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EA's Sean Decker

The head of the publisher's LA studio talks PC gaming, the RTS genre, and why not everyone likes multiplayer

As living-room consoles have gone from strength to strength, they've had a noticeable impact - albeit in different ways - on both the PC gaming space and the RTS genre.

EALA is one studio that deals with both, and in one franchise, with Command & Conquer - here the studio's head Sean Decker talks about both of those topics, gives us an update on the business, and explains why not everybody wants multiplayer gaming. How's business at EALA?
Sean Decker

It's good, very good - we have a lot of people working on a lot of great stuff, obviously Command & Conquer is what we're showing here [at Gamescom]. I've been at the studio all of four months now - I was the general manager at DICE, so I'm kind of figuring it out.

They've made great Command & Conquer games year after year, so for me I'm coming in half-way through a game, seeing where things are, which is fantastic. So why the move from DICE - was that something you wanted to do, or did the company suggest you'd be good in LA?
Sean Decker

It's pretty much both - my family's from the US and we lived in Sweden for six years. It was a long time, but the other thing is that my original role at EA was with Westwood, so Command & Conquer was the first franchise I'd ever worked on. Obviously I did shooters at DICE, and there are some other games there that fit with EALA's portfolio. There's a fair bit of variety in the games that come out of EALA - how do you feel that shows off the talents in the studio?
Sean Decker

Yes, it does. EALA started as three separate studios - Dreamworks, Westwood and then the original EA studio that was there as well, so that's where all that talent comes from. Obviously that was many years ago and people have come and gone along the way, but I think it's a great mix.

At DICE, I loved it there and I'd go back in a heartbeat - but it's very focused on first-person (whether it's Mirror's Edge, or Battlefield, or anything else), and it's nice to ge some mix-up. For people who are super-creative it's great to try something that's a little bit different, and a lot of places you have to go elsewhere to do that.

So it's a good place, and the campus also has EA Mobile and EA Play as well - there's a lot of creative talent moving around, and it's great for it. With all the studios around the world, do you share much tech?
Sean Decker

Within the studios it's very city-state-like, where you pick what you like, and you work with the people you work best with. No technology's perfect, and EA's had some successes and failures along the way.

There's this system called Ant, which was originally developed by the sports guys for the great animations they do in FIFA and NHL. A lot of different studios have adopted that into their technology - it wasn't something that somebody said they had to use, it was literally that someone saw it, thought it looked cool and wanted to take a look at it.

Everybody loves it now, and most people plug it in. I think most of the games you'll see coming out in the next two-to-three years will have some of Ant in it somewhere - but the sports guys started that and others started picking it up. I think there's a lot of really good sharing, but it's done on a voluntary basis.

If you look at all the technology that each different studio uses, everybody's got a flavour that they like, that fits their games. The Dante guys and Dead Space use Godfather and the original engine from there. A lot of people use Unreal, at DICE we created the Frostbite engine because that's what we wanted for Battlefield... it's what you want, but you can kind of steal from everybody else. With development costs as high as they are, that must be a good way of offsetting some of that?
Sean Decker

The cost is definitely a benefit, but the other side of it is that at the end of the day you don't want to spend half of your time creating tech - you want to spend your time making a game. If you've got an artist who can sit there and make some content quickly, and spend their time doing creative stuff - as opposed to something that's not getting through the pipeline, that's not working... that's frustration, and then you stop getting what they want to do and what they came to EA to do.

So I think it's really about that - I'll take the cost benefit any day, but it's not as great as some people might think. Quite often, when you're taking a new technology you have to learn it and all the rest of it. But once you get it going, and it's stable, it's fantastic for designers, artists and everybody else.

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