategic metagame] we feel that's something really different there.

And it was just a matter of trying to find the right window for the game. If we had launched it at Christmas it would have been again, even though it's a sequel, it would have been another game in that mess of games that came out.

GamesIndustry.biz A lot of publishers were hit hard at Christmas; and even great games died away. It's been happening for a number of years now: everyone moans about it every year, but it's always the same. Do you think, because of the extent that people suffered this time, that it was the last time we're going to see that ridiculous state of affairs? Has the industry learned some serious lessons?
Glen Schofield

I think that we traditionally thought that people only buy games at Christmas or around holiday time, and now we're looking back and going, "You know what, GTA launched in May; Resident Evil comes out in March". And I look at it personally, and in June I'm looking for a new game. When I'm done with a game, I'm looking out for what's the next one. And sometimes you go two months without the next big game.

I think the industry has finally gone, "Wow, we could probably just come out just like the movies do". Movies launch a movie on Christmas day, they launch blockbusters during the summer, and we're now learning that we could probably launch a game at any time, and if it's a good game it will be well received.

GamesIndustry.biz Meanwhile, the industry is coming to terms with Nintendo still heavily TV marketing games that came out two years ago, which has thrown everything on its head.
Glen Schofield

Yeah, they really have.

GamesIndustry.biz Do you think, overall, there are too many games being released? EA is certainly rolling back the number of titles it's releasing.
Glen Schofield

Too many? There could be. I don't know how many are being released. It could be like the movie industry – I don't really realise how many movies are coming out that go straight to DVD, and it could be that some of the videogames go straight... They don't get much TV or whatever. There were certainly an awful lot of the same type of videogame that came out at holiday time that, in the movie time, you could come out with a romantic film that could be a blockbuster, and you could come out with an adventure, or you could come out with a sci-fi and they would all do well because they were hitting different demographics. I think the videogames industry has still got... It's still not quite as big a demographic as movies.

GamesIndustry.biz With Nintendo, then, the success is tremendous and has brought in new gamers. But people criticise them for encouraging the release of dross, the shovelware. Is that a bad thing, or overall a good thing if it brings in more consumers, puts more boxes under TV sets? Does there need to be any kind of quality control?
Glen Schofield

I think the market will take care of itself in that way, and I think it's probably correcting itself now. You see a lot of the game studios either laying off or letting go a lot of people, and it could be that a 40-rated game just isn't going to work anymore. I think we're seeing that maybe we hit a peak and now with the recession and all that, you'll see a lot less of the shovelware type games. I don't know; I think that we'll start to see some different games for Nintendo from us and from other companies.

Glen Schofield is general manager at EA Redwood Shores. Interview by Johnny Minkley.

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Johnny Minkley

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Johnny Minkley is a veteran games writer and broadcaster, former editor of Eurogamer TV, VP of gaming charity SpecialEffect, and hopeless social media addict.